It’s hard out in Arizona for a liberal. From recently announced deep cuts to health care and education, to the now infamously tough immigration law currently tied up in court battles, Arizona remains one of the country’s more reliably conservative states. However, a group of Arizonans from the Tucson area are looking to distance themselves from the more conservative policies of their state, literally, by seceding. Headed up by Tucson attorney and former state Democratic Party Chairman Paul Eckerstrom, SOS or “Start Our State,” is calling for the progressive alcove of Pima County, located near the Mexican border, to break off from the rest of Arizona and form the 51st state, tentatively called “Baja Arizona.”It’s a daunting task and one with little hope for success, but with a petition drive in full gear, SOS’s political action committee has grown from a group of democrats with an idea, to a fledgling movement. “Start Our State,” in their own words, aims “to establish a new state in Southern Arizona free of the un-American, unconstitutional machinations of the Arizona legislature and to restore our region’s credibility as a place welcoming to others, open to commerce, and friendly to its neighbors.”
Baja Arizona wouldn’t be the smallest state in the country, it’s a fact that SOS optimistically points out via their facebook homebase. They’d be larger than a handful of other states like Connecticut, New Jersey and Delaware, and Pima County’s population of of 1,020,200, according to the most recent census, gives it a denser headcount than Montana, Alaska, Delaware, or either of the Dakotas. America’s even full of state-split precedents: Maine was an exclave of Massachusettes until 1820 when it was carved off to become the 23rd state and West Virginia broke off from the rest of Virginia after refusing to become part of the confederacy during The Civil War.
That’s not to say the quest for statehood is easy though. To even get the idea of “Baja Arizona” on the table, SOS must get 48,000 petition signatures by June of next year. With that, the proposal would go on a 2012 ballot in Pima County to ask voters if they support petitioning Arizona lawmakers for permission to split away, Reuters reports.
According to NPR Eckerstrom and organizers aren’t having trouble getting people to sign, but the local ballot, if it’s successful, is a non-binding resolution. The ballot would serve to test the waters and measure interest more than anything else, it’s the first step in a long and difficult process, involving state legislature, the governor, and ultimately the U.S. Congress.
According to NPR though, SOS and Paul Eckerstrom remain optimistic, understanding Baja Arizona’s slim chances, yet still looking to make a point. “If we do this vote, at least we can send a message not only to the state Legislature but also to the rest of the nation to tell the rest of the nation that not everybody in Arizona is crazy.”