Phoenix - Don't be fooled. The way the media plays the story, it was a wave of racist, anti-immigrant hysteria that moved Arizona Republicans to pass a sick little law, signed last week, requiring every person in the state to carry papers proving they are US citizens.
I don't buy it. Anti-Hispanic hysteria has always been as much a part of Arizona as the saguaro cactus and excessive air-conditioning.
What's new here is not the politicians' fear of a xenophobic "Teabag" uprising.
What moved GOP Governor Jan Brewer to sign the Soviet-style show-me-your-papers law is the exploding number of legal Hispanics, US citizens all, who are daring to vote - and daring to vote Democratic by more than two-to-one. Unless this demographic locomotive is halted, Arizona Republicans know their party will soon be electoral toast. Or, if you like, tortillas.
In 2008, working for "Rolling Stone" with civil rights attorney Bobby Kennedy, our team flew to Arizona to investigate what smelled like an electoral pogrom against Chicano voters . . . directed by one Jan Brewer.
Brewer, then secretary of state, had organized a racially loaded purge of the voter rolls that would have made Katherine Harris blush. Beginning after the 2004 election, under Brewer's command, no fewer than 100,000 voters, overwhelmingly Hispanic, were blocked from registering to vote. In 2005, the first year of the Great Brown-Out, one in three Phoenix residents found their registration applications rejected.
That statistic caught my attention. Voting or registering to vote if you're not a citizen is a felony, a big-time jail-time crime. And arresting such criminal voters is easy: After all,they give their names and addresses.
So I asked Brewer's office, had she busted a single one of these thousands of allegedly illegal voters? Did she turn over even one name to the feds for prosecution?
No, not one.
Which raises the question: Were these disenfranchised voters the criminal, non-citizens that Brewer tagged them to be, or just not-quite-white voters given the Jose Crow treatment, entrapped in document-chase trickery?
The answer was provided by a federal prosecutor who was sent on a crazy hunt all over the Western mesas looking for these illegal voters. "We took over 100 complaints, we investigated for almost two years, I didn't find one prosecutable voter fraud case."
This prosecutor, David Iglesias, is a prosecutor no more. When he refused to fabricate charges of illegal voting among immigrants, his firing was personally ordered by the president of the United States, George W. Bush, under orders from his boss, Karl Rove.
Iglesias' jurisdiction was next door, in New Mexico, but he told me that Rove and the Republican chieftains were working nationwide to whip up anti-immigrant hysteria with public busts of illegal voters,even though there were none.
"They wanted some splashy pre-election indictments," Iglesias told me. The former prosecutor, himself a Republican, paid the price when he stood up to this vicious attack on citizenship.
But Secretary of State Brewer followed the Rove plan to a T. The weapon she used to slice the Arizona voter rolls was a 2004 law, known as "Prop 200," which required proof of citizenship to register. It is important to see the Republicans' latest legislative horror show, sanctioning cops to stop residents and prove citizenship, as just one more step in the party's desperate plan to impede Mexican-Americans from marching to the ballot box.