Fed up with Phoenix, Tucson talks secession from Arizona
Arizona's conservative politics – and Phoenix's dominant role – lead some in Tucson to call for secession. It's a divide that dates back to the 1800s.
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Not only did Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik vow not to enforce the state's controversial SB 1070 immigration law, he singled out conservative commentators such as Sarah Palin for blame when an assassination attempt targeted Democratic Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. Meanwhile, Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio has gained notoriety as perhaps the most strident advocate of get-tough illegal-immigration policies in the country. Since 2007, the Maricopa County sheriff's office has helped deport some 26,000 illegal immigrants – nearly twice the number of the No. 2 county on the list, Los Angeles.Skip to next paragraph
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But tensions between Pima and Maricopa counties are not new. Talk of secession in this liberal-leaning area that borders Mexico has ebbed and flowed through the years.
For one, the characters of the two places are starkly different. While Tucson clings to its small-town feel amid growth, Phoenix sprawls as the sixth-largest city in the United States.
David Euchner, considering a move to the Arizona desert from Massachusetts a decade ago, was struck by the abundance of green grass in Maricopa and the salient cactus landscape in Pima. Master-planned communities in the Phoenix area reminded him of suburban L.A.
"Tucson is more of what Arizona is, what defines Arizona," says Mr. Euchner, an attorney who settled in Tucson and takes part in Start Our State's meetings at the Shanty.
History also accounts for some of the differences, says Marshall Trimble, Arizona's official historian. Tucson, whose European roots go back to the late 1600s, cherishes its Spanish, Mexican, and native American heritage. Phoenix didn't start taking shape until the 1860s.
Between 1867 and 1877, Tucson reigned as Arizona's territorial capital after wrangling the title away from Prescott in northern Arizona. "In 1889 the Johnny-come-lately, Phoenix, comes on the scene," Mr. Trimble adds. "Tucson is too far south and Prescott is too far north, so Phoenix, which is in the middle, becomes the permanent capital."
Its location, as well as its relative abundance of water, gave Phoenix the upper hand. By 1920, eight years after Arizona became the 48th state, Phoenix had surpassed Tucson in population for the first time.
For that reason, the bad blood seems mostly to be directed from Tucson toward Phoenix. "You've got the big guy that doesn't care, and the little guy saying, 'I can take you, I can lick you,' " Trimble says.
Despite Pima County's population of 1 million, Tucson still can't shake its cow town reputation. Sitting at an outdoor cafe in the heart of Phoenix, Lloyd Scott says he seldom gives Tucson much thought. In his nine years living in Arizona's capital, the Texas native has visited The Old Pueblo just once.
"There's nothing down there that I don't have here," he says.
Arizona Rep. John Kavanagh, a Republican from Maricopa County, chuckles when the topic of secession comes up. The notion that Pima County could have two senators in Congress is absurd, he says. "This is a ridiculous, nonsensical, unserious pipe dream."
Supporters note that Baja Arizona would actually be larger than seven states and more populous than seven. Eckerstrom and his allies look to Maine as a model: It took years, but Maine seceded from Massachusetts in 1820 with approval of the Massachusetts legislature, Congress, and the president. Eckerstrom says: "We want to be able to make our own decisions."