No matter where we live, Democrats always wonder why we aren’t winning by 20 points already. We look at the national polls and think this race should be over; then we scare ourselves into thinking we’re doomed. The best way to fix this vicious cycle is to take a quick trip to Arizona, where until very recently we really were doomed. With your help, this election is going to change all that.
For the last few years, my state has been the petri dish for every crazy Tea Party experiment in bad government. SB 1070 made national headlines, but it was just the start. This year the Koch brothers are spending big money to defeat a ballot initiative that increases funding for our last-in-the-nation education system. We have anti-environment activists pushing a proposal for the state to “take over” all federal land even while budget cuts have closed most of our state parks. Perhaps most seriously, we’ve had Rep. Jeff Flake promote two efforts in Congress (yep, two) to open the Grand Canyon area to more uranium mining.
It can be frustrating to be an Arizona Democrat – especially at the statewide level, we feel a bit like an endangered species. But lately the Republicans have overplayed their hand and we’ve been organizing like never before. We’re very, very close to electing a Democrat, Dr. Richard Carmona, to the Senate this year for the first time since we elected Dennis DeConcini. We’re in a good position to send five Democrats to the House in 2013. My own race is looking good, not least because my opponent Gabriela Mercer famously said she doesn’t want “Middle Easterners” here “legally or illegally.” Having a co-chair of the Progressive Caucus from Arizona is a powerful statement, and I'm not going anywhere.
This didn’t all happen overnight. The architect of SB 1070, state Sen. Russell Pearce, was recalled by his own conservative voters last year because they were tired of his grandstanding and lack of real ideas. (Don’t ask me, ask them.) A lot of new voters have moved into the state recently, and they don’t all feel connected to the Joe Arpaio-Jan Brewer axis of conservative power that thinks it still calls all the shots. Young people, especially Latinos, are becoming more aware every day of just how radical and unrealistic our Republican Party has become.
That’s the good news. The bad news is that conservatives still have deeper pockets, a bigger political machine, and a more established brand in many parts of the state. Jeff Flake could give away the Grand Canyon to the Chinese and still count on 47 percent of the vote without picking up the phone – that’s just today’s Arizona political landscape. This means we have to work especially hard. It also means that we’re closer than we’ve ever been before to flipping Arizona blue, and we can do it.
What would that mean? It would mean Gov. Brewer has to account for the fact that Republicans don’t have a statewide lock – on anything – from now on. It would mean Sheriff Arpaio is, to use a term he likes to throw around in a very different context, surrounded. It would mean we’re playing offense in Arizona instead of defense, and that we’re going to keep doing it. Most importantly, it would mean the working people of Arizona have a shot at a better life that years of Republican dominance have denied them.
It would also mean Republicans at the national level have to stand up and take some very serious notice. When Bill Clinton won Arizona in 1996, a lot of reporters chalked it up to Bob Dole being a bad candidate, and in many ways they were right. Arizona wasn’t ready to turn blue yet. Today Arizona is ready, and the implications would be tremendous. If Arizona has been the state Republicans have tried to make a model for the nation – as Mitt Romney called his health care law before his party made him take it back – we have a chance to show them what the country really wants: a more sensible, more diverse, more progressive community than they give us credit for. That’s a message I think we all want to send.
It’s going to take more than one election for Arizona Democrats to compete at every level in every race. But it’s an achievable and very important goal, and I hope you’ll join me in getting every Arizonan you know to vote Democratic this year. Because if the country is going to look like Arizona, there are really only two ways to go.