Politics heating up in Arizona

The Arizona political establishment was amazed when over 30,000 immigrant rights supporters marched through the streets of Phoenix March 24. The media noted this was the largest political demonstration in the state’s history.

When contacted for comment, right-wing Sen. John Kyl, the main target of the protest, was only able to mumble something about comprehensive immigration reform. Arizona’s six right-wing Republican congresspersons also stopped their anti-immigrant rantings for at least a day or two.

So just imagine the surprise and terror experienced by these right-wingers when on April 10 up to 200,000 protesters marched on the State Capitol, demanding justice for immigrants and shouting, “Today we march, tomorrow we vote.” The ultra-right leaders in the Legislature closed down their session and ran for their suburban homes, claiming the demonstrators were a threat to their safety.

State workers in nearby buildings didn’t feel threatened. Many came out and mingled with the protesting throng. Many others had taken the day off to take part in the march.

The right wing is scared because this is an election year and they feel vulnerable. Sen. Kyl (rhymes with vile) is up for election in November. As one of the most right-wing, pro-corporate members of Congress, he has a solid record of voting against working people — their unions, their human and civil rights, and their environment.

Kyl has been a strong supporter of the war in Iraq and is co-sponsor of one of the worst anti-immigrant bills in the Senate. Unlike Arizona’s other right-wing senator, Kyl is not colorful and does not give the impression that he ever breaks with the Bush administration.

As Bush’s popularity and support for the war falls, Kyl is becoming increasingly beatable. The AFL-CIO has chosen Kyl as one of their main targets in the 2006 elections, as have some environmental and human rights groups.

Leading Democratic candidate Jim Pederson could defeat Kyl if he would only hammer away at Kyl’s support for the Bush anti-people agenda. So far Pederson, a millionaire developer, has held back on the issues.

Another seat that Democrats hope to capture is the 8th Congressional District, which is being vacated by Republican Rep. Jim Kolbe after 22 years. The district has a slight Republican registration advantage, but also a large number of independents.

Gulf War veteran Jeff Latas launched his antiwar candidacy for the 8th CD seat early. When Kolbe announced his retirement, Latas was joined in the race for the Democratic nomination by state Sen. Gabrielle Giffords, longtime local news anchor Patty Weiss and school board member Alex Rodriguez.

Rep. Raul Grijalva, who represents the adjoining 7th CD, has joined much of the Democratic political establishment in supporting Giffords. However, Giffords’ avoidance of the issues and her garbled position on the unpopular war in Iraq may hurt her. By contrast, both Weiss and Latas have called for the U.S. to withdraw from Iraq. Latas, especially, has taken a strong antiwar position and will undoubtedly get the support of many progressives.

The September primary will also include several Republican candidates, including frontrunner Randy Graf, who is running on a xenophobic, anti-immigrant platform.

Grijalva, one of the most progressive members of Congress, will probably face only token opposition in his bid for re-election. He is expected to campaign hard, nonetheless, to mobilize his army of volunteers to turn out the vote for other candidates like Gov. Janet Napolitano and for Pederson. Grijalva’s 2002 race, where he mobilized over 650 volunteers, is credited with providing the winning margin for Napolitano.

Arizona’s labor movement will also be mobilizing to defeat Kyl and re-elect Napolitano. Labor is also backing a ballot initiative to create a $6.75 minimum wage for the state. Arizona has no minimum wage. (See related story, page 8.)

The Republican strategy has relied on splitting working-class voters by playing on their fears and prejudices. The Arizona Legislature has, accordingly, spewed out one anti-immigrant bill after another, some of which they will place on the ballot. Meanwhile the Christian right has been preparing an initiative against gay marriage for the 2006 ballot.

Now this ruling-class strategy seems to be cracking. The anti-gay marriage drive is short of signatures. And the anti-immigrant onslaught is being drowned out by the sound of marching feet.