The contradiction at the heart of Gov. Doug Ducey’s Mexico policy was bound to cave in on itself eventually.
It finally did this week.
From the beginning, Ducey has, admirably, worked to re-establish warm relations with Mexico, especially in the areas of cross-border commerce. In July 2015, he wrote in an Arizona Daily Star op-ed:
“In looking for ways to expand jobs and opportunity for Arizonans, we cannot underestimate our relationship with Mexico. And key to our relationship with Mexico is Southern Arizona.”
At the same time, Ducey continued the tradition of painting the Southern Arizona borderlands as an out-of-control place requiring tens of millions of state dollars and a jacked up paramilitary presence on the part of the Department of Public Safety.
He didn’t, as his predecessor Jan Brewer did, claim there were beheaded bodies littering the Arizona desert. But he did say, “There is no limit to the violence and lawlessness committed by criminals who use our southern borders to smuggle people, illicit drugs, and money derived from criminal activities.”
He regularly played into the alarmism about conditions on the border that bears little resemblance to the day-to-day experiences of most people living in Southern Arizona’s borderlands.
So, this week, the test finally came. President Trump, a president who is very popular among Ducey’s Republican Party, threatened to close down the ports of entry at the Mexican border to confront the crisis of asylum seekers from Central America pouring into the United States. Initially, Ducey said he opposed any shutdown.
“I’ve said a thousand times or more, Mexico is our No. 1 trading partner, times four,” he said. “So, I want to see us continue to be able to trade.”
Then Ducey went to Washington, D.C., on a previously unannounced trip. He met with Trump in the Oval Office, and, when asked by reporters, he emerged tentatively supportive of a border shutdown.
“If that were the situation, we would be supportive of it and want it to be as short as possible,” he said of Trump’s proposed closure.
What happened to the governor who spoke of trade with Mexico as the key for jobs in Southern Arizona? The requirement of supporting the president’s and the party’s border alarmism got in the way.
This isn’t to say there is not a crisis on the border. The tens of thousands of Central American asylum-seekers clearly show otherwise. The question, as with the national emergency the president declared to build a border wall, is what to do about the problem. In both the case of the emergency declaration and the proposed shutdown, Ducey chose to support the president and bash Congress.
After the 35-day partial government shutdown, Congress worked out a compromise spending bill and passed it Feb. 14. It included $1.4 billion for additional border fencing, and other increases in spending on border security, such as $415 million for humanitarian activities including medical care, transportation and food for migrants. When Trump signed the bill but declared a national emergency in order to try to find billions more dollars for fence-building, Ducey supported him.
“Arizona has watched for decades as Washington has failed to prioritize border security,” Ducey said in a statement. “It’s unfortunate it has come to this rather than Congress doing its job. But action is needed. I support President Trump’s plan to secure our border.”
This was a puzzling reaction because, in fact, Congress had just done its job. The fact that President Trump wanted more money for border fencing does not negate that Congress had considered the situation and raised spending on border security dramatically. This week, in light of the border-closure threat, Ducey reprised the “blame-Congress” theme.
In a statement on Ducey’s time at the White House, his office said about the border situation, “The governor reiterated the need for Congress to stop playing political games and act.”
But Ducey wasn’t clear about what more he wants Congress to do, and neither was his spokesman, Patrick Ptak, when I asked him what specifically Ducey wants from Congress.
And then Thursday came, and the inevitable happened. The day after Ducey capitulated to Trump, the president changed his mind. He said he’d consider closing the border in a year — if Mexico didn’t stop drugs from flowing into the United States. The reason for the closure had drifted from Central Americans to drugs.
That should leave the governor wondering about putting his own credibility on the line for Trump on these crucial Arizona issues. And it should make Arizonans wonder just who is playing political games.
Pick your Lane
The race for the Democratic nomination in the Ward 1 City Council race has heated up over the sanctuary initiative, which may be on the ballot in November.
Lane Santa Cruz, a staffer for outgoing council member and mayoral candidate Regina Romero, was recently pressed about her position on the initiative, which would strictly limit how Tucson police engage with people over immigration questions. In response, Santa Cruz wrote a blog post online explaining her perspective. It reads like a long explanation of how, despite her career as an activist defending immigrants, she does not support this initiative.
But she never quite gets to the part where she says she opposes the initiative. “What I won’t do is jump on the campaign bandwagon of a political strategy that demands progressive Latinx/Indigenous candidates to pick a side on a single issue or else,” she wrote. And she told me Thursday she’s not ready to take a firm stand, though she did sign the petitions to get the initiative on the ballot.
Zaira Liver, who is directing the campaign for the initiative, told me she’s not asking candidates to endorse it or demanding they take a position. Still, she said, “The position that she took on the initiative was rather confusing for me.”
Santa Cruz isn’t the only candidate who appears undecided, though. Sami Hamed also told me he has not made up his mind. However, the other Democratic candidate, Miguel Ortega, came out strongly in favor of it.
Romero, like much of Tucson’s political establishment, has come out against the initiative.
Matiella moves on
Mary Sally Matiella, who came onto the scene as a candidate for the Democratic nomination in Congressional District 2 last year, is leaving Tucson. In a Facebook post, Matiella attributed her departure in part to mistreatment she said she’s faced in Tucson.
“I was raised in Tucson’s south-side and am very proud of being a Pueblo HS and U of A graduate,” she wrote. “But, I must leave, because I feel that women of color, mujeres, still struggle too hard for respect and recognition; this is very troubling to me. I have experienced 67 years of sexism and racism, and want to help others with their struggles, but I need to continue this fight closer to my children.”
Matiella, who had a previous career in the federal government, rising as high as assistant secretary of the Army, plans to move back to Maryland. She has faced antagonism in the Pima County Democratic Party, where she has been serving as treasurer under the party’s new administration. Members of the party’s old guard and new leadership have been arguing over finances and other issues in the party.
Backer is back
Pima County Supervisor Steve Christy will have a familiar primary challenger when he runs for re-election next year. John Backer, who ran for the GOP nomination in District 4 in 2016, has filed to run again.
Christy beat Marla Closen and Backer in the GOP primary that year, with Backer taking a distant third.