Community And Arizona Business Leaders On High Alert In A Post-SB 1070 World

By Ben Giles, Mark Brodie, Lauren Gilger
Published: Wednesday, March 4, 2020 - 5:05am
Updated: Wednesday, March 4, 2020 - 12:49pm

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Sanctuary cities Arizona
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Gov. Doug Ducey and Republican legislative leaders spent nearly two months pushing a controversial ballot measure calling for a statewide vote on so-called sanctuary cities.

Then suddenly, just before the measure to ban sanctuary cities in the state Constitution was scheduled to be heard in the House, the governor and GOP leaders pulled the plug.

Their decision followed legislative shouting matches and growing sentiment against the bill, fueled by organized, outspoken community activists and business leaders who’ve grown wary of measures they say can be damaging to Arizona’s reputation, and by extension, its economy.

Both community and business leaders point to the same event as the moment they learned to stay alert to such bills and resolutions: The enactment of Senate Bill 1070.

Signed by then-Gov. Jan Brewer in 2010, most of the “show me your papers” law has since been struck down in courts.

But the protests, boycotts and economic losses in the wake of Brewer’s signature linger as a lesson to groups and individuals who are concerned about Arizona’s image.

“The meat-and-potatoes issues for the business community will always be good tax policy, regulatory policy, infrastructure, education — things that people would expect,” said Glenn Hamer, president and CEO of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce. “But I’d say because of the experience the state went through with SB 1070, you could add state’s reputation to that list of meat-and-potatoes items that we’re just always aware of.”

Arizona Mexico Commission
Matthew Casey/KJZZ
Glenn Hamer

Hamer said that lesson was learned the hard way, as the business community was caught off guard by the impact of SB 1070 a decade ago. A study by the Center for American Progress in 2011 estimated the state lost $141 million in lodging and commercial revenue.

Hamer recalled legislative debate on SB 1070 in the business community centered on parts of the bill the chamber determined would be bad for business, not on the social impact of the bill.

“You know, at the time, we felt that that was our role,” he said. “But what we quickly learned is that particularly in a state like Arizona, where tourism is such a vital industry, we have 300,000 jobs one way [or another] are connected with our tourism industry, that our state's image is very, very important, as well.”

As for community groups like Living United For Change Arizona, which was formed in the wake of SB 1070’s passage, they’ve learned to get organized, and not just as a mover and shaker within the community.

LUCHA now has registered lobbyists that speak on their behalf at the Capitol.

“We just do have a lot more progressive groups that are paying attention to what's happening and are investing resources in hiring lobbying firms like Creosote, but just paying attention and then knowing what to do with that information,” said lobbyist Hugo Polanco.

It was Polanco whose testimony sparked uproar in a contentious Senate hearing on Ducey’s proposed ballot measure.

The incident helped capture the public’s attention. But behind the scenes, many in the business community were already on high alert.

President and CEO Monica Villalobos was quick to sniff out the latest GOP-led resolution as potentially damaging.

“Some of this legislation that we see, we are alerted to it a little bit more, because we're always on the lookout for it having gone through it already,” Villalobos said.

The Hispanic Chamber was one of many business groups that publicly opposed Ducey’s resolution. Tucson Mayor Regina Romero said calls from such groups were crucial to help defeat the ballot measure.

Regina Romero
Regina Romero
Regina Romero

“Many business leaders in Arizona made personal calls to different state legislators and to the Governor's Office to ask that we not repeat the same mistake that was done by Republicans back in 2010,” Romero said.

Immigration-related measures aren’t all that business groups look out for. In 2014, business leaders like Todd Sanders, CEO of the Greater Phoenix Chamber of Commerce, were outspoken against a controversial religious freedom bill that drew negative national attention and the threat of boycotts, much like the aftermath of SB 1070.

“It was not a hard decision to go down there and to help defeat that bill, and certainly to urge the governor to veto it,” Sanders said.

Given their past success, and given Ducey’s previous five years in office spent avoiding controversial immigration issues, Sanders said some in the business community were caught off guard by Ducey’s proposal.

Sanders compared the slightly delayed response to muscle atrophy.

Otherwise, “this probably would have been a quicker response,” he said.

“I think, you know, now we're back on that A game. And there are a few bills down in the state Legislature, one dealing with transgender kids and sports and there's another sanctuary cities, but I can tell you, we will be engaging in those and those issues,” Sanders said.

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