Paul Eckerstrom

Attorney Paul Eckerstrom is one of the organizers of Start Our State, which is pushing for a proposition on the November 2012 ballot that would start the process of splitting Pima County from the rest of Arizona to form the 51st state. While the details still need to be worked out, Eckerstrom says Start Our State is planning a July 3 event that will feature bands, food and fun, along with a chance to sign petitions to put the question to voters. Save Our State must gather more than 48,000 signatures by July 5, 2012, to make the ballot. For more information, visit startourstate.com.

The Daily Show came to town to do a segment on you guys, but then let you know it wasn't going to air.

We were disappointed, because it was a lot of fun when they taped it, and a lot of people in the community were excited about it.

Did they say why they spiked the segment?

I guess when they edited it, it didn't come off as funny enough. I guess we were so serious, and our issue is so important, that they couldn't make fun of us.

What's the reason behind Save Our State?

There's a heck of a lot of them, like the frustration with the extreme legislation that's being proposed at the Capitol. A lot of it didn't become law this year, but we all know that you propose it one year, and it eventually passes, like with guns in bars. What it really boils down to is we need to separate ourselves from Maricopa County so we can have a better image, and we can actually have business here. Tourism is way down. And when I was going to school here, we were 26th in per-student spending among the states, and now we're dead-last. In my last year of law school in 1986, it cost me less than $1,000 for a year of law school. Now for undergraduate education, it costs more than $10,000 in tuition and fees. ... And then the whole death-panel thing about the hundred people who were transplant patients that they threw off the rolls, and they let two people die. Now they're throwing people off of AHCCCS, which is going to cost us jobs and cost us federal money. Then there's all this weird immigration stuff, like SB 1070. ... The thing that pushed me over the edge was the nullification statutes. The Legislature is basically seceding from the country, because they're not going to follow federal laws they don't like. ... Then there's the string of just-beat-the-crap-out-of-Tucson-and/or-Southern-Arizona legislation. ... I'm just tired of it. What drove me to it was that I wasn't hearing (Arizona) voices on the other side being listened to. We weren't getting any kind of play in the media or the press. So it was out of frustration that Peter Hormel and I started this. At the very least, maybe we make enough noise that people around the country know that in Southern Arizona, we're not all crazy, and they're welcome to come here.

Do you think there's been a shift in the type of Republicans who are winning elections in Arizona?

This Legislature is way out of step with Arizona, which is a moderately conservative state. ... It's all about nihilism. It's all, "We don't want any taxes, and we don't want any government." That's what they care about, and that's kind of weird. Totally annihilating government does not make any sense at all. The Republicans have been able to get away with their ideological weirdness on other stuff by distracting everybody on the immigration issue. They get people to blame the illegal immigrants for all their ills and problems with this economy, while closing down schools and picking (Arizonans') pockets so they can give tax breaks to the rich and big business.

What do you hope will come of this?

I don't hold out a lot of hope that the Legislature would let us go, although they're crazy enough that they might say, "Good riddance to all those Democrats down there." But the next hurdle is Congress, and if Republicans hold on to power in the House, there's no way. They don't want any more Democratic senators. But I do hope that we get on the ballot so we can at least voice our opinion in a big way, and send a message to the nation that Southern Arizona is cool, and you can send your kids to school here, and you can spend your tourism dollars here. It would send a message ... to the rest of the voters in the state to start paying attention to who you're voting for.