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A 51st State? Some In Arizona Want A Split

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A 51st State? Some In Arizona Want A Split

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A 51st State? Some In Arizona Want A Split

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.


And I'm Melissa Block.

The state of Arizona is taking the fight over its controversial immigration bill to the U.S. Supreme Court. Today, Governor Jan Brewer said she will ask the High Court to overturn a lower court ruling that put key parts of the measure on hold.

Governor JAN BREWER (Republican, Arizona): I am confident Arizona will prevail in its fight to protect our citizens. Remember, we are in that position because of the federal government's failure to secure our border and enforce immigration laws.

SIEGEL: The state law, officially known as SB 1070, enjoys widespread support in Arizona. But that support is by no means unanimous. In fact, in Southern Arizona, some people are so unhappy with the direction the state has taken that they want to create their own state.

NPR's Ted Robbins tells us about the effort to form Baja Arizona.

(Soundbite of conversations)

TOM BOWMAN: If you want to find people who don't like Republican-controlled Arizona government, step inside the Shanty. It's a favorite bar for Tucson Democrats. David Euchner is set-up just inside the door to catch patrons before they have a drink after work.

Mr. DAVID EUCHNER (Attorney/Treasurer, Start Our State): Hi. How is it going? Would you like to sign a petition to start our state?

Unidentified Man #1: Amen.

BOWMAN: 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 here, statehood will have to be approved by the Arizona legislature and the governor, and then Congress.

To sum up the odds of success in four words: Not going to happen.

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

Mr. PAUL ECKERSTROM (Co-Chairman, Start Our State): 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.

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

Mr. ECKERSTROM: 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.

BOWMAN: Okay, but a new state? Well, Baja Arizona supporters say there's a serious side to their quest. 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.

Republican State Representative John Kavanagh helped pass many of those laws. He says the legislature is just doing what it thinks is right.

State Representative JOHN KAVANAGH (Republican): We pass laws based upon what we believe the people of Arizona want.

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

State Rep. KAVANAGH: Democracy can be a real pain, especially when you're in the minority position. But that's the way it goes, majority rules.

(Soundbite of protest)

Unidentified Man #2: (Chanting) Our Education is under attack, what do we do?

Unidentified Group: Fight Back.

BOWMAN: It may be majority rule, but some Tucson students and activists say the state is trampling minority rights. They've been protesting another law proposing changes to Mexican-American Studies classes. The state claims they 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.

Mr. SALOMON BALDENEGRO (Activist): I mean it seems like an exaggeration, but if you're in our shoes, same attitude. They're not lynching us, but the attitude toward blacks that was existing then is the atmosphere that's here now.

BOWMAN: 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.

Ted Robbins, NPR News, Tucson.

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