Allen weathers criticism of racially-charged comments

Julia Shumway//July 31, 2019

Allen weathers criticism of racially-charged comments

Julia Shumway//July 31, 2019

Josselyn Berry, executive director of ProgressNow Arizona (Photo by Kendra Penningroth, Arizona Capitol Times)
Josselyn Berry, executive director of ProgressNow Arizona (Photo by Kendra Penningroth, Arizona Capitol Times)

The Democratic senator and liberal activists who delivered more than 1,000 petitions calling for Sen. Sylvia Allen to lose her position as leader of the Senate Education Committee Wednesday morning acknowledged that Allen isn’t likely to go anywhere. 

Allen, R-Snowflake, has faced harsh criticism from Democrats and one primary opponent since the Phoenix New Times published audio of her decrying immigration and feminism, but most of her Republican colleagues have defended her or stayed mute.

Sen. Martín Quezada, D-Glendale, delivered a stack of petitions to Senate President Karen Fann’s empty office Wednesday morning. He said he doubted the petitions would result in Allen losing her influential committee chairmanship.

“For them to take a bold step like removing her as the chair of the committee, it would take a political backbone,” Quezada said. “They simply don’t have that. Politically, it is more beneficial for them to accept and excuse her racially insensitive and discriminatory comments.”

Martin Quezada
Martin Quezada

Allen ended a 25-minute speech about Christianity during a July 15 event at Arizona Republican Party headquarters by warning that the U.S. would “look like South American countries very quickly.”

She cited research by University of North Carolina demographer James Johnson, who has done extensive work on phenomena he calls the “browning” and “graying” of America, or the concept that the country has an aging white population and a younger population of color.

“The median age of a white woman is 43,” Allen said in her speech. “The median age of a Hispanic woman is 27. We are not reproducing ourselves with birth rates.”

Johnson, who is frequently cited as an expert source on demographics and the need for workforce diversity, describes the “browning of America” as a good thing. But Allen warned in her speech that increased immigration will lead to the country embracing socialist values.

“People are just flooding us and flooding us and flooding us and overwhelming us so we don’t have time to teach them the principles of our country any more than we’re teaching our children today,” she said.

Allen also called out Quezada, who has criticized exhortations for immigrants to assimilate. He said the better approach is acculturation, which encourages immigrants to become a part of American society while simultaneously preserving aspects of their own culture.

And Allen bemoaned feminism as destroying families and society, saying boys are struggling to know how to be men and “this feminist movement is not doing favors for us at all.”

Josselyn Berry, co-director of the Democratic advocacy group ProgressNow Arizona, said Allen’s remarks made it clear she should not be in charge of the committee that hears bills on education policy because Berry questioned whether Allen could be fair and unbiased.

Allen’s speech drew swift comparisons to those made by former GOP Rep. David Stringer a year ago. Stringer in 2018 told a group at a Yavapai Republican Men’s Forum that “there aren’t enough white kids to go around” in Arizona’s public schools, that immigration was “politically destabilizing” and it “presents an existential threat.”

Stringer’s comments sparked calls to resign from then-Arizona Republican Party Chairman Jonathan Lines, as well as Gov. Doug Ducey.

Ducey said this week that he vouched for Allen, and he bristled at comparisons between Allen and Stringer.

“Sylvia Allen is not David Stringer,” he said. “Come on … She disavowed her comments and said she has love in her heart for every person.”

Ducey pointed to an apology Allen made in a statement Friday evening. She effectively walked back that apology during a 40-minute radio interview Monday with former Republican Flagstaff City Councilor Jeff Oravits, saying she apologized to people who were offended by media interpretations of what she said.

“The apology is geared to people who have been misled about what I talked about, and they need to listen to the whole thing,” Allen said.

She called the criticism of her remarks “leftist attacks,” and “propaganda” being used by Democrats and Republican primary opponent Wendy Rogers for political gain.

“This is verbal lynching that is taking place in our country, and it’s a political weapon that is being used to silence political leaders like myself,” Allen said. “By not changing a single word in our constitution, we have put an effective muzzle on the First Amendment freedom of speech by dissecting every word that someone puts out and then interpreting what you think they’re saying with those words.”

Sylvia Allen
Sylvia Allen

Rogers, who is in a three-way race with Allen and Rep. Bob Thorpe, R-Flagstaff, for the Republican nomination in Legislative District 6, is the only Republican to publicly condemn Allen’s remarks. She tweeted that some of the country’s greatest heroes, including Navajo Code Talkers, the Tuskegee Airmen and Hispanic Medal of Honor recipients, don’t look like Allen but served the country with honor, adding “Sylvia needs to retire like she said she was going to do and let those who love all of America hold elected office instead.”

Rep. Walter Blackman, Allen’s seatmate in LD6, joined her on Oravits’ radio show to denounce what he described as the left throwing a “monkey wrench of racial issues” into debates that should be about policy. He said his biracial children know Allen as “Aunt Sylvia,” and that as a black man he would have noticed and taken offense to Allen saying anything discriminatory.

Blackman, Allen and Oravits said they see liberals labeling narratives and politicians they disagree with as racist to shut them down.

“That’s going to cripple us,” Blackman said. “That’s going to handicap some policymakers to the point to where they won’t say anything or actually do anything.”

Fann was not at her Phoenix office to receive the petitions. Quezada said he didn’t expect any response, adding that he thought Republicans were closing ranks around Allen because she faces a tough re-election bid.

The likely Democratic Senate candidate in LD6, retired Army Col. Felicia French, came within 600 votes of beating Thorpe for a House seat in 2018. The district is a top priority for legislative Democrats, and Republicans persuaded Allen to run again instead of retiring as she originally planned.

“Representative Stringer was an expendable piece in their puzzle,” Quezada said. “Senator Allen is not. This is a critical seat they’re in danger of losing during the next election and they need to empower her as much as they can. They are only willing to call out racist and discriminatory comments and behavior when it is expedient for them.”

Ben Giles contributed to this report