Arizona Group Pushes County Secession, Creation of New State

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Some liberal residents of Pima County, Arizona, have become so dissatisfied with their state's conservative politics that they've begun a campaign to help the county secede from Arizona and become a state on its own.

"It happens, and it can happen here," said Tucson attorney Paul Eckerstrom, who co-founded the "Start Our State" organization to push for statehood for Baja Arizona.

Pima County, in the southwest part of the state including the city of Tucson, is home to roughly 1 million people and is more politically moderate than neighboring Maricopa County to the north, which includes the state capital of Phoenix.

"Like Maine, which broke off from Massachusetts, we want to get the legislature to let us leave," Eckerstrom said, "and then we can petition Congress to accept us as a state."

The odds of that happening are extremely long -- a point Eckerstrom and his fellow lawyer, Peter Hormel, concede.

Still, they say theirs is a serious effort at an idea that for decades has been nothing more than "Baja-ha."

"Nobody ever thought about how we do this legally. And we did," said Eckerstrom. "And given our extreme frustration with what's happening in Phoenix, this path started to make more and more sense."

The movement, which has more than 2,300 supporters on Facebook, taps into deep-seated frustration with a slew of recent legislation passed by the Republican-led state legislature. Arizona has cut organ transplant coverage for Medicaid recipients, and required police to check the immigration status of people if they have "reasonable suspicion."

The recent passage of a Senate bill that would allow Arizona to "nullify," or ignore, any federal law a panel of lawmakers deemed unconstitutional was the last straw, Eckerstrom said.

"All of this is extremist legislation, and some is reminiscent of nullification bills leading to the Civil War," he said. "We don't want to be part of that."

Baja Arizonans to Send Message

Pima County's size and population would make it a viable candidate for statehood. It is geographically larger and has more people than either Vermont or Delaware.

But legally forming a new state is not easy.

The non-binding resolution expressing a desire of residents to break away from Arizona first needs an estimated 30,000 signatures to get on the ballot in November 2012.

Then, even if it passed, secession would need approval from statewide voters. Pima County officials would need to draft a new state constitution, and the U.S. Congress and the President would have to accept the as-yet-unnamed territory as the 51st state.

"These are big hurdles, and we know that," said Eckerstrom. "But we want to let the legislature know that we are not happy with the extremist policies coming out of there.

"At the very least, we want to send a message to the country that there are people in Arizona that are reasonable and moderate," he said. "If a majority approves this, or even comes close, it will give voice to that."

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