Arizona received the ignominious honor in 2011 of being singled out by two separate online publications as a model of corruption and political mismanagement. In August, popular news and entertainment site Gawker crowned Arizona the “worst state in America,” due to its questionable leadership and proliferation of anti-immigrant sentiment. In November, financial news blog 24/7 Wall St. ranked Arizona the fourth worst run state in the nation, similarly calling out the state’s leaders as particularly inept. However, despite the fact that Arizona has been repeatedly criticized for its faults this year, there are signs that 2011 could represent a sea change, as there is preliminary evidence that the state could already be headed down a new path.
In May, activist organization Citizens for a Better Arizona successfully collected the necessary signatures to initiate a recall election of embattled State Sen. Russell Pearce. Pearce is perhaps best known as a staunch opponent of undocumented immigration, and as the architect behind Ariz. bill SB 1070. When Pearce was handily defeated in the November election by Steve Smith, many looked at this moment as a sign that Arizonans were tiring of vitriolic anti-immigrant rhetoric and draconian legislation.
Another sign of change in Arizona concerns changing attitudes in the state towards Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio. Throughout 2011, it has often seemed that Arpaio’s political star has been on the rise, as he has been seen at fundraisers and rallies throughout the country endorsing political allies such as candidate for the Republican nomination for president Rick Perry. However, in December the Justice Department issued a scathing report accusing Arpaio of racial profiling and civil rights violations, and demanding that he implement necessary changes in his department. Now, with the DOJ continuing their pursuit and with the Sheriff up for reelection in 2012, it seems that Arpaio’s twenty-year tenure as sheriff could soon come to an end.
Throughout 2011, awareness seems to be growing of a multitude of problems in this state requiring urgent action. As six Ariz. border enforcers were charged this year with corrupt behavior, such as drug trafficking, it has become apparent that this is a growing problem that authorities must address. Another concern that more and more people in this state are taking seriously concerns the failing state of Arizona’s private prisons. Several organizations and news sources have pointed out not only the abuse suffered by undocumented immigrants detained in these facilities, but also the problematic alliance between private prison corporations and lawmakers.
Finally, the national face of Arizona itself seems to be changing, as current state figureheads such as Pearce, Arpaio and Gov. Jan Brewer are being challenged by more progressive state symbols. Most notably, following her January shooting, recovering Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords has emerged as an inspiration to the entire nation. In addition, Tucson Congressman Raúl Grijalva is also making a name for himself on the national stage, contributing to the fight against SB-1070-type laws throughout the country.
This is the fourth part in a series of pieces revisiting the major immigration and border-related stories of 2011. Read additional parts here: part 1, part 2, part 3, part 5, part 6.