Thursday, February 24, 2011

Free Baja Arizona! America's 51st State?

Sometimes the best ideas start out sounding pretty weird. For instance, I was taken aback when I read this AZ Central article just now that some residents of southern Arizona want to break off from the rest of Arizona to form the 51st state, Baja Arizona.

The movement's Facebook page presents arguments for the succession of the area south of the Gila River. If you're unfamiliar with the ideological geography of America's most needlessly belligerent state, then let me take a moment to explain. About 60% of Arizona's residents live in Maricopa County. Maricopa County, which includes Phoenix, is actually the fourth largest county in the country with over four million residents. The population of Arizona is 6,595,778. That means that what Maricopa says goes. This presents a problem for residents of the other counties, particularly Pima, the second largest county in Arizona with Tucson as county seat.

Pima County is not an unpopulated stretch of desert. With a population of 843,746, that makes Pima County alone more populous than Wyoming (563,626), Vermont (625,741), North Dakota (672,591), Alaska (710,231), and South Dakota (814,180). If we factor in Cochise, Santa Cruz, and Yuma Counties, we find that the state of Baja Arizona would boast a population of 1,205,000, making it bigger than Delaware (900,877), Montana (989,415), and Rhode Island (1,052,567). That's a lot of people basically unrepresented in government.

Maricopa County is a ridiculous place and a pretty big embarrassment to many residents of Arizona. Sheriff Joe Arpaio, SB1070, Jan Brewer...all possible because of Maricopa County's population monopoly. Democracy favors the majority, of course, but the problem with Arizona is the geographic disparity in political representation, culture, and ideology. As illustrated above, Pima County, though less populous, is a reasonably populous area of the United States without the power to legislate or look out for its own economic or political well-being because Maricopa only cares about Maricopa. Imagine if the only people who got a say in how your state ran were the residents of the state's largest city and that's what it feels like to live in Arizona.

Pima County cares about preserving history; Maricopa has torn down most of its history already. Pima County elects Democrats and moderate Republicans, all of whom are summarily ignored by Glen Beckian Republicans from Maricopa County. Pima County embraces a diverse community, while Maricopa tries to hunt down and persecute Mexicans. The loose gun laws that let a Pima County resident shoot a U.S. Representative from Pima County in the head reflect the ideological standpoint of Maricopa County much more than Pima. Former State Superintendent Tom Horne even stooped so low as to meddle in what the Tucson Unified School District taught its students, doing so on grounds with no foundation in pedagogy or education, but rather on white supremacy. He is, of course, a product of Maricopa County. And the list goes on...

Will Baja Arizona ever catch on? Probably not on a large enough scale to lead to actual succession, but we can dream. As someone who has lived in Maricopa and Pima Counties, I can say that Baja Arizona would encompass the best of what the Southwest should be. At the very least, I hope there is a movement afoot to let the rest of the country know that Arizona isn't just here to store the Grand Canyon and house the country's wackiest, most idiotic demagogues. South of the Gila River, Tucson will be there, a close-knit community proud of its history and its people. Whether its as the capital of the 51st state or as a beleaguered outpost of decency in the desert, Tucson will be there. I just ask people to remember that it's a different place than Phoenix, a better place. And when you read about Arizona's latest repugnant escapade, remember that many of us here are just as disgusted as you are, but much more affected.

EDIT: I just wanted to add a couple extra notes here about some stuff I discovered after writing this post. First, there is an organization called Start Our State spearheading the effort to forge the 51st state in the Union. They are not committed to the name "Baja Arizona" for the new state yet. "South Arizona" and "Gadsen," a reference to the area's origins as part of the Gadsen Purchase, have been floated as possibilities. Check out their Facebook page and the interview with SOS co-chair Paul Eckerstrom below. There's another interesting article on AZ Central on the succession movement too. Apparently state senator Paula Aboud included an amendment to SB1422 that would have allowed Pima County to secede. She proposed the amendment to mock SB1422, which is a stupid posturing bill the Arizona legislature came up with so the state can waste more of our money going to court and losing to the Federal Government. She might have intended it as a tongue in cheek gesture, but it sounds pretty damn good to some of us.

No comments: