Dems, activists at state convention demand Gov. Janet Napolitano veto HB 2807. (w/UPDATE: GUV COMPLIES, VETOES BILL.)

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Janet, while being grilled by activists outside the Wyndham (photo courtesy of Eduardo Barraza of Barriozona.com).

UPDATE, MONDAY, APRIL 28, 3:09 PM : In what can only be described as a triumph for local pro-immigration activists, Governor Napolitano saved her fellow Dems' asses in the state Legislature and vetoed HB 2807 this afternoon, calling it "an unnecessary, unfunded mandate to law enforcement." Saturday's demonstration at the state Democratic convention had its intended effect, and the demonstrators are to be applauded for it. Others were pressuring Napolitano to veto the measure, but a little in-your-face confrontation never hurts. You can read the Governor's veto letter in its entirety, here.

You know, I really appreciate the Arizona Republic. They send reporter Anne Ryman to cover the state Democratic convention at Phoenix's Wyndham hotel this Saturday, and she misses the most significant event of the day -- a protest during Governor Janet Napolitano's speech urging her to veto HB 2807, a bill now on her desk that would require all local law enforcement agencies in the state to develop their own immigration policies. There was no mention of it in Ryman's news item on the convention in Sunday's paper. That's like a scavenger approaching some road kill and leaving behind the choicest bits as leftovers.

When Napolitano took the podium, about a third of those present in the meeting hall rose and held signs urging the Governor to veto the proposed law, which received bipartisan support in the legislature. The Governor was forced to acknowledge their existence early on in her pep-rally-like address.

"You can sit," the Guv told the protesters. "I got it. I got it. Thank you very much. I got it."

"But are you going to do it?" shot back one of the demonstrators.

Napolitano overlooked the question, and continued with her rah-rah oration, during which she spouted such lame lines as, "We’ve got to take that White House, are you with me? Come on!" She also spoke of the need for Dems to gain seats in the Legislature, in Congress, and on the Corporation Commission. Not a peep about replacing Sheriff Joe Arpaio or Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas. I know they're county races, but it's not like she's uninvolved. It's well known she's backing her former counsel Tim Nelson in his primary race against Gerald Richard.

Afterwards, the Guv beat a hasty retreat, slipping out a back door. However, a cadre of local activists managed to confront her before she hopped in her vehicle, waving signs at her, and pressing her to veto the bill. She replied that she would be making her decision Monday. If she fails to act, the bill will become law without her signature.

The protest was so large because local pro-immigrant activist Sal Reza and others enlisted the help of numerous Democrats present to vote on delegates to the national Democratic convention, slated to begin August 25 in Denver. The demonstration before Napolitano capped a day of excuses, rationalizations, and finger pointing on behalf of legislators who voted for HB 2807. Some claim they were misled, others say they weren't paying attention when they voted for the bill. Still others insist the bill is a watered-down version of the original, and will have no significant impact.

The bill transmitted to the Governor on April 22, states that,

"County sheriffs and police departments of cities and towns shall implement a program to address violations of federal immigration laws by training peace officers or detention officers, embedding United States immigration and customs enforcement agents within the agency, or establishing operational relationships with the United States immigration and customs enforcement to implement the provisions of this section."

This version passed the state House unanimously, with the Arizona Hispanic Legislative Caucus and tres liberal members such as state Representatives Kyrsten Sinema and Tom Prezelski joining right-wingers like Russell Pearce and Andy Biggs in voting yes. The vote didn't sail through the Senate as easily, passing 20-9 instead. But now many who supported the measure are regretting their yes votes, Sinema among them.

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"Legislators don't read bills," confessed state Rep. Kyrsten Sinema.

"Mistakes happen all the time," Sinema informed me. "Which I know that the public probably doesn’t like to think about, but we make mistakes."

Sinema schooled me on the way the legislature does business, admitting she hadn't read the bill before voting for it, despite the fact that you could read it in about two minutes or less.

"Legislators don’t read bills," she confided. "We have analysts read the bills for us and summarize them for us. But even that gets you up into over 800 pieces of legislation. And they’re amended all the time, and they change all the time. And so often you get them confused. Like here’s an example, we had 16 bills on gun issues this year. I know one of them, the guns in schools bill. The other 15? All kind of the same to me."

Sinema then explained how the House Dems fucked it up.

"We vote on anywhere from 10 to 50 bills in a day," she told me. "So when a vote goes up on the board, someone will vote no in your caucus, and that’s a sign you should look at it and see if anything’s wrong. Well, all the votes were green [meaning `yes'], so we all just kind of engaged in groupthink, a little bit, and voted yes. I was under the impression it was a different bill. When we found out later what the bill did -- I called the Senate Democrats, asked them to vote no, and then contacted the Governor’s office and asked her to veto the bill."

Sinema gets a couple of points for admitting the screw-up, and I'm sure there are a lot of bills legislators have to keep track of, but where were the Dems' House Minority Leader Phil Lopes and House Minority Whip Steve Gallardo? (Gallardo did not return my call to him last week for comment, and I did not run into him at the convention.) A little organization could have prevented this fiasco, if they'd wanted to prevent it. Indeed, the Hispanic Caucus should have been all over this like a cheap suit, before the fact. I mean, the Caucus recently wrote a letter to the feds seconding Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon's call for an investigation of Arpaio for racial profiling, and here they are voting for a measure, which sends a different message to Arizona law enforcement.

"This is not a harmless bill," said Lydia Guzman of the civil rights group Respect/Respeto. "This bill could mean one thing to someone like Police Chief George Gascon in Mesa, and something else to someone like Joe Arpaio."

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Activist Sal Reza led the charge at the Wyndham on Saturday.

Salvador Reza was even more emphatic in his denunciation of the measure.

"What this bill would say to everyone – not only here but throughout the nation is that Arizona’s the first police state," he declared. "Arizona would be the first 287g state."

The 287g agreement with Immigration and Customs Enforcement has allowed Arpaio to have 160 officers trained to enforce immigration law. It is that federal authority that allows Arpaio to conduct his unconstitutional anti-immigrant sweeps focused on brown folk in the Valley. Many see HB 2807 as a green flag to other law enforcement entities to follow in Joe's footsteps.

Ponytailed Pima County Democrat Tom Prezelski helped modify the first version of the bill into what he calls "merely a clarification of existing law." He said he wants the Governor to sign the bill as a way of outmaneuvering the possibility of a more severe proposition making its way onto the ballot. But he conceded that, "the timing is bad," for such a bill.

"When you have an insane sheriff and a fascist county attorney, I can perfectly understand why you’d look at something like this with a different set of eyes," Prezelski told me after being berated by activists for his support of the legislation. "But what they are doing is still illegal and will continue to be under this bill."

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Anti-HB 2807 demonstrators, after confronting Governor Napolitano.

Arpaio's abuse of the 287g agreement demonstrates how an ill-intentioned law enforcement official can terrorize people with a mandate to enforce federal immigration law. So the timing really is wrong on this one, but who's to blame? The Dems have apparently screwed themselves, and now they want Napolitano to come to the rescue. But why would Napolitano veto a bill that most of the legislature -- including those in her own party -- voted for?

Napolitano's never been a profile in courage, and she could just let the bill become law without her signature. However, if she wants to at last show that she gives a rat's ass about Arpaio's blatant abuses or the civil rights of Arizona's residents, this would be the perfect opportunity.

I'm skeptical she'll take advantage of it, but stand ready to be surprised. In any case, we'll know Monday, one way or the other.


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