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State Guard bill debate gets heated

A bill discussion in the House Committee on Military Affairs and Public Safety turned prickly Feb. 16 when the debate turned to extremism in Arizona.

Jaime Farrant, policy director at the Border Action Network advocacy group, spoke against HB2070, which would establish a volunteer, governor-controlled “defense force” for the state.

“We could be opening the door for more extremists to come and act under collar of state law on our border,” Farrant said. “We had it in the case of Shawna Forde, we had it in the case of Roger Barnett and in many other cases of extremists who have come to our state and have abused the rights of U.S. citizens and Arizona residents.”

In referencing Barnett, Farrant got a rise out of Sierra Vista Republican Rep. David Stevens. Barnett is the southern Arizona rancher who was sued by 16 immigrants who claimed that he violated their civil rights after he held them at gunpoint on his property while they were crossing into the United States illegally. Barnett lost and had to pay restitution.

“I take offense to your comments in calling Roger Barnett an extremist,” Stevens said. “Have you ever met Mr. Barnett? I have. He has helped over 10,000 illegals cross this border, given them food and water and called Border Patrol. The fact that you would call him an extremist, coming from out of state, is offensive to me.”

Farrant apologized for offending Stevens, but stood behind the court’s verdict that Barnett had assaulted and abused four of the immigrants at his ranch. “In that sense, it is extreme,” he added.

HB2070 would establish an Arizona State Guard consisting of volunteers that would train under the Arizona National Guard’s adjutant general. The bill would empower the governor to establish the force “for any reason the governor considers to be necessary.”

Surprise Republican Rep. Jack Harper, a co-sponsor of the bill, said the force would have applications beyond border security. “I hesitate to say it would just be for guarding the border,” he said. He added the force could also be deployed for potential nuclear, biological and chemical attacks.

Opposition to the bill came from legislators who raised concerns about implementing training guidelines as well as the bill’s broad language.

“I’m worried about training,” said Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Phoenix. “You could get a lot of people together, get them riled up, and god knows we’ve had some very heated moments here at the state Capitol. If you call up this Guard and they’re not properly trained, we could basically find ourselves in a deeper problem.”

Harper replied that while the bill has no guidelines for training, he simply wants it passed in order to get the ball rolling on establishing the force. Rules and training could be implemented by the adjutant general or even the Legislature at a later date, he said.

Rep. Richard Miranda, D-Tolleson, said while he trusts Gov. Jan Brewer, he doesn’t like the idea of the governor having unrestricted strength in deploying an Arizona State Guard.

“We’re giving the governor power here, quite frankly, that I’m uncomfortable with,” Miranda said.

Stevens said his faith in the governor’s ability to act responsibly is steadfast.

“The governor is elected to be the chief executive of the state,” he said. “Whoever occupies that seat is in charge of what happens in the state. I have full confidence that she will use her authority in the proper manner that she would be afforded to.”

The committee passed the bill on a 5-3 vote.

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