The tragedy in Tucson on Jan. 8 shook Arizonans to the core, and those of us in public service here were doubly shaken because one of the shooting victims was a friend and colleague, and it happened at an informal public gathering — something all of us have hosted at one time or another.
My first thoughts in the wake of the shooting were for the victims of the senseless tragedy. Politics did not cross my mind. I issued a joint statement with the Democratic leader of the state Senate, David Schapira, inviting Arizonans to “join us in prayer for Congresswoman Giffords and the others who have lost or are fighting for their lives.”
While I was trying to make sense of the tragedy, many on the left had made the decision to exploit the situation to smear their political opponents and the entire state of Arizona.
Disappointingly, Arizona politicians were at the forefront of this charge. Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik said, “The bigotry that goes on in this country is getting to be outrageous. And unfortunately, Arizona, I think, has become sort of the capital. We have become the Mecca for prejudice and bigotry.”
Congressman Raul Grijalva went further: “We have quite a high level of hate … you’ve stirred the cauldron with immigration and you have a real intensity. They’re driven by that issue as much as anything else.”
Both men have been attacking their own Arizona since my bill SB 1070 was signed into law last April. Rep. Grijalva urged a boycott against businesses in his own state, while Sheriff Dupnik called the bill “racist” and “disgusting” and stated that he would not enforce the law.
These men were joined by the chorus in the mainstream media who blamed a “climate of hate” in Arizona for the shooting. Major media outlets ran headlines such as “Bitter Politics of Arizona Loom over Shooting” in Reuters or Newsweek’s “State of Fear in Arizona.” CNN commentator Ruben Navarrette said he was sick of our state: “Raise your hand if you have had it with the drama capital of America, which seems to spend more time on the front page than the other 49 states combined. Or if you think the Grand Canyon State has become, in recent years, more trouble than it’s worth.”
Many commentators singled me out for Arizona’s woes. A Los Angeles Times article entitled “Arizona’s us-versus-them brand of politics” opens:
“Shortly before a gunman shot Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in the head and killed six bystanders, the man who helped position Arizona at the vanguard of a national right-wing populist revolt addressed supporters in Phoenix. ‘We’re leading the nation,’ state Sen. Russell Pearce told the Maricopa County Republican Party as he celebrated the GOP’s clean sweep of state elections in November and Arizona’s influence on immigration and other issues… ‘If it wasn’t for Arizona you wouldn’t have the debate going on that you have. … We’ve changed the face of this nation through the tea party, through Americans who want their government back.’ ”
Tucked away at the bottom of the piece was a disclaimer that suspect Jared Loughner “left an Internet trail of disjointed ramblings that show no clear partisan ideology, and many analysts urged caution in ascribing a political motive to the shootings. But the attack immediately drew attention to Arizona’s place in the national political psyche.”
As we get more information on Loughner, it is becoming clear that the tea parties, the conservative movement and opposition to illegal immigration have absolutely nothing to do with his alleged crime. He was a deranged man, pure and simple, who allegedly committed a senseless act of violence against innocent citizens.
So why the rush to look at “Arizona’s place in the national political psyche”?
Because what I said before the Maricopa GOP was true. We are leading the nation’s fight against illegal immigration, securing borders, going after illegal employers and restoring the rule of law. Dozens of states are introducing SB 1070-style legislation and 3 to 1 Americans support Arizona’s efforts and laws. Now we are taking on the issue to stop the unconstitutional declaration of birthright citizenship and return to the original intent of the 14th Amendment.
This fact has absolutely nothing to do with Jared Loughner, but opponents of securing our borders are jumping on any excuse to try to smear us.
I will continue to pray for Gabrielle Giffords and the other victims of this disgusting act of violence, and at the same time I will continue to fight against illegal immigration and restore constitutional government to Arizona.
Russell Pearce is a former Maricopa County sheriff’s deputy who represented Mesa in the state House of Representatives and is now president of the state Senate.