Elephants in the Room


The strategy in removing immigration-enforcers from office in Arizona: Don’t mention immigrants.

Listen to the piece here, and/or listen to me talk about the piece on The Madeleine Brand Show here.

Dennis Lambert: The activists who successfully led the campaign to recall former State Senate President Russell Pearce are now running another campaign — calling for Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s resignation. The strategy is consistent: Target immigration enforcement leaders without talking about immigration. From Phoenix, Devin Browne reports.

Devin: At a recent Maricopa County Supervisor’s meeting, a frustrated citizen with the motorcycle club “Riders for a Sovereign America” came to the podium to say that Arizona public officials who speak out against illegal immigration are under attack.

Ansel: Please don’t be coerced into cooperating with these Berkeley, Saul-Alinsky trained community organizers. (Cheers.)

Devin: The clapping here is notable. Four years ago some of these organizers were arrested in a meeting just like this one for basically the same behavior. They were clapping and speaking out against Sheriff Arpaio’s immigration enforcement tactics, and then hauled out of the meeting for public disruption in a now notorious event known locally as “The Clappers.” The organizers won in court, but they never got what they really wanted. They never convinced the supervisors to reign in Arpaio and ideally, call for his resignation.

Now, on the heels of the recall of Arpaio’s longtime ally Russell Pearce, they’re back, still under the direction of former union organizer Randy Parraz. This time though, they’re not talking about immigration — at least not directly. Parraz framed the campaign against Pearce the same way. His top talking points were about:

Randy: Education and at that time, the unwillingness to fund organ transplants.

Devin: Later, Pearce’s involvement with the Fiesta Bowl scandal mattered as well, but the point Parraz tried to make was that Pearce’s constituents were the victims: people with kids in schools that were being ignored or with health issues that weren’t getting funded. Similarly, Parraz’s campaign against Arpaio is centering on allegations of mis-handled sex crime investigations and violence in his jails. The victims, Parraz says, are children and veterans. He’s not leading with immigrants.

Randy: A lot of immigrant rights groups do that and it limits their ability to break through and to really have a message that resonates with most Arizonans.

Devin: This is because trying to incite wide-ranging sympathy over alleged immigrant abuse, in this state, is what long time Arizona reporter Dennis Welch calls a “tough sell.”

Dennis Welch: In the case of maybe [Sheriff] Joe Arpaio, if you say: Well, he’s being tough on immigrants in jail. Well, they’d say: They’re in jail and they’re here illegally. We like that.

Devin: Parraz agrees.

Parraz: Because for most folks, a lot immigrants don’t have standing in their community, they’re not very well respected unfortunately. That’s just the reality. 

Devin: So for Parraz this meant making the argument that when these elected officials focused on immigration enforcement it came at the expense of other things — schools in Mesa, sex-crime investigations in El Mirage. It’s a case he’s planning on making at every level of politics in Arizona.

Randy: When you take on someone like Russell Pearce, who is supposed to be one of the most powerful men in politics in Arizona, when you take him down, you don’t go: Oh, let’s look at a state representative. You go bigger. This was the president of the senate. You don’t dream smaller. We see the top three people as Pearce, Arpaio and [Governor] Brewer. 

Devin: Arpaio faces two challengers this November, and Governor Jan Brewer isn’t up for re-election until 2014. But even with just Pearce as a trophy, Parraz has already made a name for himself. Reporter Dennis Welch says that Parraz is now one of the most powerful democrats in the state, a title that doesn’t exactly impress everyone. 

Coughlin: That’s a pretty low bar.

Devin: This is Chuck Coughlin, a long-time republican political consultant in Arizona.

Coughlin: The hard thing in politics is actually effectuating positive change. Not taking out people who are problems.

Devin: Parraz doesn’t just want to take out Arpaio. He also wants to replace the county supervisors who control Arpaio’s budget. Recently Parraz’s wife and partner in the Pearce recall, Lilia Alvarez, announced that she will be running for a seat on the board this November.