Article — From the July 2010 issue
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Article — From the July 2010 issue
Yet even as the state has teetered toward bankruptcy, political leaders have remained unwilling to acknowledge that taxes in Arizona are too low. Indeed, thirty-eight of Arizona’s ninety lawmakers, together with Governor Brewer, have signed the “Taxpayer Protection Pledge” of Grover Norquist’s group Americans for Tax Reform, a pledge that they will never vote for a tax increase. Democrats have played the game as well: in 2007, then-Governor Napolitano approved a 10 percent reduction in the income tax, which cost the state about $500 million. The combination of historic tax cuts with the recession has reduced government revenues from $9.5 billion in 2007 to $6.4 billion this year. That latter figure is roughly equal to the amount of money the state took in six years ago, even as the population—and the need for government spending on health care, education, and prisons, for example—has continued its rapid growth.
The anti-government attitude in Arizona is now reflexive, especially because of its entanglement with the issue of immigration. As one local resident, who didn’t want to be identified because she has a government job, told me: “People who have swimming pools don’t need state parks. If you buy your books at Borders you don’t need libraries. If your kids are in private school, you don’t need K-12. The people here, or at least those who vote, don’t see the need for government. Since a lot of the population are not citizens, the message is that government exists to help the undeserving, so we shouldn’t have it at all. People think it’s OK to cut spending, because ESL is about people who refuse to assimilate and health care pays for illegals.”
This confluence of nativism and anti-government sentiment makes Arizona fertile ground for an especially showy brand of symbolic politics. One day in February I sat in the audience during a session of the Senate Appropriations Committee, which meets in a wood-paneled room with a stained carpet, on the ground floor of the senate building. During the meeting, committee chairman Senator Russell Pearce—sponsor of the anti-immigrant bill and one of the most powerful politicians in the state—called on the federal government to put the National Guard on the border and “have rifles with bullets in ’em.” Apropos of nothing, the balding, red-faced Senator Al Melvin brought up his pet topic of inmate labor, which he views as a solution to the state’s budget crisis. Jailbirds, burbled Melvin, should fill potholes, keep golf courses open, and refurbish public buildings.
Soon the committee began to debate whether to post the Ten Commandments at the entrance to the old state capitol. A six-foot granite version located a few hundred feet away did not, it seemed, sufficiently convey the state’s piety. “George Washington, our first recognized president of this republic, said you cannot properly govern without the Bible and God, and I couldn’t agree more. And John Adams once made the statement that this republic is designed wholly for a moral and religious people and will survive under none other,” Pearce, the measure’s sponsor, told his colleagues. After a few minutes’ more debate, the measure passed, and the committee, having done the people’s business, adjourned for the day.
More from Ken Silverstein:
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