Originally Published: June 20, 2018 6 a.m.
PHOENIX — Embattled Rep. David Stringer has picked up an ally in defense of his comments about the effects of immigration: his Prescott Republican seatmate.
Rep. Noel Campbell, who was at the luncheon a week ago where Stringer first made his comments, said he doesn’t want to get into the merits of what his colleague said about immigration being an “existential threat” to the United States nor his remarks about the problems of assimilating so many new foreigners.
Campbell did acknowledge that Stringer’s comments were, at the very least, “inartful.”
But he said it would be wrong to paint Stringer as racist. And he lashed out at others, who he believes rushed to “vilify” him and seek his political scalp.
Of particular note was state GOP Chairman Jonathan Lines calling on Stringer to immediately resign. That, in turn, resulted in other Republicans such as Gov. Doug Ducey and Arizona Chamber of Commerce President Glenn Hamer following suit and issuing similar statements.
Campbell called it “deplorable” to use the comments to effectively declare Stringer a racist.
“I heard the entirety of David’s remarks,” he said, as did those at the forum. “His concerns about the negative impacts of legal and illegal immigration due to the inability to assimilate into our American culture were applauded by those present and not perceived as racist.”
That mirrors Stringer’s own explanation last week about the message he was trying to get across. He said afterward his remarks were meant to be a warning of sorts to his audience which was largely, if not exclusively Anglo, that the country they know is changing.
“I’m telling them, ‘You need to be prepared for this,’” he said.
But for those not present at last week’s event, Campbell said, the reaction has been different. “This is a firestorm up here,” he said.
Stringer’s recorded comments were not limited to the threat of immigration to the national identity. He also said that integration of schools could prove impossible given that a majority of children in public schools are minorities, meaning there “aren’t enough white kids to go around.”
But the reaction to Stringer was not based entirely on the comments made at the Prescott luncheon.
In a separate exclusive interview with Capitol Media Services, Stringer said while America has a history of being “a melting pot,” that has worked “for people of European descent” who “don’t have any accents” and are “indistinguishable,” something not true of Hispanics – or for that matter, Asians or African Americans.
And he said that migrants from south of the border in particular don’t fully assimilate into American culture because “their connections with their country are stronger” than those who came here from another continent where “you were crossing a sea and you didn’t have these lines of connections.”
In fact, it was not until after that interview was published that Lines issued his call for Stringer to resign.
Campbell told Capitol Media Services that, whatever Stringer said, it should not be the sole basis for judging him.
“I look at a man’s record and not some inartful comments he might make,” he said. And Campbell, who is finishing his second term in the Arizona House, said he felt he needed to come to Stringer’s defense.
“I know him, he’s a smart guy,” Campbell said,
“He’s done a lot of work for minorities,” he continued. “He’s trying to work on criminal justice reform, which would greatly help the minorities in this state.”
And there’s something else. “If I really thought David was a racist, I would say so,” Campbell said, saying he has nothing to gain by supporting or opposing him.
“I just don’t like the fact of the way this was done to him,” he said.
Campbell sidestepped questions about whether the reaction to Stringer was based not just on those brief comments to the Republican Men’s Forum but his expanded discussion of the issues afterward.
“I’m not going to comment on that,” he said. “David speaks for himself.”
Lines, for his part, is sticking with his call on Stringer to resign.
“The chairman’s initial statement continues to stand,” state GOP press aide Ayshia Connors said Tuesday.
Howard Fischer is a veteran journalist, who has reported on state government and legal affairs in Arizona since 1982; the past 26 for Capitol Media Services, which he founded in 1991.
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