by: J. Charles Coughlin
I moved to Arizona in 1985 after growing up in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Ann Arbor is like the Shangri-La of Michigan, an island oasis of students and academics in a state that is decidedly blue collar and hard.
During the Super Bowl, Chrysler played an ad that reminded me of the Michigan I knew. While I grew up on the “island,” my father commuted every day to Detroit. He was a corporate labor lawyer – our dinner conversations at night almost always included a discussion of the latest labor negotiations. Everyone was fighting over the same piece of pie, and it seemed that it all had to do with the auto industry.
When the oil embargo hit and the Japanese auto makers started to pick up market share, the writing was on the wall. The state, the industry and its people didn’t really know how to respond to the change that was coming. We were Michiganders – Henry Ford’s economic decedents, the mass production line, the high performance cars, “street muscle” was the motor city mantra. In the back of our minds we knew we were vulnerable, but very few were openly negative about the state and our prospects to thrive, to survive. And one thing I definitely remember, I never, ever heard anyone talk badly about our state.
Mitch Albom wrote a Christmas column a few years back that so solidly hit the point that it brought tears to my eyes. Sports stars in the Motor City are a different breed; Barry Sanders, Al Kaline, Steve Yzerman, Joe Dumars. Tom Izzo, the Michigan State basketball coach, has picked up where Michigan football coach Bo Schembechler left off. Egos? Sure. But the oversized “I’m taking my talents to South Beach” mentality?” Not a chance. You wouldn’t survive in Michigan with that kind of attitude.
Just like Michigan, Arizona stands out because of its own unique character and attitude.
I love Arizona because here we talk about the issues confronting our State. We have a healthy political dialogue. Some call it tough, rough, and brutal. I call it real.
Some shy away and choose the easy, racial, political rhetoric when it comes to talking about our State’s most significant problem; the border and immigration. Some decry our State’s position of leading the debate on this issue and claim that it demonstrates how backward we are. I couldn’t disagree more.
Mexico is our State’s largest trading partner. As Mexico goes, so goes Arizona. Ross Perot’s “giant sucking sound” was jobs going south of the border, but the reality is that it is the lawlessness of the Mexican state which is drawing our State and its economy into the toilet. Our country still treats Mexico like a verse out a James Taylor song and a vestige of a bygone era of Monroe doctrine politics.
As long as our border and Mexico itself lacks a “rule of law” we will never have a trading partner capable of growing our economy and theirs as well. Make no mistake; our economic future is undeniably attached to the stability of the Mexican state. As long as we tolerate the lawlessness and our sympathies lie with the individual migrant, rather than the abhorrence of the Mexican state which tolerates and encourages lawlessness, we are handicapping ourselves from solving our State’s biggest challenge.
The other day, a good friend of mine keenly observed that Arizona is the youngest continental State in the Union. We are behaving exactly as the youngest sibling should. We question the parents. We question the older brothers and sisters. We question why the system doesn’t work and we ask it boldly and loudly.
That is great. That is healthy. That is exactly what Arizona should be doing. Don’t back down – demand – don’t cower and grovel; stand up and fight. That’s the Arizona I know and love.
When I moved here, I sensed that the opportunities were limitless. I could see the horizon and I knew that if I worked hard enough, I could reach that other side. It didn’t matter who my parents were, what school I attended, and or who I knew. If I worked hard, I could get ahead. I knew one person well when I moved to this State. In the 25 years I have been here, this State has blessed me because we accept and encourage open, tough minded political debate. You know, when political debate begins to die down and everyone seems to be agreeing, that is the moment you begin to die.
I have fought for what I believed in; John McCain, Fife Symington, Jan Brewer, Transportation improvements, the County Hospital, Stadiums, spring training, education improvements and health care. I have won much more than I lost and I am bruised and battered, but still smiling because I had the opportunity to participate. Do political debates devolve into demagoguery? Yes, but they rarely start that way. It is usually is about an important issue that people are passionate about. The key is to embrace that passion, understand your opponents arguments, dissect them embrace them and act on them. It’s what we must do as Americans as Arizonans.
But while we are doing that, don’t belittle the culture or the people that have the temerity to raise the issue. Don’t tell me it is a useless waste of time and energy. Don’t belittle out elected leaders and institutions. Don’t bad mouth Arizona.
In Michigan, if you spoke badly about the state, you were not embraced. How come we let so many opinion leaders get away with it in Arizona? Understand Arizona and the challenges we face. If Michigan had done that better then, we wouldn’t be seeing commercials about Detroit and its underlying strengths, they would have used those underlying strengths to change to transform the auto industry decades ago. Instead, they had a lazy political climate that tolerated substandard corporate leadership, accepted union organizers demands for ever increasing pay and benefits and watched as the economic soul of the state deteriorated before their very eyes.
If we don’t believe in Arizona, who will? It is time to talk the talk and support our state. If you are a columnist, editorial writer, salesperson promoting Arizona, or a student please, please, please understand that public debate is a strength – NOT a liability. Thanks to the people who founded this State, we have water to drink and farm, an higher educational system that affords great opportunities at very affordable prices, a model health care system (Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System; AHCCCS) for the poor and underprivileged that focuses on quality care and competition, a surface transportation system that is the best of any large metropolitan area in the world, affordable electric and gas utilities that keep us cool in the summer and warm in the winter â€“ when the average temperature is not around the 70’s or 80’s.
Barry Goldwater, John Rhodes, Ernest McFarland, Paul Fannin, Mo Udall, John McCain, Jon Kyl, Bruce Babbitt, have all been the products of this robust political climate. Some day, an Arizonan will run for President and win because we know what tough fights are all about. Some day, we will learn to embrace our political strengths and understand them for what they are, not for how they are interpreted by some New York Times or Time magazine reporter who lives in the coastal “politically correct” climate where people think we should be all just get along.
We can’t and we won’t. That is why we have political institutions where we elect our leaders so we can try. We are supposed to fight, so embrace it. Don’t demean it.
Be an Arizonan and be proud of it!