Rep. Jack Harper, R-Surprise, and Sen. Sylvia Allen, R-Snowflake, are sponsoring HB2070 and SB1495, respectively, identical bills that would allow for a defense force called the Arizona State Guard.
Current law allows for the governor to establish the guard when a major portion of the National Guard has been called up for federal service. Harper’s and Allen’s bills would allow a guard to organize immediately and be used for any reason the governor considers necessary.
Although it’s not specified by the bill’s language, Harper said he thinks the guard should be trained and regulated by the Arizona National Guard’s adjutant general.
Harper said he came up with the idea for the bill because of a post-Hurricane Katrina federal law that allows the federal government to take control of the National Guard during natural disasters.
That law diminished states’ control of their National Guard contingents, he said.
Harper insisted that the governor wouldn’t be required to establish the guard at all, and that the legislation simply gives her a safety net. But Paul Bender, a professor at Arizona State University’s Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law, said that safety net is far too wide.
“The thing that most concerns me is that it lets any governor establish an armed force for any reason the governor considers to be necessary,” Bender said. “That suggests they can go beyond what is a crime, or any specific statute that gives law enforcement power to do things.”
Bender said the bills don’t seem to adhere to any laws on the books that regulate law enforcement.
“I don’t think it’s a good idea to give a governor that kind of broad authority,” he said. “We have criminal laws and other kinds of laws that give the government the power to do this. The governor enforces the law, but this isn’t limited to laws.”
Harper said his intention isn’t to create a group of vigilantes taking the law into their own hands, but rather to establish a force that can be relied upon in times of crisis.
“This is a structured volunteer force to augment the National Guard, just like the sheriffs have a posse,” he said. “Texas has largely ignored their Texas State Guard for volunteers, but during Katrina they would have been very instrumental.”
Still, Bender said, the state would be liable if members of the force overstepped their boundaries or committed a crime while on duty.
“I don’t think there’d be any doubt, if the governor would do this, that they’d be officers of the state, like state cops,” he said. “Just like if a state policemen screws up, the government takes a bit of responsibility.”
Some Arizona residents already are preparing for the bills’ possible passage.
The coincidentally named Arizona State Guard, LLC, is a group of volunteers, currently made up of members from Maricopa, Yavapai and Pinal counties, that meets twice a week to train as a militia aimed at patrolling the border. The LLC was established late last year, and the group has been meeting since before Thanksgiving.
They don’t do border operations yet, but members said they are prepared to do so. They want to be as professional and safe as possible, they said, when they actually do head for the border.
“We work on marksmanship, we work on teamwork, we work on communication,” said Tim Guiney, a Phoenix resident and a founding member of the group. “Eventually we’ll be working on search and rescue missions.”
Guiney made it clear that although the group is ready and willing to enlist in the proposed state guard, the members intend to continue their training and eventually to patrol the border, whether or not the bill passes.
Guiney said the group’s main goal is to help interdict the drug trade along Arizona’s border with Mexico. He said they’ll all be trained in field medicine soon, so they can provide humanitarian aid to those who might need it when attempting to cross the border.
“We’re not out there looking for the little guy who’s just trying to get a living,” he said. “We’re not in favor of illegal immigration, but that’s not our focus. Our focus is to stop the drugs and cocaine coming into our state.”
Charles Yuditsky, a Mesa resident and another of the group’s founding members and a former U.S. Army soldier, said an official state guard could allow more people like himself, who would like to join the National Guard but can’t risk being sent overseas, to serve the state.
“I have a job and a half, I’m a computer technician,” he said. “I have a house to look after, and it can’t be demanded that, ‘Hey, we need you to go over here for a year and a half.’”
Yuditsky said he’d like to patrol the border, but he also sees the guard as useful for disaster cleanups and other operations. He said that most people get the wrong idea about his group, as well as the kind of people who would volunteer for the proposed state defense force.
“I’m for citizens who are vetted by the state, so that way you don’t have the accusations that say, ‘Hey, it’s a bunch of yahoos,’” he said. “Nobody here’s a glory hound, nobody’s here trying to catch the head of a drug cartel, there’s none of that in our minds. We just want to free up law-enforcement assets.”
Harper’s bill is due for debate on the House floor, and Allen’s bill is due on the Senate floor for a third read before being transmitted to the House.