A 51st State? Some In Arizona Want A Split

The state of Arizona is taking the fight over its controversial immigration bill to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Gov. Jan Brewer asked the high court Monday to overturn a lower court ruling that put key parts of measure on hold.

SB 1070 enjoys widespread support in Arizona. But that support is by no means unanimous. In southern Arizona some people are so unhappy with the direction the state has taken that they want to create their own state.

'Not Everybody In Arizona Is Crazy'

Inside the Shanty, a favorite bar for Tucson Democrats, you can find people who don't like Republican-controlled Arizona government.

David Euchner is set up just inside the door to catch patrons before they have a drink after work: "Hi, would you like to sign a petition?"

Euchner is having no trouble getting people to sign a petition declaring Baja Arizona the 51st state. Organizers will have to get 48,000 signatures to put it on the local ballot in Pima County. Then, if it passes, statehood will have to be approved by the Arizona Legislature and the governor — and then Congress.

It's most likely an insurmountable hurdle.

But Start our State co-chairman Paul Eckerstrom says he'd be satisfied if just the local resolution passed. Eckerstrom is the former chairman of the Pima County Democratic Party.

"If we do this vote, at least we can send a message not only to the state Legislature but also to the rest of the nation to tell the rest of the nation that not everybody in Arizona is crazy," he says.

Politically, the Tucson metro area has long been more moderate than other parts of the state. The University of Arizona plays a big role. So do government workers. And southern Arizona was part of Mexico until 1854. So Eckerstrom says it's more culturally integrated.

"We have a long history in terms of our Native American and Spanish colonial and Hispanic culture that we celebrate here, while up in Phoenix they don't seem to have that," he says.

Frayed Relations

Baja Arizona supporters say there's a serious side to their quest to create a new state. They say Arizona is headed in the wrong direction — cutting education and health care funding and hurting the state's reputation and business climate with laws like SB 1070. And they say Republicans in the Legislature are punishing Pima County for its opposition.

The Legislature tried to deny money to Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik because he doesn't support SB 1070. It passed a law trying to change the way Tucson holds city elections, and another bill dictating how the city can bid public works projects.

Republican state Rep. John Kavanagh helped pass many of those laws. He says the Legislature is doing what it thinks is right. "We pass laws based upon what we believe the people of Arizona want," he says.

Kavanagh says the effort to split the state is just Democratic sour grapes.

"Democracy can be a real pain, especially when you're in the minority position," he says. "But that's the way it goes; majority rules."

It may be majority rule, but some Tucson students and activists say the state is trampling minority rights. They've been protesting another state law proposing changes to Mexican-American studies classes, which the state claims are anti-American.

Activists like Salomon Baldenegro say Arizona in 2011 is becoming more like Mississippi in the 1960s with Hispanics replacing blacks as the focus of discrimination.

"It seems like an exaggeration, but if you're in our shoes — same attitude," Baldenegro says. "They're not lynching us, but the attitude toward blacks that was existing then is the atmosphere that's here now."

That's strong rhetoric. But it's a sign of how frayed the relations have become between Tucson and Pima County — and Arizona state government in Phoenix. The effort to become a separate state is another sign of that animosity.

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