Race is still a factor in politics in big cities where it remains a building block for coalition politics, and where, as recently in Houston, it pits one minority group against another. Some would like to see it become a factor in Arizona politics. Some would also like to become the local equivalent of Al Sharpton.
But for some time, Tucson and Pima County voters have proved that regardless of the special-interest types who would like them to believe otherwise, race, ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation don't matter. In that sense, Arizona and Tucson in particular are politically much more mature than some other portions of the nation.
Start with gender. Arizona has had a higher proportion of female legislators longer than most other states for several decades. Women have at one time been both Senate President and House Speaker. And we all noticed one day that the top five elected state officials were women, at least until State Superintendant of Public Instruction Lisa Graham resigned earlier this year. There's irony here--most of those legislators and four of those five are Republicans. It's so ironic that many liberal Democrat feminists try to ignore it.
In fact, militant feminists are about the only people who use gender as a criterion for holding public office any more, having publicly declared through such groups as Women's Political Caucus that they will only support female candidates for office regardless of issue stance. Fortunately, just about everybody else ignores them, including most female voters.
Locally, women began getting elected to the Tucson City Council and Pima County Board of Supervisors in the 1970s, when they also increased their numbers in the Pima County legislative delegation. Today, two of five county supervisors, three of six council members and four of six Pima County state senators are women.
More women probably would have been elected sooner had they run. Arizona was ahead of most of the nation when it elected Tucson's Isabella Greenway to its only seat in the U.S. House of Representatives in 1933. She served two terms and no doubt could've served many more had she so chosen.
The net result is that Arizona and Tucson have achieved political gender equality. That really came through a few years back during the great AzScam embarrassment when females busted for taking bribes were about in proportion to the rest of the legislature. Gender equity was established when we discovered that female public officials are just as greedy, corrupt, venal and stupid as the guys are.
RACE IS A LITTLE harder to illustrate. Unlike gender, the playing field has been tilted for many years by the establishment of districts favoring minority candidates--specifically, Mexican-Americans and Native Americans. Suffice that those districts embodied in federal law as minority enclaves--some call it the new version of "separate but equal"--contain voters who have proved their lack of bigotry by electing a whole series of non Hispanics over the years to a variety of seats. That fewer minorities have been elected from other districts can be attributed to a lack of candidates to choose from, most having chosen to run in their government-assigned areas. The only recent African-American to serve on the Tucson City Council represented the mostly whitebread far east side and had no trouble winning citywide.
Hispanic candidates have fared well on both the Tucson City Council--where they must run citywide after winning the nomination in their own wards--and the Pima County Board of Supervisors.
There are a few local pockets of voter bigotry, which can be proved by comparing what happens to candidates with Spanish surnames in races run against candidates with Anglo names with races that are Anglo vs. Anglo, but the number of precincts so behaving is minuscule.
Tucson's general lack of bigotry in voting patterns can also be seen in the high number of Jews who hold and have held local office, and the fact that the only openly gay Republican in the U.S. House of Representatives is our own Jim Kolbe. Conservative opposition to him in his own party is based on his "moderate" voting record far more than his sexual orientation.
Statewide, Arizona's supposed racial bigotry stems from the failure of voters to pass a Martin Luther King Jr. state holiday a few years back. This is a phony issue and proved nothing of the sort. In searching for something to feel guilty about, everyone--including the geniuses in the mainstream media--forgot that there were two MLK holiday proposals on the ballot. One would've replaced Columbus Day with the King holiday; the other simply added it--the measure that passed two years later after all that national bad press.
It doesn't take a math degree to note that a majority of Arizonans favored establishing a King holiday but their vote was split between two different proposals. That the state's leaders were too gutless to point this out and tell the Bryant Gumbel and others to shove it tells you much more about Arizona's lack of decent political leadership than it validates charges of racism.
And not all those who opposed the holiday did so from racism. There is a sizeable group of folks who still haven't figured out why the only way a public figure can be honored is to give public employees another day off.
The other item that supposedly proves an inherent racism was the passage of last year's ballot proposition greatly curtailing what is generally called bilingual education. That there were Hispanics and Anglos and others on both sides clearly waters down the charge. There were also genuine bigots favoring it, as well as more subtle racists who wished to see the results of the Mexican War of 1846 overturned through massive undigested immigration. Neither cared about what most voters on both sides did--what was best for the kids. At worst, the charge of insensitivity could be made against some of the proponents--but that hardly qualifies as racism.
That Pima County historically has a record of racial discrimination in numerous areas is undisputed. That voters here have outgrown that and couldn't care less what ethnic group or race a candidate is from is obvious. That's the real news--and the good news.