Out here in Southern California it’s that time of year again. They’re back. It’s the Zoners – those would be the folks who drive in from Arizona. Those of us who live here know what to do about this special subset of tourists. If you see an Arizona license plate you hang back by ten or twenty car-lengths. These people are strange – desperate for something that’s not the shimmering empty summer desert that goes on for a thousand miles of nothing, with the occasional giant sandstorm with its thousand-foot wall of darkness at noon. And who can blame them for their vague discontent and uneasiness? Arizona empties you, and out here they head for that beach they’ve seen in the movies or on television, or they slowly cruise Hollywood Boulevard or the Sunset Strip, over and over and over, so long as it’s not some dusty suburb of dead-flat Phoenix or Tucson baking in the one-hundred-twenty-degree heat, day after day. Yeah, yeah – it’s a dry heat – but when you just cannot go outside, even at midnight, and have to just sit in an air-conditioned small room all day, it does something to you. You do have to get out of town – and it’s a day’s drive to LA and Hollywood and the beaches. They arrive here frustrated and looking for action, or for meaning – or for something. They also drive dangerously. It’s that pent-up existential angst thing.
And maybe that’s an Arizona thing. There’s something that happens to you when you choose to live in the desert. Mystics choose to do that – the idea seems to be that the miles of blank nothing as far as the eye can see clears the mind and purifies your thoughts. Of course you might remember Homer Simpson’s deeply mystic adventure in the desert – it didn’t do him much good.
But there are the famous vortexes of Sedona after all – where the energy of each of these vortexes interacts with the inner self and resonates with and strengthens the inner being of each person who comes within about a quarter mile of one of these – or that’s all New Age nonsense. On the other hand, after being baptized, Jesus fasted for forty days and nights in the Judean desert – and during this time the devil actually appeared to Him and they chatted quite a bit.
Okay, then. Jesus never did say the devil out there was only a vision or merely some sort of hallucination. Maybe in the desert it doesn’t matter. Out there, in the desert, reality is always somewhat unresolved. This of course explains Las Vegas.
But that only raises another issue. Perhaps those who live too long in the desert eventually end up quite mad – zoned out – actually Zoners. As for those on the left, it’s easy enough to point to oddly unbalanced Arizona Governor Jan Brewer, and to the scattered and angry John McCain, and that sadistic and unapologetically racist Sherriff Joe Arpaio – they’re long years of wandering in the desert has made them mad. Arizona eventually zones you out.
But now there’s more. There’s Jeff Biggers – playwright and award-winning author of many books and master storyteller and all that – who now reviews the latest madness – Arizona is the first state to file a suit against the Obama administration to strike much of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 – as unconstitutional.
No, really. Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne has joined a county in Alabama and the press release makes things clear – the federal government has no right to tell any state what sort of voter-eligibility law it decided to enact and enforce. And everyone knows why that is – “The State of Arizona is a sovereign state within the United States of America.”
You might remember the Voting Rights Act of 1965 – it outlawed poll taxes, where black folks had to pay hefty fees to register and then to vote, sometime thousands of dollars. They didn’t have the money. That kept them out. And that 1965 act outlawed literacy tests – where people the State found questionable, for some reason, had to pass a thirty-page exam, with an essay requirement or some such thing, before they’d be allowed to register to vote. Newt Gingrich just called for the immediate return of these literacy tests – to keep the riff-raff out – but Newt is not suing anyone. Tom Horne is. The idea is this is Arizona’s issue, and Arizona is a sovereign state, one that just happens to use the currency of the United States, and allows the federal military to do that national defense stuff, but no more than that.
Biggers does point out that in 1989 Arizona governor Evan Mecham, by executive order, rescinded the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday in that state – and now the announcement of this suit to rid the nation of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 seems to be timed to coincide with the unveiling of the national memorial to Martin Luther King in DC. It seems to be a sort of middle-finger response to the big new statue by the Tidal Basin. It sends a message. And it’s not a new message.
As for the messenger this time, Biggers points out that Tom Horne, is famous in Arizona, or infamous depending on your point of view, for what some call his witch hunt that led to an eventual ban of bilingual education in Arizona, and to the end of the highly regarded Mexican American Studies Program in Tucson. And there is evidence Horne openly lied in the past about his history of bankruptcy and of course he has been banned forever from trading or even speaking to brokers by the Securities and Exchanges Commission after he “willfully aided and abetted” securities law violations. He is quite a character.
But then so is Jan Brewer and her Arizona legislature’s consistent effort to defy federal authority, which they keep saying doesn’t really exist. Biggers notes that’s at the core of all the big issues – gun laws, health care, immigration policy, and border security – it’s the same argument each time. The federal government CANNOT tell any state what to do.
Attorney General Eric Holder responded to Horne’s new lawsuit with a shrug – “The Department of Justice will vigorously defend the constitutionality of the Voting Rights Act in this case, as it has done successfully in the past.” Sigh.
Of course it is a little more complicated. Horne is claiming that sections of the Voting Rights Act are “either archaic, not based in fact” – Arizona’s long history of voting rights violations doesn’t mean Arizona should still be on a watch list or anything like that. George W. Bush signed the Voting Rights Act Reauthorization and Amendments Act in 2006, and Horne seems to think it is unfair that Arizona should be included as “covered jurisdictions” like Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Virginia and a handful of others states. It’s not like they tried to keep black folks from voting, like those Deep South states. They tried to keep Hispanics from voting. That’s an entirely different thing. Those guys, not Arizona, probably should be singled out for “preclearance” – where the Department of Justice requires approval for any changes in election policy, practices or administrative functions. It’s just not fair.
But Biggers points out the facts of the matter:
In preparation for the reauthorization vote in 2006, an extensive report by Arizona State University researchers on Arizona’s voting rights record from 1982-2006 cited numerous violations and concluded: “Arizona’s record since 1982, when the temporary provisions were last reauthorized, shows that the state still has a long way to go.”
It gets worse.
Last fall, a report by Common Cause ranked Arizona at the bottom of swing states for the worst voting laws. According to Tova Wang, author of the report, the strained atmosphere behind Arizona’s notorious SB 1070 “papers please” immigration law was just the beginning of larger voter irregularities: “One of the biggest concerns in this election, especially in Arizona, is that the ugly immigration debate will be leveraged into the elections and the voting process. We are worried about the use of vote suppression tactics such as challenges at the polls and bogus charges of noncitizen voting being used as a way to impose obstacles to voting that could affect a wide range of voters, but primarily people of color. Just the climate that has been created could have an impact on its own.”
And this stuff isn’t subtle. Citizens must register to vote a full twenty-nine days prior to the election, and that keeps participation by new and enthusiastic voters low. Those tend to be Democrats of course. And Arizona is the only state that requires proof of citizenship in order to register to vote, and what they might grudgingly accept as documentary proof, for anyone who looks funny, can get silly. And in Arizona all voters must present either one form of photo ID or two forms of non-photo ID – and the poll worker on the spot deems whether the requisite identification kind of looks flakey or not. You can argue that’s your real driver’s license, honest, but you could be sent home. And Arizona has historically had “inadequate outreach to certain language-minority communities” – all covered in the federal Voting Rights Act, along with having qualified and trained bilingual poll workers. But not in Arizona. They do things their way. And what is wrong with that? They are a sovereign state, after all.
Or maybe the problem is too much time out there in the desert. It can drive you mad. And it obviously can turn you into a Tenther – you know, most actions of the United States government are unconstitutional, as the states share sovereignty with the federal government, And they do cite the Tenth Amendment – “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”
So, you see, political authority enumerated in the United States Constitution as belonging, very specifically, to the Federal Government, must be seen very narrowly – and that excludes much of what the national government already does. It certainly excludes, say, the FAA. No one mentions airplanes in the constitution. And it excludes Obamacare, as they call it. Or all of the stuff from FDR’s Social Security System and the SEC to Lyndon Johnson’s Medicare and Medicaid and every Civil Rights law, and probably Nixon’s EPA too. One must acknowledge the sovereignty of the States. And that’s why these folks get upset when you say the Civil War was fought over the issue of slavery. They’ll say that wasn’t really the issue. The issue was whether each state could decide the slavery issue, or any issue, all on its own. Whether slavery was good or bad, or evil or benign, wasn’t the federal government’s business in the first place. The federal government had no right to have an opinion one way or the other. And on voting rights, that seems to be Arizona position now.
Or they may be arguing for the Constitution in Exile – no one is enforcing “original intent” or “original meaning” anymore. The Commerce Clause and Necessary and Proper Clause do not authorize all the economic legislation dating back to the New Deal and so on. It’s a little arcane. You could read Randy Barnett’s book Restoring the Lost Constitution, or follow Richard Epstein – or just read opinions from Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia. It’s all about restoring the lost constitution, the Constitution in Exile. Or you could just fast for forty days and nights in the Arizona desert and listen to whatever voices you hear.
Of course the lost constitution, this Constitution in Exile, is actually the Articles of Confederation – that was our first written constitution or plan of government that specified how the national government was to operate. It was drafted in 1776-77 and became the working constitution, ratified in 1781. And it was fine. Congress got to supervise the American Revolution, and work out diplomacy with Europe, and handle territorial issues. But it didn’t work. It was more like the by-laws of a loosely organized trade association than a constitution. There was no real funding mechanism for his new national government. So the Articles of Confederation was replaced by the current Constitution in 1789. That granted Congress power over foreign and domestic commerce, allowing national not state collection of tariffs and fees, and provided for Congress to collect money from state treasuries. If you want a national government, for the common welfare of the people, you have to have one able to raise levies and taxes to provide for the common welfare of the people. And of course now people seem to want to go back to the real constitution, as they see it. The good old days were from 1776 to 1788 – since then, we’ve screwed up.
But wait! You can see a working confederacy of sovereign states in operation right now, states that have decided to use a common currency but go their own way on just about everything else. That would be the Eurozone states. And they now find themselves where we were in 1778 – they’re facing economic collapse as the concept just isn’t working. Ah well.
It is odd that such things are being discussed now, all these years later. But we all have to deal with Zoners. It’s just too much sun, no doubt.