Journal of the Plague Year 2020: Next Time, Rent a Car and Head South

So, here’s a pet peeve of mine. When reporters from major media outlets — think, The Washington Post, The New York Times, and just about every cable news show — deign to report from Arizona, they rarely venture beyond the Phoenix metropolitan area. This article on whether the Latino vote will finally flip Arizona blue in 2020 is a prime example. The author pontificates at length about Arizona politics without ever leaving Maricopa County, and chides Democrats for not seeing Latinos.

We’re treated to a shallow discussion of the career of Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, and a thumbnail sketch of the race between Senator Martha McSally (R) and her Democratic challenger, Mark Kelly. We’re told that Latino voters care about education and health care, just like regular folks. As a proud resident of Baja Arizona, I’m mystified that the reporter would pretend to analyze an entire state based on a quick overview of its largest metropolitan area. Tucson is home to the flagship University of Arizona, and has been continuously inhabited a heck of a lot longer than our miserable upstart neighbor to the North. It’s historically more liberal, and has deliberately avoided becoming a freeway-ringed clone city. And, hey, Tucson’s just the beginning. Bisbee, Arivaca, Globe, St. David — each town has its own history, tradition and electoral politics.

It seems particularly odd when you consider that Mark Kelly is running partly on the legacy of his wife, Gabby Giffords. Giffords served in the U.S. Congress, representing an historically liberal district that includes Tucson. She was shot while meeting with constituents in a suburban parking lot. Giffords survived, thanks to a courageous aide who disarmed the gunman, but the injury and rehabilitation ended her political career. The shooting received national coverage, much of marveling that she could have been elected in a state of bumpkins and retirees. (I’m looking at you, New York Times.)

Here, in Tucson, it was nothing short of traumatic. I’d met Giffords, and was close friends with a native Tucsonan who’d known her for years, long before she considered running for office. She was brilliant, effective and well-liked — a born politician of the best possible sort. I promise you that for any Tucson resident, Mark Kelly’s Senate race is much more about Giffords’ legacy than it is about national politics.

In fact, Baja Arizona has a rich tradition of liberal politics that has nothing to do with the enlightened benevolence of wealthy Californians. Many of Tucson’s founding families are Mexican-American, and a few — the Grijalvas and Ronstadts — have held political office for generations. That’s not to say there hasn’t been prejudice and segregation. Part of the story of Arizona’s statehood is how cultures have fought and displaced one another, often by violent methods. But crackpots like Joe Arpaio don’t speak for us, and don’t speak for many residents of border towns like Arivaca and Bisbee.

So, next time rent a car and head south. Take the highway, not I-10. Pass through Oracle and Marana and Tucson, and wend your way down towards the border: St. David, Tombstone, Sonoita. The grasslands of Patagonia. The stark beauty of Arivaca. Go to Wellton, and talk to the migra at the Wellton Station about the tragedy of migrant deaths along the Devil’s Highway.

The food’s better down here, and the stories are richer. You might learn something along the way.

Unless, of course, you only care about numbers. If that’s true, you can skip the touching anecdote about the Arizona native who was the only Mexican-American in her elementary school class.

On a brighter note, a different Post article got it right when reporting on Covid-19 deaths in Arizona. Instead of confining themselves to Maricopa County, they reported from the Navajo Nation, which has one of the highest per capita death rates in the country. The Post’s pandemic coverage has been excellent because they’ve genuinely gone to the hot spots — not just nearby cities with large airports. Now, if only they could give a tip to the CNN reporter who’s been doing stand-ups in front of hospitals in the Phoenix metro area for a couple of weeks now.

Okay, end of rant. Here are today’s numbers. The scary thing is, they’ve temporarily lost their power to shock.

Confirmed Covid-19 cases in Arizona: 168,273
Current hospitalizations: 2,424
Deaths: 3,454

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