Wednesday, May 12, 2010

What is happening in Arizona is either...

...a glimpse into the future of America or a reckless repudiation of its past.

At a point when the national spotlight was starting to shine away from Arizona, the state's political leaders re-directed it right back at it.

Gov. Jan Brewer has signed into law legislation that targets ethnic studies classes or programs in the state's elementary and secondary schools. Gov. Brewer's supporters say the law is long overdue, while her critics indicate it is another blatant attempt at targeting Latinos throughout the state.

HB2281 goes into effect at the end of the calendar year, and already there are promises from various school districts that they will ignore the law.

The national political fallout is expected to be quick and likely nasty, with the expectation for renewed calls to punish the state's tourism or other offices because of the actions of the state government.

Protests, large and small and perhaps overwhelmingly symbolic, continue following the illegal immigration law the state enacted three weeks ago. For example, the Los Angeles Times reports that the L.A. City Council has "voted to ban most city travel to Arizona and future contracts with companies in that state." (Click here for the full story.) The expectation is that $8 million in contracts will be lost. In another example, an Illinois school superintendent says a girls' high school basketball team from that state that was traveling later this year to Arizona for a tournament will not be allowed to go.

Indeed, it was only three weeks ago that Arizona enacted the nation's toughest illegal immigration law, SB1070, which has raised fears among critics that Latinos will be profiled regardless of whether they are legally in the country.

In the meantime, vocal protests -- especially in America's largest cities -- have taken place. But there is one piece of evidence to suggest those protests are not changing people's minds -- a new report from the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press finds strong support across the country for the Arizona law.

So, is Arizona at the vanguard of political change? Or is it out of touch with today's America? One item for you to consider, as you answer that question: Earlier today, the Republican Party selected Tampa, Fla., as the location for its 2012 National Convention. The other finalists were Salt Lake City, Utah, and Phoenix, AZ. Politico reports that "Phoenix was eliminated, in part, out of concern that the blistering summer heat would have stifled the convention. And Arizona’s new law aimed at illegal immigrants would have made the city’s selection controversial." (Click here for the full story on Tampa's selection.)

To some extent, what happens next will be based on strategic communications and the effort to get public opinion to move to one side (or stay on one side). Over time you should focus less on the day-to-day events because you can guess what those will be -- continued vocal protests, actions to punish Arizona and political gamesmanship from Washington through the 50 state capital cities and to your hometown. Instead, critically examine how the competing sides are attempting to "spin" what is taking place in Arizona.

Let me make something clear here: I am NOT criticizing public relations, and I am NOT suggesting that anyone on either side of the debate has underhanded goals in mind. Rather, I'm challenging you to think critically about the information you receive, including the media organization that delivers it and the sources that assist in creating it.

You certainly can have an opinion about what is happening in Arizona. I hope that it is based on sound ideas and not rhetorical nonsense.

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