PHOENIX — Arizona hasn't produced many competitive elections lately, but it retains a knack for crystallizing the most volatile fault lines in American politics.
In 2010, Republican Gov. Jan Brewer's signing of the stringent anti-immigration measure known as SB 1070 dramatized the colliding worldviews of a Democratic coalition centered on younger minorities and a GOP coalition revolving around older whites — what I've called the clash between the brown and the gray.
Now the firestorm over SB 1062, the legislation that would have made it easier to deny service to gays, has highlighted the strain within the Republican coalition between managers and populists: economically focused business interests, and religious conservatives and tea-party activists most energized by social issues and immigration.
Since the GOP took unified control of the governorship and both legislative chambers in 2009, the party's populist wing has moved forcefully, if often haphazardly. Arizona's social conservatives have passed a law banning abortion after 20 weeks (later blocked by the courts); the 2010 "show your papers" law aimed at identifying and detaining illegal immigrants (also mostly overturned); stringent new voting restrictions (which the Legislature recently repealed amid public pressure); and the law Brewer vetoed last month that would have expanded legal protection for business owners who denied services to gays or others on religious grounds. Days after Brewer's veto, state House Republicans defiantly voted to authorize surprise inspections at abortion clinics.