Story 9 Protecting Arizona
Summer, 2004: Across America, grassroots supporters and opponents of comprehensive immigration reform are spoiling for a fight at the ballot box. In Arizona, no one can ignore it -- voters' frustration is at a boiling point. Citizens launch a wildly popular ballot initiative, PROTECT ARIZONA NOW. Alfredo Gutierrez, radio host and ex-politician, is galvanized out of 'retirement' to try to beat it. Eventually national groups realize: if things go badly in Arizona, they will surely go worse in Washington. The rollicking campaign becomes a case study in local-national strategic alliances and the many ways they can founder.
Across America, both grassroots supporters and opponents of comprehensive immigration reform are spoiling for a fight to prove real muscle at the ballot box in the 2004. That's why politicians' advisors are steering candidates far away from what's become a toxic issue. But in Arizona, immigration is the issue no one can ignore. It intrudes into everyday life with shootouts between smugglers along Interstate highways and whole neighborhoods of cities transformed into seedy way stations for illegal transients.
With the US / Mexico border torn by a deadly traffic in drugs, guns, money and people, Arizona voters' frustration is at a boiling point. A strong anti-immigrant wave is taking shape at the local level, along with clamor for elected leaders to do something -- just as those leaders are finding that immigration reform is paralyzed. The crisis is an opportunity like no other in the country for anti-immigration strategists.
Late in 2003, several private citizens, led by activist Kathy McKee and local Buick dealer Rusty Childers, begin collecting signatures for a citizens' ballot initiative called Prop 200, and also known as PROTECT ARIZONA NOW (PAN). Its stated aim is to prevent illegal residents from voting, or taking advantage of public services not legally mandated for their use. Though PAN petitions move slowly in the beginning, an Arizona State University poll finds support running over 80% across the board!
The shock margin galvanizes Alfredo Gutierrez, well-known local radio host and longtime leader of the Arizona State Senate. Since his failed run for Governor against Janet Napolitano, Alfredo has "retired" into private life, but he smells real danger in the poll and with his lifetime of experience in politics and public relations, he determines to figure out how to beat it.
Alfredo commissions his own poll, which confirms his suspicions that PAN can be voted down, but only if a coalition of voters much larger than its natural opponents can be convinced it won't be the solution they're looking for. That means "white Republicans" will need to join local immigration advocates, progressives and the Chicano community to beat it. It will take a campaign with hyper-careful message control, and a lot of money.
He begins sounding the alarm to raise funds at the national level early in 2004, but until July, when PAN supporters manage to collect enough signatures to get the measure officially accepted on the November ballot, Alfredo finds no allies. By then the election is only three months away.
Finally -- in August -- Alfredo gets a reaction. National pro-immigration figures realize late that if things go badly in Arizona, they'll go worse in DC and for the country as a whole. Eliseo Medina from the Service Employees International Union, Tom Espinoza from the National Council of La Raza, noted independent immigration advocate Tamar Jacoby, and Frank Sharry from the National Immigration Forum all meet Alfredo and local activists in Phoenix to work out a plan to fight PAN and a way to pay for it.
Eliseo offers to match whatever the business community can come up with, and Frank volunteers to help with messaging the campaign. All agree Republican superstar John McCain could be a critical ally, if he's willing. There's little time and much to do -- so much, in fact, that the group decides to contract with a local political campaign management firm close to Senator McCain. By Labor Day, HGDR (Hamilton Gullet Davis + Roman) are on the case.
For the next two months, the rollicking campaign is a case study in local-national strategic alliances and the many ways they can founder. HGDR's modern "air war" campaign theory rubs longtime activists who believe in door-to-door "ground wars" the wrong way. And the No on 200 campaign learns that their message will never be as simple or easy as their opponents promise to Protect Arizona Now.
Even a late-breaking fraud scandal in the PAN camp fails to give Alfredo and his allies a break. But the state's Republican establishment rallies in the nick of time, to bring the campaign of genuinely frustrated citizens to a surprising end.