Opinion: The one word that defines Arizona politics

Opinion by Jon GabrielUpdated: Tue, 01 Nov 2022 22:03:13 GMTSource: CNNEditor's Note: Jon Gabriel is editor-in-chief of Ricochet.com and an opinion contributor to the Arizona Republic. Follow him

Opinion by Jon Gabriel

Updated: Tue, 01 Nov 2022 22:03:13 GMT

Source: CNN

Editor's Note: Jon Gabriel is editor-in-chief of Ricochet.com and an opinion contributor to the Arizona Republic. Follow him on Twitter at @ExJon. The views expressed here are his own. Read more opinion at CNN.

As a lifelong Arizonan, I get a lot of questions about my state. How do you survive the 118°F summers? How "grand" is the Grand Canyon, really? Tell me about that time you found a scorpion in your boot!

Being a political commentator, however, the most common questions involve Arizona's, well, peculiar politics. With former news anchor Republican Kari Lake leading in many polls for the governor's race and former tech investor Blake Masters gaining momentum in his contest with Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly, 2022 is no exception.

National Democrats were cheered to see Lake and Masters win their respective primaries, considering both to be too "MAGA" to win the general. This was the same strategy they tried with Donald Trump in 2016. We all know how that turned out.

These two supposed easy victories have turned into nightmare scenarios for Arizona Democrats, this after a surprising revival of the state's Democratic party over the past two cycles. My fellow long-time Arizonans weren't surprised.

Several years back, many considered Arizona to be the reddest of red states. When Democratic Sen. Kyrsten Sinema won in 2018 and President Joe Biden and Kelly won in 2020, national commentators thought Arizona was turning blue — or at least purple.

No single color fits our unique, diverse state. Arizona is neither conservative nor progressive. It's contrarian.

The Grand Canyon State regularly swings from left to right and back again. In the past 45 years, Democrats held the governorship as often as Republicans.

My late father, who raised me as a good Arizona boy, provides a textbook example of our contrarian streak.

His politics were somewhere between Archie Bunker and Ron Swanson, but he would often vote to re-elect Democrats. His reason? "I never hear about them in the news, which means they aren't bothering me or screwing anything up."

Our ballots include a raft of citizen initiatives, often ones that contradict each other. Dad voted "no" on all of them because "if I vote 'yes' that means change and change is bad." He also voted against retaining every single judge, just because.

Mom would ask to see his ballot so she could vote the opposite way.

This leave-me-the-hell-alone contrarianism was present from Arizona's founding. President William Howard Taft delayed Arizona's acceptance into the union until the territorial legislature removed a certain progressive provision, allowing for the recall of judges, from the state constitution. After much bickering, the legislature removed it. Then, the year Arizona won statehood, voters quickly voted the offending provision back in. Take that, Washington, DC.

Decades later, Congress wanted to mandate nationwide daylight-saving time to save energy and eliminate confusion. The federal government wanted to force another work hour of sunshine on Phoenix -- in the summer? Ornery Arizonans said, "hell no," uniformity be damned. (Hawaii joined the desert dwellers.)

Move to 1990, when Arizona was the first state to hold a popular vote to create a Martin Luther King Jr. holiday. The week before the vote, the measure was leading in the polls 52% to 38%. That weekend, the NFL pompously announced that if Arizona voted 'no,' they would deny us the Super Bowl. And the measure went down 51% to 49%. (The holiday was ultimately approved two years later, 61% to 39%, after local business leaders made the NFL promise to keep its big mouth shut. It remains the first voter-endorsed MLK Day.)

For better or worse, Arizona voters have a powerful defiant streak. They love nothing more than tweaking the noses of outsiders, even if it means cutting off their own in the process.

Journalists anointed Republican Sen. John McCain with the "maverick" label for his history of run-ins with party bosses. He spent decades fighting for campaign finance reform, often opposing Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. McCain's last major act was killing a "skinny repeal" of Obamacare, this time in opposition to Senate Majority Leader McConnell.

Before McCain, Sen. Barry Goldwater was our maverick. He infuriated the Rockefeller Republican leadership in the 1960s with his "extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice," then infuriated the ascendant Moral Majority in the 1980s with his vocal support of gay rights.

Enter Sinema. Her feisty independence bewilders DC activists, but she's simply exercising this uniquely Arizonan mentality.

So, when Arizonans see Lake condemning wishy-washy Republicans before scolding news reporters, they grab the popcorn. When Masters cracks jokes about Kelly along with the GOP establishment, they toss a second bag in the microwave.

Both candidates are simply demonstrating Arizona's contrarian character, shared by our politicians and voters alike. The other 49 states can complain about the sheer cussedness of our leaders, but that just makes us love them more.