A bill currently in play in the Arizona legislature would establish a State Defense Force (SDF) that could be called up for whatever reason Governor Jan Brewer considers to be necessary.
This is not your father’s National Guard–that well-established, federally regulated force with a specifically defined role. In fact, it’s not the National Guard at all, but rather a separate, volunteer military force that the governor could call up and use for any purpose whatsoever. As the official language of the bill says,
If the national guard of Arizona or a major portion thereof is called into active federal service, or if the national guard or a major portion thereof is alerted for federal service or for any other reason the governor considers to be necessary, the governor may establish an armed force for the safety and protection of the lives and property of the citizens of the state which shall be known as the Arizona state guard.
That phrase, “for any other reason the governor considers to be necessary” should, and is, raising alarms.
What’s different and scary about this legislation? The idea of a state guard is not, in itself, new. Arizona is far from the first to establish a State Defense Force. In fact, 23 other states already have them—and have had them for many years. They’re perfectly legal under federal law. The difference is that this one would be in the Arizona of 2011, which is fast becoming ground zero for the most radical of radical-right legislative proposals.
Here’s how one op-ed writer put it in a recent posting in the Phoenix Sun:
…if Senate Bill 1495 becomes law, [it would be] a blank check to establish a “state guard” that would do her bidding, whatever that bidding might be.
One fear is that the “bidding” could be defending the state’s border with Mexico—a move that would usurp the border-protection role reserved for the federal government. Sound implausible? A quick review of the history of this legislation says otherwise.
Jack Harper, the Arizona state legislator who introduced the bill in January also introduced a similar bill in 2007, but it was vetoed by then-Governor Janet Napolitano, who went on to become President Obama’s Secretary of Homeland Security–and, ironically, America’s chief border-defense enforcer. In his announcement of the 2011 bill, Harper, a Republican, said outright that the bill would pave the way for a citizen-militia force that would protect his state’s border with Mexico–something that he undoubtedly thinks his former governor is not attentive enough to. There’s no acknowledgment, of course, that his rationale flies in the face of the recent increase the number of federal Border Patrol agents along the Arizona border, and a corresponding decrease in illegal immigrants attempting to cross in the US via the Arizona border
The idea of establishing a rogue border-protection force—at the beck and call of a governor who has a demonstrated, very low opinion of immigrants—is part of a disturbing pattern in the Arizona legislature. This is the state that, less than two months after the shootings in Tucson, made the Colt singe-action rifle the official state firearm. Equally frightening is another new Arizona bill, that Huffington Post describes as “…grant[ing] a committee the right to nullify “existing federal statutes, mandates and executive orders.” Or, as long-time Arizona Republic columnist E.J. Montini notes, it gives Arizona the right “to secede without officially doing so.”
Once upon a time, there were state legislatures that could be regularly relied upon to serve as role models for smart, forward-thinking, progressive legislation. One that comes to mind is California, where air-quality and gasoline mileage-standards, and many other common-good notions got their first footholds and later spread across the country. Today, we have role-model reversal: The states that are out in front, so to speak, are setting a backwards-facing example. How sad that in 2011, states like Arizona are becoming the poster children, standard-bearers and petri dishes for the worst ideas of the radical right.