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The truth about a red state

January 13, 2006 | Page 8

THE ELECTION season is in full swing in Arizona. A flurry of poll results has splashed across the front pages recently, presenting a fascinating picture of what ordinary people are thinking right now in this, among the reddest of the "red states."

On health care, fully 81 percent support universal health care. Chris Philbin, a 26-year-old registered Republican who currently has health coverage, stated in a focus group follow-up: "I would gladly give up 10 percent of my paycheck to have free health care like they do in Canada--free prescriptions, everything." (Interestingly, Canadians give up far less that 10 percent of their paycheck to get just that.)

This overwhelming support for universal health care should come as no surprise. Some 20 percent of Arizona's 5 million residents have no health coverage at all, another 20 percent are on the state's Medicaid program, and a good portion of both camps works for one of the state's largest private employers: Wal-Mart.

Health care isn't the only issue burning here, though. Not one, but two antigay coalitions have been pushing for a state constitutional ban on same-sex marriage.

Recent polls confirm that over half of Arizonans are against a ban on same-sex marriage, even if they aren't for gay marriage itself. While it is common knowledge that younger people are more supportive of same-sex marriage, 62-year-old Manuel Varela sheds some light on those who are against it. "I would ban same-sex marriage, but I think that those partners should receive benefits," he said. "Too many people go without benefits, health insurance especially."

The very "un-red" support continues: 76 percent support a minimum-wage hike to $6.75 an hour, and, in the state that is second to last in terms of per-pupil spending in education, 72 percent want the state to spend more, including some 64 percent who support universal, all-day kindergarten.

Two things make this widespread support for such basic, progressive ideas critical. One is the necessary reminder that even in supposed conservative backwaters like Arizona, the gap between the right-wing lunatics in the state house (and in Arizona, they really are lunatics) and what ordinary people think is enormous.

The other is that Janet Napolitano, the current Democrat governor, is up for re-election. She is a superstar in the party now because she has figured out how Democrats can govern in a "red state." But she has done that not by tapping into this massive base for progressive programs, but instead by catering to the right.

The numbers in these polls won't transform themselves into action, either on their own or through Napolitano, but instead only through people organizing, bucking the ridiculous red-state/blue-state political straightjacket and pushing from below.
Jeff Bale, Phoenix

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