While Arizonans go to great lengths to plead that the rest of America not judge their state (or its politics) by the Tucson shootings, the leader of a suburban Phoenix Republican group has resigned -- saying threats had been made against him.
Anthony Miller, who was recently elected to a second term as chairman of Arizona's Legislative District 20, made his decision on Saturday just hours after learning that a gunman had killed six people and shot U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ).
Miller has told reporters that he'd received verbal and email threats from local Tea Party activists opposed to his re-election and his alliance with Sen. John McCain (R-AZ). Arizona Tea Party members had supported Miller's opponent as well as McCain's opponent, J.D. Hayworth, in the November elections.
Miller, 43, is the first African-American to lead the GOP's District 20. He said some of the attacks were racially charged. He recalled a person referring to him as "McCain's boy." At one event, he said, a person yelled, "There's Anthony. Get a rope."
Miller said that prompted by the Tucson shootings, his wife brought up the hostility and expressed concern about their safety.
"I wasn't going to resign but decided to quit after what happened Saturday," Miller told the Huffington Post. "I love the Republican Party, but I don't want to take a bullet for anyone."
Three other officials on the organization's board followed, saying "this singular focus on 'getting Anthony'" had discouraged them.
Miller's district is in Ahwatukee Foothills Village, an affluent suburb outside Phoenix. His explanation for resigning has angered Phoenix-area Republicans and Tea Party groups. In a blog post on the Greater Phoenix Tea Party Patriots web site, activist Adonia Deakin demanded that Miller apologize for, in her words, likening "passionate" Tea Party members to the alleged Tucson shooter. She wrote:
"I know many in his district, and I am aware quite a few of them can be as vicious in their beliefs as I am. The Tea Party groups have never maintained a stance to be considered violent. ... I ask really, Anthony did anyone from the LD 20 Ahwatukee [Tea Party] offer you death threats? To lump passionate TPers in with the deranged shooter, was completely irresponsible."
Miller responded with his own blog post:
"I was uncomfortable with the extremely personal nature of the tone of our district election, and I was even more uncomfortable when the personal attacks continued after the election was over. ... These attacks ended up targeting not only me, but also those who were seen as allies or friends of mine. It became clear that something needed to be done to calm things down, for the sake of myself, my family, my friends, and the district, so I resigned. It is my hope that by calling attention to what happened to me, others will stop and think about how they are behaving, and to what end. We don't have to agree but we have to respect each other. I just saw that respect chipping away, and when you lose that respect, that's where the potential for violence occurs."
Rob Haney, chairman of the Maricopa County Republican Party, which encompasses Miller's district, said in an interview that he doesn't believe Miller received threats.
"Ridiculous," he said. "That's the standard rhetoric ... people use when there's no other argument — that it's a racist attack. No one that I know of — and I know a lot of them in Anthony's district; they are good people -- would have threatened him. They just don't like being rolled over by the McCain crowd."
Haney believes the true reason Miller resigned was that he'd lost the faith of several board members who objected to his handling of two people recently elected to committee seats without living in the district — a requirement of all candidates.
In his resignation letter, Miller said he hadn't known the candidates lived outside the district.