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Posts for February, 2012

AZ Sheriff, Ex-Boyfriend Appear On CNN

Jim Burroway

February 20th, 2012

Pinal County, Arizona, Sheriff Paul Babeu appeared with CNN’s Wolfe Blitzer today for an extensive interivew. In this clip, he says he supports marriage equality as an issue that should be left up to the states. I haven’t been able to find any position he might have taken on Arizona’ Prop 102 in 2008. (Gay rights, it should be noted, is not a topic that comes up very often in sheriff races.)

With his outing over the weekend and this statement to the press, I really have my doubts that Babeu will win his primary. The Congressional seat he’s running for in south-central/western AZ is very, very different from the one Jim Kolbe, the last openly-gay Republican in Congress, held in Southestern Arizona and East Tucson. Kolbe’s seat was a swing seat alongside the border. which, ironically, is not as upset over immigration issues as other districts further away. (In Arizona, it seems the further north you go from the border, the more freaked out people get over immigration, with the notable exception of Flagstaff which is generally pretty easy-going.) The seat Babeu’s running for is much, much more like Imperial Valley in its politics, and frankly I’m not even sure he could win as Sheriff of Pinal County again, at least for the time being.

In the next statement, he denies threatening “Jose” with reporting him to INS.

UPDATE: “Jose” appeared on CNN and stands by his allegations. He also says his immigration status is current and he has a 10-year, US tourist visa that allows him to cross the border. That’s a very common visa for Mexicans living along the border to hold.

AZ Sheriff Outed, Mexican Ex-Boyfriend Says He Threatened Him With Deportation

Jim Burroway

February 18th, 2012

Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu

Jeez, I live in a God-forsaken freakshow of a state.

Pinal County, Arizona Sheriff Paul Babeu, who made national headlines for his strident anti-immigration stance, threatened his Mexican male lover with deportation when the ex refused to promise never to disclose their long-term relationship. The details were provided in an article published in the Phoenix New Times this week. Today, Babeu acknowledged that he is, in fact, gay, but denied all of the other allegations published in the Phoenix paper.

According to the New Times:

He (Babeu’s ex-lover) says lawyer Chris DeRose demanded he sign an agreement that he would never breathe a word about the affair. But Jose (New Times is withholding his last name because Babeu and his attorney have challenged his legal status) refused.

The 34-year-old from central Mexico charges that the sheriff’s lawyer warned against mentioning the affair with Babeu. DeRose said gossip about Babeu would focus attention on Jose, attention that could result in his deportation, Jose says.

Melissa Weiss-Riner, Jose’s attorney, confirms her client’s account.

She says she spoke directly to the sheriff’s lawyer, DeRose, about the Babeu camp’s threats that Jose could be deported if he “revealed the relationship.” She says DeRose falsely claimed that Jose’s visa had expired.

“Jose came to our firm because he felt he was being intimidated, and he was in fear for his life,” Weiss-Riner says. “He wanted his legal rights protected.”

Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu

“Jose” says he and Babeu met in 2006 on As the relationship grew, Jose created and maintained Babeu’s campaign websites and social media. New Times published text messages and voice mail exchanged between Jose and Babeu in 2011 soon after the relationship soured. The relationship fell apart when Jose found Babeu’s profile on Jose created a fake profile posing as “Matt” and soon Babeu began sending him explicit photos and messages. New Times provides the details of those messages and photos here.

In 2010, the Pinal County Sheriff’s office gained national attention when Deputy Louie Puroll claimed that he was ambushed in the desert by Mexican drug runners. Babeu became a regular feature on Fox News and other right-wing media outlets, stoking anti-immigrant hysteria that had, by then, led to Arizona’s passage of Senate Bill 1070, the so-called “show me your papers” bill. He also appeared in a commercial with Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) demanding that the feds “build the danged fence.” Babeu continued to stand behind his deputy even after the story began falling apart. When Puroll later told a reporter that a drug smuggler threatened to kill the reporter, Babeu fired his deputy because the alleged incident hadn’t been reported to superiors. Just last week, Babeu gave a rabble-rousing speech at the right-wing CPAC conference.

In a news conference today, Babeu admitted that he was gay, and said that he was stepping down as Arizona co-chair of Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign. Babeu also admitted to having had a personal relationship with Jose, and also did not deny the text messages or photos that were published in New Times, which include some of the threats he made to Jose.

According to the Arizona Republic, a reporter was meeting with Babeu Friday just as the New Times story went online. With the reporter present, Babeu read the story on his smartphone, “shaking his head as he read. Afterward, his face appeared to strain with emotion.”

Babeu is currently running for Congress against fellow Republicans Rep. Paul Gosar and State Sen. Ron Gould for Arizona’s new 4th Congressional District in central and western Arizona. Pinal County is located between Tucson and Phoenix. Babeu and his DeRose say that they don’t think the story will impact his campaign. Babeu said, “My personal life is exactly that.”

The fallout from this scandal may spread far beyond Babeu and Jose. Openly gay state Rep. Matt Heinz (D-Tucson), who is running to fill the recently-vacated Congressional seat of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, was one of just two Democratic lawmakers to vote to give the Pinal County Sheriff’s office $5 million to combat “border violence,” even though Pinal County is more than 70 miles from the border. The legislature later scaled back the appropriation to $1.7 million. A week after Heinz’s vote, the Babeu spent the night at Heinz’s home:

“I’m at Mat Heinz and his boyfriend for dinner & ice cream… we are going out to bar and … to their house. [Am] staying over,” Babeu texted to Jose at 1:04 a.m. last April 2.

Gay, Pro-Gay Candidates Win Big

Jim Burroway

November 9th, 2011

Yesterday was a very good day for gay and -pro-gay candidates throughout the country. Here is a wrap-up. Please let me know what else is out there in the comments.

NOM Loses Big: Same-sex marriage remains secure in Iowa as Liz Mathis won big, 56-44%, over her NOM-backed opponent, Cindy Golding, in a special election for the Iowa state Senate. The National Organization for Marriage threw about $40,000 toward their failed attempt to elect Golding by making same-sex marriage an issue in the race. But soon after it was clear Golding lost, NOM’s cultural director Thomas Peters tweeted: “That’s what happens when a state GOP nominates a weak candidate.” Wow. Talk about your fair weather friends.

Virginia’s First: Adam Ebbin became the first openly gay state senator in Virginia after defeating his Republican challenger by a margin of 64-35%. His district, which is solidly Democratic, includes parts of Alexandria, Arlington, and Fairfax counties.

First Openly Gay, African-American Republican Mayor: At least that’s what we think happened when Bruce Harris was elected mayor of Chatham Borough, New Jersey.

Charlotte’s First: LaWana Mayfield became the first openly gay city council member as part of a Democratic landslide in North Carolina’s largest city. North Carolina, which will see a marriage amendment on the ballot next year, saw a number of other LGBT victories:

  • Chapel Hill Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt won re-election with 78% of the vote.
  • Lee Storrow, a gay 22-year-old UNC grad won his race for a seat on the Chapel Hill city council.
  • Carrboro incumbent Alderwoman Lydia Lavelle was re-elected to another term for city council.

Cincinnati’s First: Chis Seelbach became the first openly gay city council member. He worked in 2004 to help defeat Article XII in the city charter which banned anti-discrimination ordinances for gay people.

Indianapolis’s First: Zach Adamson became the first openly gay city council member. S

Missoula’s First: Caitlin Copple became the first openly gay city council member. She defeated one of only two city council members who voted against the city’s anti-discrimination ordinance in 2010, which made Missoula the first city in Montana to provide discrimination protections in housing and employment regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.

Youngest Mayor: Alex Morse, 22, beat incumbent mayor Mary Pluta in Holyoke, Massachusetts, to become the nation’s youngest mayor.

Houston Re-elects: Mayor Annise Parker was re-elected with more than 50% of the vote, a margin which allows her to avoid a run-off. Mike Laster also became the first openly gay member of Houston’s city council.

Traverse City Supports Anti-Discrimination Ordinance: Voters in Traverse City, Michigan voted by a 2-to-1 margin to keep an anti-discrimination ordinance.  The vote came more than a year after Traverse City adopted the ordinance to prevent discrimination against gays in employment, housing and other areas. Opponents of the measure collected signatures to place a referendum for repeal on the ballot.

And on a final note, there were a number of gains in school board elections around the country which I didn’t cover, but I would like to point one out anyway: Daniel Hernandez, Jr., Rep. Gabrielle Gifford’s openly gay intern, was elected to as seat on the board of the Sunnyside Unified School District in Tuscon’s south side. Hernandez was one of the recognized heros during the January shooting at a Northwest side Safeway which killed  six and critically injured Rep. Giffords. And on a more personal note, I couldn’t be happier about the stunning news that Arizona Senate President Russell Pearce, architect of infamous anti-immigrant S.B. 1070 which was later found unconstitutional, was ousted by voters in favor of a political newcomer in Mesa.

The Daily Agenda for Tuesday, August 30

Jim Burroway

August 30th, 2011

Gay-friendly Bisbee, Arizona

I don’t have anything on the calendar for today. Instead, I’ll point you to a story that appeared in Tucson’s local paper last Friday. The Arizona Daily Star reported on the local angle of the William’s Institute’s latest study of the gayest cities in America, as measured according to the number of same-sex households counted by the U.S. Census in 2010. The top city in Arizona by that measure was not Phoenix, nor Tucson nor Flagstaff, nor Sedona. The gay friendliest city in Arizona is tiny Bisbee (pop. 6,000). According to the Williams Institute, 20.9 for every 1,000 households there was made up of same-sex couples:

So why Bisbee?

“It’s kind of a little bit of a liberal spot in a conservative oasis,” said Kathy Sowden. She and her partner, Deborah Grier, own and operate Finders Keepers, an antique and jewelry shop on Main Street in Old Bisbee.

How liberal?

“I’m always surprised to see a Republican bumper sticker here,” she said.

The couple, who moved to Arizona six years ago from California, also said there’s a kind of live-and-let-live attitude in the community. Sowden said part of that is strictly economics.

“It’s a lot of people trying to make a living in a small tourist town,” she said. “A lot of times the mutual goal kind of erases any cultural differences, especially now with the economy the way it is.”

Old Post Office and Library in Downtown Bisbee

Bisbee is only ninety miles from Tucson, a distance which counts as “local” in the Southwest. And so whenever we have out of town guests, we always figure out how to make a trip to Bisbee for an afternoon. It’s one of my favorite places to hang out in Arizona on the weekends.

Bisbee began life as a very wild and rough copper mining camp in 1880. The “streets,” such as they were, were haphazard and were better suited for drainage down Tombstone Canyon in the craggy Mule Mountains than they were for traffic. Over the next few years, simple miners’ cabins and businesses eventually replaced the tents, paved streets replaced the muddy paths, and something resembling law and order finally, over the course of twenty years or so, replaced the prostitution, gambling and gunfights in Bisbee’s many saloons along Brewery Gulch. Bisbee’s reputation was never as bad as it’s northern neighbor Tombstone though, and so in 1929, the citizens of Cochise County voted to move the county seat 23 miles to the south and place it in a brand new art deco courthouse north of downtown. The Copper Queen Hotel provided first class lodgings for businessmen and tourists, and the Copper Queen Hospital provided medical care for Bisbee’s denizens.

Miners' homes on the hillsides behind Brewery Gulch

Prohibition calmed things down considerably, but the mines kept the town busy. But the switch from subterranean mining to one massive open pit meant the loss of thousands of jobs. But by 1975, even the Lavender Pit Mine was no longer economically viable, and the Phelps Dodge Corporation shut it down for good. That decision very nearly spelled the end of the town. It looked like Bisbee was about to become yet another of the many ghost towns tucked into the mountains in the southwest.

But just housing prices collapsed, hippie refugees and artists quickly discovered that they could afford to purchase a tiny minor’s cabin for the price of the grocery tab. By the 1980′s Bisbee became known for the live-and-let-live attitudes these new residents brought to the community. By the 1990′s hip retirees discovered that they could afford to indulge their passions for glass art and painting while living off of their Social Security checks whether they ever sold anything or not. And by the turn of the millennium, gay couples looking to flee the ghettos of L.A. and San Francisco found Bisbee to be a more affordable, less pretentious, friendlier, and much more walkable retirement destination than Palm Springs. (In fact, because much of Bisbee is built on the sides of the canyons, many homes can’t be reached by car; thousands of concrete stairs over several dozen stairways serve as replacements for streets and sidewalks.)

One way to get around town.

Bisbee (unofficial motto: “Keep Bisbee freaky”) is home to several fine restaurants, coffee roasters, dive bars, art galleries and antique stores (at least one of which, based on my experience, is generous with “family” discounts). It is also home to the stately and restored Copper Queen Hotel, along with several other historic hotels and B&B’s. If you want to stay somewhere funkier, you can book a night in a restored 1950s’ travel trailer at the Shade Dell. And if you happen to be there in mid-June, you can check out Bisbee’s Gay Pride celebration, complete with a lingerie pub crawl, a drag race and bull run up Brewery Gulch, and a Miners and Madames Street Dance. In 2007, Out magazine listed it among the top five rural Pride events in the country. Or you can come in mid-October for Great Bisbee Stair Climb, which is a run up one of Bisbee’s 1,000-step staircases.

If you know of something that belongs on the agenda, please send it here. PLEASE, don’t forget to include the basics: who, what, when, where, and URL (if available).

Petition Calls On Southern Baptists To Apologize

Jim Burroway

June 13th, 2011

A large group of Southern Baptists will gather in Phoenix this week for their annual convention. As leading proponents of ex-gay ministries, they have been front and center of a larger anti-gay political movement. Several LGBT advocacy groups plan to greet the convention with a gathering of their own. Faith in America, Soulforce, Truth Wins Out, Get Equal, and the Association of Affirming and Welcoming Baptists will join a local group of Phoenix-area clergy known as Believe Out Loud for a demonstration calling on the Southern Baptist Convention to apologize for the harm its teachings have caused the LGBT community, particularly to the youth. There is an online petition which will be hand-delivered following a protest outside the SBC’s annual meeting in Phoenix on Wednesday, a day that marks the religious group’s historic apology to African Americans for supporting slavery and Jim Crow laws.

So far, more than 5,000 people have signed the petition calling on the SBC to apologize. You can add your name to the petition here.

Welcome Out, Rick Welts

Jim Burroway

May 15th, 2011

Who’s Rick Welts, you ask? He’s the President of the NBA’s Phoenix Suns. And in the sports pages of today’s New York Times — which I totally would never have read otherwise — there is a lengthy and touching profile of his decision to come out in an industry that is not at all known for its welcoming attitude towards LGBT acceptance.

…Mr. Welts explained that he wants to pierce the silence that envelops the subject of homosexuality in men’s team sports. He wants to be a mentor to gay people who harbor doubts about a sports career, whether on the court or in the front office. Most of all, he wants to feel whole, authentic.

“This is one of the last industries where the subject is off limits,” said Mr. Welts, who stands now as a true rarity, a man prominently employed in professional men’s team sports, willing to declare his homosexuality. “Nobody’s comfortable in engaging in a conversation.”

In 1984 Welts helped to raise the NBA’s profile by creating the NBA All-Star Weekend, and in 1997 he helped to establish the Women’s National Basketball Association. He became President of the Phoenix Suns in 2002.

Two Dads, Twelve Kids in Arizona

Jim Burroway

May 4th, 2011

The Ham family, clockwise from bottom center: "Papa" Roger, Cooper, "Daddy" Steven holding Olivia, Jackson, Michael, Madison, Vanessa, Marcus, Isabel, Logan, Elizabeth, Andrew and Ambrose. (Michael Chow/Arizona Republic)

The Arizona Republic on Monday profiled the family of Steven and Roger Ham, the two gay dads who are the fathers of twelve children who were adopted from foster care in Arizona, where two men can’t marry or adopt children together. Last month, Gov. Jan Brewer signed into law a bill that gives preferential treatment to married couples in state and private adoptions. Even before that law went into effect, Steven and Roger’s quest to bring these children into their home wasn’t an easy one.

“We had to fight to get them,” Roger says. “We had to fight to get them all,” Steven says.

They started out only wanting one child, but when they saw that there were so many kids in the foster care system needing a home — there are 10,514 children in the state’s care presently — they couldn’t stop at one. And besides, their first adopted child, Michael, had four younger brothers and sisters in foster care that he endlessly worried about. Through much legal wrangling, they finally reunited the children in 2004.

“I immediately fell in love with them,” says Heather Shew-Plummer, the caseworker at Aid to the Adoption of Special Kids in Phoenix who handled the Hams’ first nine adoptions. Up to that point, she had worked with 10 or so same-sex couples.

Shew-Plummer felt Steven and Roger were ideal prospective parents – patient, loving, fun and ceaseless advocates for the kids who would come into their care. But she worried they might face extra obstacles in adopting because they were gay.

“They never tried to hide it, but they never made a big deal out of it, either,” Shew-Plummer says. “They didn’t want to change the world. They just wanted to raise their kids.”

The Hams also served as foster parents for 42 children over ten years. Some stayed for just a few days, while others stayed for months.

Two of the Ham’s children were adopted in Washington state, which allows both parents’ names to appear on the birth certificates. The ten adopted in Arizona are legally Steven’s, because Arizona does not allow same-sex couples to adopt, nor does it allow second-parent adoptions. To cover the legal gaps, the couple have drawn up medical powers of attorney and guardianship papers. But even with that, the ten children adopted in Arizona are not entitled to health and Social Security benefits, inheritance rights or, if the parents were to split up, child support from Roger.

And yet the obstacles seem minor compared to the Ham’s determination to care for the children who had such great needs. But it’s not all about the needs. It’s also about the love and support, which is abundant in the Ham household. Sen. Rick Santorum this week denounced adoption and foster parenting by gay couples, saying adoption was a privilege and not a right. The thing is though, I suspect the Hams would agree: it is an enormous privilege, a blessing even. And one that all children deserve, regardless of how their parents are configured.

Heterosexual Menace: Mother and Daughter Caught in Heterosexual Recruitment Ring

Jim Burroway

February 17th, 2011
Susan Brock

Susan Brock

Susan Brock, 48, of Chandler, AZ, pleaded guilty to three counts of attempted sexual conduct with a minor on Monday in connection with a four-year affair she had with a boy that started when he was thirteen. Unbeknownst to her, her daughter, Rachel Brock, was also arrested for molesting the boy when he was 14 and she was 18. Rachel hasn’t been formally charged yet since that investigation is ongoing.  Mama Brock was quite generous to the young boy, with more than just her attentions:

Brock was indicted on 15 counts in connection with more than 30 acts she was accused of committing with the boy in her home, her mother’s home, her car, his car, a laundry room and in secluded places in Chandler. None of the acts included intercourse.

…According to police, Susan Brock and the boy communicated through their e-mail accounts. She was accused of giving him an iPod, iPod Touch and two iPhones, and coached him to say he was jogging so she could pick him for the liaisons.

The elder Brock is soon to become the ex-wife of Republican Maricoopa County Supervisor Fulton Brock. Another political activist, Chrisian Weems, was also arrested. She was accused of breaking into the victim’s Yahoo mail account and deleting incriminating evidence. Police released a recorded phone conversation between Brock and Weems when Weems offered to help destroy the evidence:

In the recording, Weems asks Brock … if she remembers the password to a beach house that they once visited in California. Investigators said Weems was trying to talk in code, but Brock wasn’t following, so Weems cut to the chase and asked her for the password to an e-mail account which Brock shared with the teenage boy she’s accused of having a sexual relationship with. Investigators said Brock and the boy would leave messages for each other in the draft folder, so that they never sent an actual e-mail.

More evidence of what the heterosexuals have in store for society and your children here and here.

Shooting Victim Threatens Tucson Tea Party Leader

Jim Burroway

January 16th, 2011

James Eric Fuller, 63, a naval air veteran who was shot in the knee and had bullet fragments in his back as a the result of last week’s shooting at Rep. Gabrielle Gifford’s meet-and-greet at a Tucson Safeway, was involuntarily committed for a mental-health evaluation after allegedly threatening a Tucson Tea Party leader during a local town hall meeting:

The theme of the event was “An American Conversation Continued” –  the idea being to continue the conversation that a madman’s brutal rampage had interrupted.  So it was inevitable that the conversation would eventually turn to politics. It did, toward the end, with (ABC News Anchor Christiane) Amanpour leading a discussion on a very touchy but obvious topic:  gun control.

That’s where the atmosphere turned tense. When Tucson Tea Party founder Trent Humphries rose to suggest that any conversation about gun control should be put off until after the funerals for all the victims, witnesses say Fuller became agitated.  Two told KGUN9 News that finally, Fuller took a picture of Humphries, and said, “You’re dead.”

When State Rep. Terri Proud (R-Tucson) rose to explain and clarify current and proposed gun legislation in the state, several people groaned or booed her.  One of those booing, according to several witnesses, was Fuller. Witnesses sitting near Fuller told KGUN9 News that Fuller was making them feel very uncomfortable.

The event wrapped up a short time later.  Deputies then escorted Fuller from the room. As he was being led off, Fuller shouted loudly to the room at large. Several witnesses said that what they thought they heard him shout was, “You’re all whores!”

Sheriffs deputies detained Fuller and charged him with one count of threats and intimidation, and said they plan to charge him with at least one count of disorderly conduct.  Humphries said that he plans to press those charges. The Associated Press reports that Fuller was taken to a local mental health facility for evaluation.

The town hall meeting at St. Odilia Catholic Church was organized by ABC-TV to discuss the shooting which killed six people and wounded thirteen, including U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. Many Tucsonans were outraged when Humphries tried to blame the shooting on Gabrielle Giffords for not providing security at the event held at a Safeway parking lot. He also tried to cast the Tea Party as an additional victim in the tragedy.

St. Odilia had been the host of a community memorial service on January 11. Two of the six killed were Catholic, including nine-year-old Christina Taylor-Green who attended St. Odilia and sang in the parish’s children’s choir. Meanwhile, the Safeway where the shooting took place reopened yesterday morning following a moment of silence. Across town, a gun show opened at the Pima County Fairgrounds as originally planned and with nary a peep of protest. Things really are starting to get back to normal around here.

Update: Fuller apologizes:

Fuller apologized through his girlfriend, Dorothy Deruyter. He has been in a hospital since being involuntarily committed Saturday for a mental health evaluation but wrote a statement and called Deruyter.

Fuller apologized for his “misplaced outrage.” Deruyter said Fuller has no family or children, and was coping with the shooting almost entirely on his own and lost his temper.

Fuller is still undergoing psychological evaluation and treatment. Based on this New York Times profile, it looks like Fuller was combative before the shooting.

Memorial And Rally? Very Well: A Memorial and Rally

Jim Burroway

January 13th, 2011
YouTube Preview Image

The memorial was nothing short of magnificent, and it was exactly what this city needed. It was, at turns, somber and celebratory. Tucsonans have been in a severely depressed funk, dazed and stunned that something like this could happen here.

I hear some small-minded grumbling that the event was somehow too “raucous” or a “rally.” Well you know what? A rally is just what we needed. Those who sit in judgment in their comfortable offices and studios on the coasts tut-tutting last night’s memorial haven’t had to drive by the still-closed Safeway every morning and every evening to and from work. They haven’t been within a thousand miles of the nightly vigils at UMC and at Gabrielle Giffords’s congressional office. They haven’t turned on television to see their own neighbors grieving in wall-to-wall coverage. They haven’t picked up their local newspapers to read the dozens of stories about the tragedy and then turn the page, thinking perhaps that they were finished with those heartbreaking stories, only to be confronted by the same familiar names and photos in the obituaries. They haven’t made plans to attend some of the funerals which begin today. They won’t pull over to the side of the road as the funeral processions pass on the way to the cemetery. They haven’t seen their beloved town turned into something unrecognizable. When they have experienced all of this, maybe then they can legitimately criticize our desire last night to tentatively shake off our sack cloths and wash away the ashes, if only for a moment. But not until then.

Tucsonans have undergone a stunned mourning for five solid days now. It’s about time we also celebrate, and yes, cheer, our community’s coming together and move toward the future. It is time to rally our wounded community, and to resolve to build a better, kinder, and more civilized world.

When tragedies like this strike, we expect the President to come grieve among the people. And yet, Tucsonans appeared genuinely surprised and touched when the President announced he was coming here. I had wanted to take a half-day off work and get in line for the memorial, but when I got up yesterday morning I learned that a long line had already formed the night before. By noon it was already clear that there was no way anyone who wasn’t already there would get into the McKale Center. So my partner and I saw it on television at home. I don’t know how the major networks carried the event. We chose to watch it on local TV, which simply carried the live feed and ditched the voiceovers, pundits and real-time crawls.

I thought Arizona Governor Jan Brewer’s address was splendid. She was kind, wonderfully gracious, and very generous. The blessing at the beginning was touching, given by someone whose ancestry in Tchuk Shoon predates the arrival of “Americans” and reminds us of the timelessness of this valley that has drawn so many to the Old Pueblo, as we like to call our city. We celebrated our heros who ran toward the gunfire, and we learned for the first time that Gabby Giffords had opened her eyes. And with that, it is my hope that President Barack Obama’s exceptional speech opens all of our eyes, so that we, too, can build a society worthy of Christina Taylor-Green’s spirit.

Click here to read a transcript of President Obama’s speech

AZ GOP Party Officials Resign Over Tea Party Threats

Jim Burroway

January 12th, 2011

Former GOP legislative district chair Anthony Miller

More madness in the culture war. The Arizona Republic reports that Arizona Legislative District 20 Chairman Anthony Miller and several others in the Phoenix suburb of Ahwatukee have resigned their party posts hours after Rep. Gabrielle Giffords’s shooting over fears for their lives and their families’ safety:

Miller, a 43-year-old Ahwatukee Foothills resident and former campaign worker for U.S. Sen. John McCain, was re-elected to a second one-year term last month. He said constant verbal attacks after that election and Internet blog posts by some local members with Tea Party ties made him worry about his family’s safety.

In an e-mail sent a few hours after Saturday’s massacre in Tucson that killed six and injured 13, including U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, Miller told state Republican Party Chairman Randy Pullen he was quitting: “Today my wife of 20 yrs ask (sic) me do I think that my PCs (Precinct Committee members) will shoot at our home? So with this being said I am stepping down from LD20GOP Chairman…I will make a full statement on Monday.”

…The newly-elected Dist. 20 Republican secretary, Sophia Johnson of Ahwatukee, first vice chairman Roger Dickinson of Tempe and Jeff Kolb, the former district spokesman from Ahwatukee, also quit. “This singular focus on ‘getting’ Anthony (Miller) was one of the main reasons I chose to resign,” Kolb said in an e-mail to another party activist. Kolb confirmed the contents of the e-mail to the Republic.

…a series of accusatory e-mails was exchanged among party members. Some blasted Miller’s support of McCain, called him a “McCainiac with a penchant for violating the rules” and a “McCain hack.” … 

Miller said he hadn’t intended to resign, but changed his mind after Saturday’s shooting. “I love the Republican Party,” he said, “but I don’t want to take a bullet for anyone.

AZ Lawmakers Move to Limit Westboro Baptist Protests at Funerals

Jim Burroway

January 11th, 2011

Soon after Saturday’s heinous massacre of six Tucsonans and the injuring of fourteen others including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, Westboro Baptist’s Fred Phelps announced via video that the shooter, Jared Loughner, was appointed by Phelps’s god to do the evil deed and that the Westboro clan would protest the funerals. Arizona state Sen. Kirsten Sinema (D-Phoenix) swung into action:

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer has signed into law emergency legislation to head off picketing by a Topeka, Kan., church near the funeral service for a 9-year-old girl who was killed during Saturday’s shooting in Tucson. Unanimous votes by the House and Senate on Tuesday sent the bill to Brewer. It took effect immediately with her signature Tuesday night. The new law prohibits protests within 300 feet of a funeral or burial service.

…Arizona State Representative Kyrsten Sinema said when she heard of the plans, she got downright angry and decided to take action.  Sinema sponsored Senate Bill 1101 and got some help from fellow legislators.  “We patterned legislation after Ohio’s law which is constitutional, it’s been upheld in court, and I got permission from the speaker and the senate president to wave the rules,” Sinema said.

…”The bill requires them to be at least 300 feet away from the funeral from an hour before the funeral starts to an hour after it ends and that way people can grieve and love in peace,” Sinema said.

The bill passed the Arizona House and Senate in record time, and was signed into law at 3:00pm by Governor Brewer. The first funerals will take place on Thursday. The Boston-based Phelps-A-Thon has pledged to make a donation to Wingspan’s Anti-Violence Project of Southern Arizona for every funeral the Phelps clan protests. Wingspan is the LGBT community center for Tucson and southern Arizona. You can also donate directly to Wingspan here.

Meanwhile President Barack Obama has announced that he will speak at a community memorial service scheduled for tomorrow evening. The memorial begins at 6:00pm MST at the McKale Center on the University of Arizona campus.

The State of Our Union

Jim Burroway

January 10th, 2011

A billboard in Tucson advertising Rush Limbaugh's radio program, festooned with a half-dozen simulated bullet holes for the "straight shooter."

A senior Republican senator, speaking anonymously in order to freely discuss the tragedy, told POLITICO that the Giffords shooting should be taken as a “cautionary tale” by Republicans. “There is a need for some reflection here – what is too far now?” said the senator. “What was too far when Oklahoma City happened is accepted now. There’s been a desensitizing. These town halls and cable TV and talk radio, everybody’s trying to outdo each other.”

The vast majority of tea party activists, this senator said, ought not be impugned. “They’re talking about things most mainstream Americans are talking about, like spending and debt,” the Republican said, before adding that politicians of all stripes need to emphasize in the coming days that “tone matters.”

“And the Republican Party in particular needs to reinforce that,” the senator said.

In case you missed it, that’s a senior Republican senator who had to remain anonymous so he or she could “freely discuss” this.

If It Can Happen Here, It Can Happen Anywhere

A commentary

Jim Burroway

January 9th, 2011

As my partner and I were out running errands this afternoon, I snapped this photo along I-10 just south of the Ina Road exit. If you go about three miles to the east from I-10 on Ina, you will encounter the fateful Safeway that is, as we speak, still roped off with police tape and crawling with investigators. The billboard is for Rush Limbaugh’s radio program on local Clear Channel KNST, and it appears on a Clear Channel billboard. Limbaugh’s “Straight Shooter” billboard is festooned with six or seven bullet holes. Given the political climate of the past few years — and especially after yesterday’s events — it’s a damning indictment of what so many on the far right find acceptable in political discourse.

I mean, really. What’s a few bullet holes anyway?

But as we were driving around town, we heard on the radio that the second person of interest turned out to be Jared Loughner’s taxicab driver. The driver accompanied Loughner into the Safeway while Loughner got change to pay the driver. He had nothing to do with the shooting. And with that, the most promising immediate link that may have tied the shooting to extremist right-wing rhetoric has vanished once again.

Let me emphasize: it’s not to say that there is no link. But if there is one, no evidence has been disclosed for it yet. So if someone wants to claim that there is one, they better come up with some sort of hard facts for it. So far, none has surfaced. And believe me, if it does, I will be among the most eager to put that evidence right here.

That’s because, setting aside whatever Loughner’s motivations may be, I firmly believe that because of the political climate exemplified by that billboard, we are living in extremely dangerous times. And whatever demonization taking place on the far left pales, in terms of  both the scope and the influence,  to the far greater demonization from the far right that is amplified daily on Fox News and Clear Channel. I believe that as strongly as I do that the sun will rise tomorrow morning.

Over the past two years, we have seen border militia members kill Arizona citizens. We’ve seen Arizona citizens demand that other Arizona citizens — whose ancestors have been here far longer than the suspicious newcomers — prove their innocence and right to walk down a street. We’ve seen a governor shrieking about completely imaginary headless bodies in the desert and a state government that has decided that poor Arizonans’ lives aren’t worth life-saving transplant surgeries. People who need a heart won’t find one here. We see a political climate where our president is not only accused of being un-American, but — against all the overwhelming evidence to the contrary — a non-American. We see a cultural climate where “real Americans” can build a house of worship wherever they please, but American Muslims can’t. We’ve seen hysteria over “death panels” coming to kill grandma.

And so, acting on that outrage, a Tennessee man shot up a church because he was angry at liberals, wierdos and homos, and someone in Maryland is mailing explosive packages addressed to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano. We’ve seen people carrying automatic weapons to rallies and congressional meet-and-greets (another man was arrested at a Giffords meeting last August when his concealed pistol fell to the floor). And we saw literal gun-sight targets drawn over congressional districts, including Rep. Giffords’s.

And so we shouldn’t we be surprised if some nutcase — and not a literal schizophrenic nutcase that Loughner appears to be — decides to take a weapon and perform his “patriotic duty.”

Based on what investigators have disclosed so far, that has not literally happened — yet. Authorities are investigating several angles, but so far what some see as ties to far-right fringe groups remain highly speculative at best. As of this evening it still appears more likely that Loughner was acting at the behest of his own demons rather than of those on the demonizing edges of the far right.  This could still change — being mentally ill does not preclude one from being influenced by extreme rhetoric, and may actually enhance the possibility for some — but right now the assertion that our poisonous political culture had anything to do with yesterday’s rampage is still very much unproven, but not extinguished. We may learn more about what was going through Loughner’s shattered mind in the days and months to come. But the more I learn about Loughner’s behavior, the more I’m convinced that he is suffering from the same mental illness that took my best friend in high school and two of my cousins. The symptoms are too specific and too familiar. (Update: I should add that I have no insight into the severity of Loughner’s condition. Being mentally ill with schizophrenia does not automatically make one criminally insane.)

Which means that this is an excellent opportunity for everyone to step back and reaffirm to ourselves and to each other that we are all fellow citizens and patriots of a pretty damn amazing country. If we don’t, I’m afraid — literally afraid — that we will soon fall into an abyss that we may not be able to crawl out of.

Given what we know today, I see no reason why those of us who consider ourselves progressives can’t concede that Palin, Limbaugh, and the others got lucky (if you can call it that) and that they probably aren’t responsible this time. Maybe we can even let them off the hook — IF they can agree that we all need to come together as Americans who all love our country equally, whether we’re on the left, the right or anywhere in between. Because we all need to acknowledge that none of us has a monopoly on loving America. None of us wants to see our nation destroyed. Maybe this can be an opportunity for everyone can drop their torches and pitchforks, and instead resolve to disperse the poisonous fumes that have very nearly ruined us as a people. I see no reason why the right shouldn’t be able to agree to that and change its behavior accordingly, just as I see no reason why the left needs to insist, with hardly a smidgen of proof, that a schizophrenic young man is somehow the far right’s creation. The energy expended pursuing those accusations can be better spent addressing the daunting needs of the severely mentally ill.

My hope is that somehow we can find a way to do that. My fear, though, is that we have already crossed the Rubicon and there is no turning back. And if it does turn out that Loughner’s shattered mind was nudged by either the right or the left, then all bets are truly off.

It Happened Here

A commentary.

Jim Burroway

January 9th, 2011

My city is reeling this morning. Six dead, fourteen injured. Dorwan and Mavanell Stoddard, a retired couple in their seventies, were standing in line at Rep. Gabrielle Gifford’s meet-and-greet at a Northwest side Safeway when the shooting started. He’s dead; she was shot in the legs and is expected to recover, physically. Two more retirees, Phyllis Schneck, 79; and Dorothy Morris, 76; are also dead. Third-grader Christina-Taylor Green had recently been elected to student council at Mesa Verde Elementary and went to learn more about government. She, too, is dead. U.S. District Judge John Roll had just said hi when the shooting started. He’s dead. So is a Giffords aide, thirty-year-old Gabe Zimmerman, who was engaged to be married.

Thirteen others, besides Giffords, are wounded. Five, including Giffords, are in critical condition and five are in serious condition. The Red Cross put out a call for blood donations. The area in front of University Medical Center was the site of a candlelight vigil. The flickering flames struggled to remain visible in the glare of television cameras. The intersection of Ina and Oracle, Northwest Tucson’s busiest intersection and site of the shooting, is now open, but the shopping center itself remains sealed off.

Everyone says this sort of thing doesn’t happen here. People say that everywhere this sort of thing happens.

There’s more focus this morning on local media on Jared Loughner’s mental state. The picture that emerges from people who knew him confirms what I noticed yesterday; the man had struggled with serious mental problems. He had been expelled from Pima Community College, and barred from coming back unless he underwent psychological evaluation and obtained certification that he was not a threat to others. Obviously, he never obtained that certification.

There are a lot of blogs trying to pin this on tea party politics. I do believe that the rhetoric that animates the tea party and now infects Fox News and much of mainstream Republicanism is extremely dangerous and is quite capable of stoking violence like this. But the more we learn about Loughner, the more it appears that this hateful rhetoric had little influence on Loughner’s motive. None of his rambling writings reference conservative or tea party politics. Instead, he accuses the government of mind control and brainwashing by controlling grammar. As I wrote yesterday, he is clearly struggling to make sense of reality, a common problem with people with schizophrenia.

There is, however, a second person of interest. Police are looking for a 40- to 50- year old man who is believed to have been at that Safeway with Loughner. So that part of the story clearly isn’t a closed book. And it still doesn’t diminish what Pima County sheriff Clarence Dupnik said at yesterday’s news conference.

When you look at unbalanced people, how they respond to the vitriol that comes out of certain mouths about tearing down the government. The anger, the hatred, 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.

“It’s not unusual for all public officials to get threats constantly, myself included. And that’s the sad thing of what’s going on in America. Pretty soon, we’re not going to be able to find reasonable, decent people who are willing to subject themselves to serve in public office.

Whatever may or may not have motivate Loughner, I think Dupnic has it right: Arizona has become a “sort of the capital” for prejudice and bigotry. I have never seen a more rapid decline in the political climate anywhere. State politics here is turning resident against resident, citizen against citizen. Hours after Giffords’s health care vote, her office was vandalized. At a similar Giffords meet-and-greet last August, police carted away someone whose pistol had fallen out of his holster before he was able to approach Giffords. Private Minutemen militias kill American citizens near the border, and suspicious white powder shows up at Rep. Raul Grijalva’s office. I’ve never seen anything like this in my life.

Yesterday, as my partner and I were leaving a Home Depot about a mile south of the shooting, we overheard a man on a cell phone telling someone to stay indoors because someone is shooting. We hadn’t heard anything and just assumed he was talking about something happening somewhere else. Things like that don’t happen here. But now we know it does. And unless we all examine our consciences, worse will happen, not by someone who is mentally ill but by someone who has his wits about him and is capable of doing even more harm.

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