By now we've all heard of Arizona's SB 1062, the bill that, if signed by Governor Jan Brewer later this week, will legalize discrimination against the gay community, and for that matter, most anyone else, if such discrimination is motivated by "religious beliefs." It has already passed both Houses of the Arizona legislature, with all but three Republicans in the State Assembly in support. The legislation is largely the same as bills introduced in Ohio, Mississippi, Tennessee and Oklahoma. If you think this is a bad idea, and especially if you are a person of religious conviction, there may still be time to contact the governor's office.
At first glance, it would appear that the folks in Arizona have once again taken the lead in the race to see which state can enact the most foolhardy, anti-democratic, and, dare I say it, un-Christian laws imaginable. Not that the Sunshine State doesn't have some stiff competition, mind you: There's North Carolina leading the way in making voting more difficult and more expensive, especially for the young, the old and the marginalized; there's Missouri, where in 2013, both chambers voted essentially to make "sustainable development" illegal, out of fear of a UN takeover; there's Georgia, whose legislature just voted to add schools, churches and bars-- yes, bars -- to the already long list of places where folks can carry guns; and there's my home state of Virginia, which in 2013 made Hybrid car owners pay three times as much to register their vehicles to compensate for their reduced gas consumption.
In the battle to see who's the craziest, much of the Southeast, the Southwest, the Heartland and Appalachia all field strong contenders. People in other parts of the country, and most major media wonder aloud, "What's wrong with all these people?"
But that's where things get interesting. Increasingly, it turns out, "all these people" does not include most ordinary citizens. In Georgia, polls indicate that nearly three fourths of citizens opposed further expansion of concealed carry gun laws, even while three fourths of their "representatives" voted for it. In Missouri and many other "real America" states, sustainable agriculture and sustainable development efforts are taking root in local communities, often led by farmers and ranchers. Perhaps most interesting of all, in Arizona a coalition of more than 2,000 small businesses, already allied through Local First Arizona, is vigorously fighting the anti-gay legislation. According to Kimber Lanning, a small business owner and Local First's Director:
Here in Arizona we have an incredibly diverse population that is being misled by the extreme right, but I think the momentum we have against this legislation is unprecedented. Large and small, local and international businesses are working together with faith-based organizations to send the national media the message that this kind of hateful legislation does not represent us.
It's likely that most of these business people lean conservative in their values and politics. Through Local First, they've been working together for nearly a decade to build the state's economy, based on independent entrepreneurs with ties to their communities, in contrast to the big box stores and chains who set up shop when the incentives are big enough. They're rebuilding downtowns through creative re-use of abandoned buildings, revitalizing farms by linking them to consumers and creating jobs by diversifying the economic base. From their government, they have one main request: A level playing field with the big boys. Legalizing discrimination to suit a narrow definition of religious freedom is both foolish and wrong in this brand of conservatism.
All of which takes me back to my 2012 Congressional race in Virginia's rural 9th District. As the Democratic nominee, I was told that I had to run as a "pro-coal" candidate. Having known and supported coal miners for nearly 30 years, I couldn't quite grasp how the pro-coal camp was always fighting against increased mine safety, or trying to delay and water down black lung protections, or working hand in hand with industry representatives against protections for residents living just downwind and downstream. So, I ran instead on a pledge to do all I could to protect miners and the land, air and water they shared with their neighbors. I didn't win the election, but interestingly, I fared best in coal country.
What the small businesses of Arizona, the farmers of Missouri and the coal miners of southwest Virginia are not, is stupid. Or mean-spirited. In fact, we're by and large a sensible lot who believe in fair play. It's too soon to say, but the zealots in the Arizona legislature may have finally awakened this bunch, which might well be more than they'd bargained for.
Anthony Flaccavento is an organic farmer and small business owner from Abingdon, Virginia, and an occasional contributor to the Huffington Post. In 2012, he was the Democratic candidate for the U.S. Congress.