The story of Hispanics' political powerlessness in Arizona is partly a story about big demographic trends. Since the 1990s, the state has seen an influx of two groups: white Midwesterners and undocumented workers from Mexico. The swell of Midwestern retirees and families to the Phoenix area follows a pattern of migration from post-industrial cities in the middle of the country to the Sun Belt, where the cost of living is lower and economic opportunities more fruitful. In addition, according to the Department of Homeland Security, the rate of illegal immigration to the state jumped 70 percent between 2000 and 2008.Agreed entirely. But I think it's worth stating more bluntly than Arana the commitment of many white Arizona voters to white supremacy. While they may not state it as such, the older Midwesterners who move to Arizona came of age in the generation of white backlash. Many of them themselves likely moved out of neighborhoods when blacks moved in, participating in anti-busing or anti-civil rights protests, or just think this is a white man's nation.
Experts say the influx of the two groups has led to a cultural clash and strengthened the conservative base in Maricopa County, which dominates state politics. Republicans control both houses of the legislature and the governorship, which left Democratic representatives -- who hail largely from Southern Arizona -- relatively powerless to stop SB 1070.
"[Midwestern immigrants] are less familiar with Latinos as a group, which partially explains the support for tough immigration laws," says John Garcia, a political science professor at the University of Arizona.
In theory, these two demographics would both influence state-level policy. But the infrastructure for political participation by Hispanics doesn't exist in the same way it does for native-born Americans, the exceptions being states like California and Texas, which have more multi-generational Hispanic families and a larger percentage of eligible voters who are Hispanic. There is the obvious problem that about a quarter of Hispanics in Arizona are undocumented, but political participation is also low for citizens and permanent residents. Hispanics in Arizona – as well as nationwide -- are less likely than whites or African Americans to register to vote or participate in civic organizations. Only 17 percent of voters in the state are Hispanic.
Of course, this is a very old demographic in Arizona. But while they will pass from the scene soon, will new generations of old conservative racist whites move to Arizona and continue the state's long white supremacist history? Or will the Latino population mobilize and take over the state politically. Both perhaps. As we forward in time, older people are less likely to have a strong commitment to white supremacy I suppose. But as I've stated in a much longer piece on Arizona and race here, the state is likely to become the next California after Prop 187: an empowered, growing, and angry Latino community ready to attack the state's white conservative power structure.
In California, that led to the state becoming one of the most liberal in the nation. We forget easily that through most of the 20th century, California was arguably the single most conservative state in the U.S. Today, it's among the most liberal. Of course, there are many reasons for this. While Arizona has its own version of right-wing Orange County, it definitely does not have its own San Francisco. So the ability of Arizona Latinos to unite with large numbers of white liberals may make the transition of Arizona to a liberal state slower. But I do believe it will happen and we may possibly see the effects in the next few years.