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Immigrant allies rallying in nationwide day of action

Continue reading Immigrant allies rallying in nationwide day of action

Federal judge strikes down Arizona’s ban on same-sex marriage

A federal judge on Oct. 17 issued a ruling striking down Arizona’s ban on same-sex marriage, which paves the way for same-sex couples to get married in the western state.

U.S. District Judge John Sedwick issued the ruling, ordering Arizona to “permanently cease” its ban on gay marriage. He did not issue a stay.

ACLU of Arizona executive director Alessandra Soler responded this afternoon, “Today’s ruling brings security to thousands of families in Arizona. It’s a moment to be celebrated. Equal protection of the law is one of the fundamental principles that allows our country to thrive and evolve. Dismantling this discriminatory ban brings our state and nation closer to our founding ideals of fairness, justice and liberty. We will continue to fight for equality for all Arizonans and oppose any efforts to unravel today’s historic victory.”

Soler continued, “Today we celebrate the court’s recognition that every individual in Arizona has the freedom to marry the person they love. We hope that Attorney General Tom Horne will honor the court’s ruling and allow marriage licenses to be issued immediately.”

Gay couples in Phoenix began lining up at the courthouse to apply for licenses soon after learning of the court’s decision. 

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer said in a statement that federal courts have thwarted the will of voters and eroded the state’s power to regulate.

The right-wing Republican said, “Simply put, courts should not be in the business of making and changing laws based on their personal agendas. It is not the role of the judiciary to determine that same-sex marriages should be allowed.”

The decision follows a ruling from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which said on Oct. 7 that gay marriage prohibitions in Nevada and Idaho violated the equal-protection rights of same-sex couples.

Also, last week the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear appeals from five states — including Wisconsin — seeking to retain their bans on same-sex marriage. On Oct. 17, the Justice Department said it would recognize same-sex marriages from those states.

There are now at least 30 states where same-sex marriage is legal.

‘License to Discriminate’ bills lose in Arizona, elsewhere

Terry Valdez was thinking about Jackie Robinson and Jan Brewer while she waited for the Padres and the Mariners to take the field for an early spring training game in Peoria, Ariz., on Feb. 27.

The day before, Arizona’s Republican governor vetoed Senate Bill 1062, which would have allowed individuals, businesses and organizations to cite religious beliefs as a defense in any action brought by a business or individual claiming discrimination. Proponents called SB1062 a bill to protect religious freedoms; opponents said it was a license to discriminate.

The legislation had moved quickly through the Arizona Legislature even as the push for similar bills sputtered and died in several other states where right-wing lawmakers are working to hold back marriage equality.

“Turning people away because they are black or Latino or gay or Jewish or female, that’s just wrong,” said Valdez, who plans to marry her girlfriend in New Mexico in early 2015. “It is just backward that the law would allow people to be turned away from a restaurant or a bakery or some place because of sexual orientation or anything else.”

She shared her opposition to SB1062 on Twitter, along with thousands of others who were concerned that the governor, with her failing record on civil rights, might sign the bill into law.

The Democratic Party and civil rights groups — including the NAACP, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Human Rights Campaign — led the opposition to the bill.

Cyber activists launched petition drives, and the week- end after the bill was sent to the governor more than a dozen petitions were circulating on Change.org.

Businesses joined the chorus of SB1062 opponents, including Apple, American Airlines, Delta, Marriott Hotels, Yelp, as well as the National Football League and Major League Baseball.

In its statement, MLB said, “As the sport of Jackie Robinson, Major League Baseball and its 30 Clubs stand united behind the principles of respect, inclusion and acceptance. Those values are fundamental to our game’s diverse play- ers, employees and fans. We welcome individuals of different sexual orientations, races, religions, genders and national origins.

“MLB has a zero-tolerance policy for harassment or discrimination based on sexual orientation, as reflected by our collective bargaining agreement with the MLB Players Association. Accordingly, MLB will neither support nor tolerate any words, attitudes or actions that imperil the inclusive communities that we have strived to foster within our game.”

As Brewer began a series of private meetings on the issue, leaders in her party also were speaking out. Mitt Romney urged a veto, as did U.S. Sen. John McCain of Arizona.

The governor announced her veto in a news conference at the state Capitol on Feb. 26.

“Senate Bill 1062 does not address a specific or present concern related to religious liberty in Arizona,” the governor said. “I have not heard one example in Arizona where a business owner’s religious liberty has been violated. The bill is broadly worded and could result in unintended and negative consequences. After weighing all of the arguments, I have vetoed Senate Bill 1062 moments ago.”

She went on to chastise Republican lawmakers for making SB1062 a priority instead of dealing with economic issues and an overhaul of the child welfare system in the state.

Felipe Sousa-Rodriguez, co-director of the LGBT activist group GetEQUAL, said, “We cannot forget the suffering that some of her other decisions have caused to immigrants,” but on SB1062, Brewer “stood on the right of history.”

HRC president Chad Griffin said the governor “spared her state from institutional discrimination and economic catastrophe.”

The Log Cabin Republicans, a partisan LGBT group, called the veto a “watershed event.”

But Brewer’s veto was not welcomed by the Center for Arizona Policy, a right-wing group that helped write the bill. CAP president Cathi Herrod said, “The attacks on SB1062 represent precisely why so many people are sick of the modern political debate. Instead of having an honest discussion about the true meaning of religious liberty, opponents of the bill have hijacked this discussion through lies, personal attacks and irresponsible reporting.”

Similar measures have been proposed in Ohio, Maine, Mississippi, Idaho, South Dakota, Tennessee and and Oklahoma. The campaigns seem to have stalled in every state but Mississippi.

Welcoming Brewer’s veto, Eunice Rho of the American Civil Liberties Union said, “We strongly support the right of every person to exercise their religious beliefs, but religious freedom doesn’t give any of us the right to harm others. The massive public opposition to this, as well as several other failed bills across the country, shows that Americans of all political persuasions and religions feel the same way.

Arizona’s reputation burned by anti-gay law

If Republican lawmakers in Arizona and seven other states got their way, their states would have laws allowing Islamic owners of restaurants to refuse service to women who appear in public without a male relative or without covering their heads. Those Republican lawmakers say that it infringes on the religious freedom of business owners not to have a law spelling out their right to deny service to customers whose behavior is inconsistent with their own beliefs.

Of course, LGBT people are the real targets of the laws, and it’s already legal in Arizona and most of the other states considering such laws to discriminate against LGBT people. The laws’ backers are simply trying to underscore their hatred.

Republicans pursuing such laws have been inspired by a smattering of cases in which Christians have been sued for declining to provide their services to same-sex weddings. For instance, a bakery in Colorado was sued for declining to bake a wedding cake for a same-sex couple, and a New Mexico photographer was taken to court for refusing to take pictures at a gay wedding. In both cases, the defendants claimed that providing their services to homosexuals violated their religions.

Fundamentalist Christians believe laws that prohibit them from discriminating on religious grounds effectively discriminate against them on religious grounds. Chasing their tails in classic circular reasoning, they contend that it’s an act of discrimination to prevent them from discriminating.

For several days, GOP Gov. Jan Brewer signaled that she might actually sign her party’s discrimination-authorizing, anti-discrimination bill into law. Her stalling allowed time for most of the major corporations operating in the state, along with other Republican leaders, including Mitt Romney and Arizona Sen. John McCain, to give her cover on the fringe right by writing strong messages urging her to veto the measure, which she finally did.

But the actions of the Arizona Legislature likely did considerable damage to the state. During Brewer’s period of indecision, the Hispanic National Bar Association announced that it would not hold its 2015 national convention in Phoenix as planned. The NFL was planning to move next year’s Super Bowl if Brewer had signed the law.

That would have been the second time that the NFL abandoned Arizona due to its backward conservatism. In 1993, the NFL moved the Super Bowl from the Phoenix area to the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif., after Arizona voted down an effort to establish a state holiday in honor of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

Arizona has been a hotbed of far-right orthodoxy in recent years. As a result, many companies would likely think twice before relocating to Arizona or opening new operations in such a volatile and backward political climate. Conventioneers and tourists, who together comprise a significant portion of the state’s economic activity, might also have second thoughts about taking their business to Arizona.

There is no doubt that the law, despite the veto, has harmed Arizona. Let Wisconsin and other states take heed that discriminatory laws have far-ranging consequences, including economic ones.

McCain urges veto of ‘license to discriminate’ bill in Arizona

U.S. Sen. John McCain, in a tweet on Feb. 24, urged Arizona’s governor to veto a bill that would allow businesses to refuse to serve gay people.

The Religious Freedom Restoration Act is before Republican Gov. Jan Brewer. The measure would allow for individuals, businesses, organizations and institutions to cite religious beliefs as a cause to discriminate against LGBT people and refuse them service.

A growing number of civil rights groups, businesses and organizations have called on Brewer to veto the measure.

On Feb. 24, McCain, the senior Republican senator from the state, tweeted, “I hope Governor Brewer will veto #SB1062.”

Republicans introduced the bill, one of several introduced in state legislatures this year, saying they mostly wanted to protect small business owners who, because of their religious beliefs, don’t want to serve same-sex couples who are getting married or are married.

Same-sex marriage, however, is not legal in Arizona.

Arizona backs bill to allow businesses to discriminate against gay couples

The Arizona Legislature gave final approval to legislation that allows business owners asserting their religious beliefs to refuse service to gays, drawing backlash from Democrats who called the proposal “state-sanctioned discrimination” and an embarrassment.

The 33-27 vote by the House on Feb. 21 sends the legislation to Republican Gov. Jan Brewer and puts Arizona back at the forefront of a polarizing piece of legislation four years after the state enacted an immigration crackdown that caused a national furor.

Similar religious protection legislation has been introduced in Ohio, Mississippi, Idaho, South Dakota, Tennessee and Oklahoma, but Arizona’s plan is the only one that has passed. The efforts are stalled in Idaho, Ohio and Kansas.

Republicans claimed the bill is about protecting religious freedom and not discrimination. They frequently cited the case of a New Mexico photographer who was sued after refusing to take wedding pictures of a gay couple and said Arizona needs a law to protect people in the state from heavy-handed actions by courts and law enforcement.

The bill allows any business, church or person to cite the law as a defense in any action brought by the government or individual claiming discrimination. It also allows the business or person to seek an injunction once they show their actions are based on a sincere religious belief and the claim places a burden on the exercise of their religion.

The legislation prompted a heated debate on the floor of the House, touching on issues such as the religious freedom, constitutional protections and civil rights.

Opponents raised scenarios in which gay people in Arizona could be denied service at a restaurant or refused medical treatment if a business owner thought homosexuality was not in accordance with his religion. One lawmaker held up a sign that read “NO GAYS ALLOWED” in arguing what could happen if the law took effect, drawing a rebuke for violating rules that bar signs on the House floor.

Democrats also said there were a host of other scenarios not involving sexual orientations where someone could raise their religious beliefs as a discrimination defense.

The bill is backed by the Center for Arizona Policy, a right-wing group that opposes abortion and gay marriage. The group says the proposal is needed to protect against increasingly activist federal courts and simply clarifies existing state law.

“We see a growing hostility toward religion,” said Josh Kredit, legal counsel for the group.

All but three Republicans in the House backed Senate Bill 1062. All three House Republicans who broke ranks said they had problems with the proposal, though none elaborated at length.

“I disagree with the bill,” said Rep. Ethan Orr. “I think it’s a bad bill.”

The two others were Reps. Heather Carter and Kate Brophy McGee.

The Senate passed the bill a day earlier on a straight party-line vote of 17-13.

Brewer doesn’t comment on pending legislation, but she vetoed a similar measure last year. That action, however, came during an unrelated political standoff, and it’s not clear whether she will support or reject this plan.

The legislation comes also as an increasing number of conservative states grapple with ways to counter the increasing legality of gay marriage.

Arizona’s voters approved a ban on same-sex marriage as a state constitutional amendment in 2008. It’s one of 29 states with such prohibitions, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Federal judges have recently struck down bans in Utah, Oklahoma and Virginia, but those decisions are under appeal.

Republican Sen. Steve Yarbrough called his proposal a First Amendment issue during the Senate debate.

“This bill is not about allowing discrimination,” Yarbrough said. “This bill is about preventing discrimination against people who are clearly living out their faith.”

Democrats say it is an outright attack on the rights of gays and lesbians that will reverberate through the economy because businesses and tourists will avoid Arizona like they did after the passage SB1070 in 2010 that cracked down on immigration.

“This bill is about going after the rights of the LGBT community in Arizona,” said Rep. Chad Campbell, the Democratic minority leader. “This is going to be horrible for our economy.”

But Republicans said it was simply an added protection for the faithful in the state who disapprove of gay marriage and want to be able to reject participating.

“Please, I will accept you because you are a child of God, I love you because you are a child of God,” said GOP Rep. Steve Montenegro. “But please don’t ask me to go against my religious beliefs.”

The bill is similar to a proposal last year brought by Yarbrough but vetoed by Brewer. That legislation also would have allowed people or religious groups to sue if they believed they might be subject to a government regulation that infringed on their religious rights. Yarbrough stripped a provision from the bill in hopes Brewer will embrace the new version.

Civil liberties and secular groups countered that Yarbrough and the Center for Arizona Policy had sought to minimize concerns that last year’s bill had far-reaching and hidden implications. During the Senate debate Wednesday, Democrats said the bill could allow people to break nearly any law and cite religious freedom as a defense.

Yarbrough called those worries “unrealistic and unsupported hypotheticals” and said criminal laws will continue to be prosecuted by the courts.

Rep. Chad Campbell of Phoenix, the Democratic minority leader, said during debate that gays and lesbians across the country would get the message that they’re not welcome in Arizona.

“We’re telling them, `We don’t like you. We don’t want you here. We’re not going to protect you,” he said.

But the House sponsor, Rep. Eddie Farnsworth, said the bill had been blown out of proportion.

“We’re making some tweaks here because of what’s been going on in other states where people have been punished for their beliefs,” Farnsworth said.

Senate President Andy Biggs, R-Gilbert, also said the Democrats were making too much of the bill’s effect.

“Sometimes people’s rhetoric tends to inflame instead of explain,” Biggs said. “And I would suggest if there is going to be a backlash because of 1062 … it will because of the intemperate and inaccurate rhetoric.”

4 gay couples sue to marry in Arizona

Four gay couples seeking to marry filed a lawsuit on Jan. 6 against the state of Arizona in U.S. District Court.

The couples, in the 24-page court document, named as defendants Gov. Jan Brewer, Attorney General Thomas Horne and Maricopa Clerk of the Superior Court Michael Jeanes.

In the suit, the couples noted a Supreme Court ruling from a decade ago that struck down consensual sodomy statutes in the United States and found that the Constitution protects the choice of a gay person to have an intimate relationship “without intervention of the government.”

The suit also refers to the more recent Supreme Court ruling striking a key provision in the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act that barred the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages.

The couples asked the district court to strike down Arizona’s ban on same-sex marriage found in the state constitution and also in the statutes.

Gay couples can marry in D.C. and 17 states and, until Jan. 6, also could marry in Utah. The Supreme Court put same-sex marriages on hold in Utah until an appeal of a federal court ruling in another lawsuit can be reviewed.

Dems seek to elect more women governors in 2014

The Democratic Party claims to be the natural home for women. The numbers tell another story when it comes to the nation’s governors.

Republicans, four women: Jan Brewer in Arizona, Susana Martinez in New Mexico, Mary Fallin in Oklahoma and Nikki Haley in South Carolina. Democrats: Maggie Hassan in New Hampshire.

For the GOP, often accused of waging a “war on women,” this advantage offers a powerful tool in the competition for female voters.

“We have to show the fact there is no war on women,” said Haley, who is in her first term. “The more Republican women out there, the better our case is.”

Democratic leaders, backed by national women’s groups, are trying to turn it around in gubernatorial elections next fall that feature no less than six high-profile female candidates. Their goal is to give Hassan, who faces re-election in 2014, some company.

“My mother always used to say if you want something done, ask a busy woman,” says Rhode Island’s treasurer, Gina Raimondo, a 42-year-old mother of two young children who began her campaign last week. “People in Rhode Island want someone who’s going to do something.”

Raimondo is a leading contender in a crowded Democratic primary to succeed Lincoln Chafee, the Democratic incumbent who’s not running for a second term.

In Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Texas, there also are strong female candidates.

Gender is not a central issue in theses contests, but the Democratic women are using their backgrounds to help distinguish themselves.

Several candidates interviewed by The Associated Press said that the real-world stresses of raising families help them connect with voters while shaping priorities on issues such as health care, education and jobs.

In some cases, they’re up against male incumbents who elevated women’s issues by backing conservative social priorities on abortion, contraception and “equal pay” legislation.

In Pennsylvania, Democratic U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz charges that Republican Gov. Tom Corbett has “almost been dismissive of women,” particularly on issues such as “access to family planning and reproductive rights.”

Corbett has drawn criticism for cutting education, and like other Republican governors, he has supported legislation requiring women to get ultrasounds before having abortions. That idea never became law, but Corbett did say that women should close their eyes if they felt the procedure was too obtrusive.

“It is important for us in Pennsylvania to see a new and different kind of leadership that will move the state forward. It may well take a woman to do that,” Schwartz told a recent gathering of Pennsylvania politicians in New York City. She’s considered the early front-runner in the primary.

In state and national elections, women are a powerful voting bloc.

In presidential races, a Republican candidate has not won a majority of women since 1984. In the 2010 congressional elections, however, exit polls found that women voted for Republicans and Democrats almost evenly, helping to propel the GOP to the U.S. House majority.

Since then, Republicans have suffered from several self-inflicted wounds. For example, in 2012, Republican Senate candidate Todd Akin of Missouri suggested that women’s bodies could prevent impregnation in cases of “legitimate rape.”

A report from the Republican National Committee this year detailed the scope of the problem. “Women are not a ‘coalition.’ They represent more than half the voting population in the country, and our inability to win their votes is losing us elections,” it said.

Republicans such as South Carolina’s Haley are in a unique position to balance damage done by party leaders elsewhere.

“Women can’t help it when men say ignorant things,” she said. “What we can do is try to make sure we continue to refocus people on what’s important and back on the issues.”

Haley, Martinez and Fallin are running for re-election in 2014. Brewer hasn’t decided whether she will challenge term limits set in the Arizona Constitution.

Democrats lost two female governors in recent years, when President Barack Obama appointed Arizona’s Janet Napolitano and Kansas’ Kathleen Sebelius to his Cabinet.

None of the Democrats’ 2014 female candidates are considered sure bets.

In Republican-friendly Texas, Democratic strategists are skeptical about the chances of state Sen. Wendy Davis, who developed a national following after her filibuster of a Republican-backed abortion bill.

Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley is trying to become the state’s first female governor elected in a general election. Raimondo and Schwartz are trying to become their states’ first female chief executive, as is Wisconsin businesswoman Mary Burke.

Burke is the likely challenger for Republican Gov. Scott Walker, who has pursued social conservative priorities on women’s issues as he weighs a 2016 presidential bid.

“There are a lot of areas where women in the state aren’t getting a fair shake,” Burke said.

Burke cited Walker’s repeal of legislation designed to deter employers from wage discrimination based on age and gender. Walker also signed into law legislation that singled out abortion clinics in requiring their doctors to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals, which would reduce the number of abortion providers.

Supreme Court rejects Arizona partnership case

Gay marriage proponents marked another victory on June 27 after the U.S. Supreme Court rejected appeals from Arizona and Nevada involving the rights of same-sex couples.

The justices let stand an appeals court ruling striking down an Arizona law that made state employees in same-sex relationships ineligible for domestic partner benefits. The Nevada case was a challenge to the state’s ban on same-sex marriage. The court did not elaborate on the reason for not taking up the cases.

The court’s decisions on the two cases are not as sweeping as rulings on June 26 that made it a landmark week for gay rights. The Supreme Court issued decisions that struck down a provision that denies federal benefits to married gay couples and also allowed for same-sex couples to marry in California.

In Arizona, the decision means dozens of same-sex state workers will be allowed to keep employee benefits.

For the Nevada case, the gay marriage ban will remain intact, and the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco will decide the next step.

Republican Gov. Jan Brewer denied that Arizona had targeted gay couples and slammed the court for not recognizing the state’s right to balance its budget by limiting employee benefits.

“This case has never been about domestic partners, same-sex or otherwise,” Brewer said in a statement. “It is always been about the authority of elected state officials to make decisions with which we have been entrusted by the voters.”

Arizona’s constitution bans gay marriage and a 2009 law signed by Brewer repealed domestic partner benefits for state workers. Brewer said the state was in a fiscal crisis and couldn’t afford to extend health care benefits to employees’ dependents if they weren’t married. She said the policy was legal because it applied to all employees, regardless of sexual orientation.

Gay marriage proponents counter that the policy was discriminatory because heterosexual couples may marry to obtain benefits, while gay couples can’t under state law.

“The state is excluding only one group of employees from family coverage and that is lesbian and gay employees,” said Tara Borelli, a lawyer for Lambda Legal in Los Angeles.

The conservative Center for Arizona Policy, which opposes gay marriage, had supported the state’s position in court, and has vowed to fight any efforts to overturn the state’s ban on gay marriage.

“The Legislature and the governor should have the authority to determine benefits for state employees,” President Cathi Herrod said after the ruling.

The legal battle could soon be resolved by voters. Gay marriage proponents began gathering signatures Thursday to change the Arizona constitution and legalize gay marriage. The Equal Marriage Arizona campaign hopes to collect roughly 400,000 signatures to get its constitutional amendment on the ballot in 2014.

The Nevada case was originally filed on behalf of eight same-sex couples, and it argued that a 2002 state constitutional amendment prohibiting gay marriage violated the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution by denying same-sex couples the same rights as married couples.

A federal judge in Reno ruled last year that the gay marriage ban was not a constitutional violation and it was upheld. The plaintiffs then appealed that decision to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals while the anti-gay marriage group requested the Supreme Court hear the appeal instead of the San Francisco court.

Borelli said Nevada law is questionable because the state grants domestic partners the same legal privileges afforded to married couples, while denying gays the right to marry. She said the state must rationalize the exclusion.

The Nevada Legislature recently approved a measure that would legalize gay marriage but changing the state constitution is a lengthy process. Lawmakers must pass the same resolution in 2015 before it goes to voters for final approval on the 2016 ballot. If it clears both hurdles, it would become law. If it fails at any stage, the five-year process must start over.

“We should just have a state law and be done with it,” said Sen. Kelvin Atkinson, D-North Las Vegas. “In the constitution we shouldn’t be defining marriage, that’s not what the constitution is for.”

Not legalizing same-sex marriage will have consequences for Nevada over time, said Atkinson, who made national headlines earlier this year when he publicly announced that he was gay during the state Senate’s debate on marriage equality.

“We are a tourism state and we do rely on folks visiting our state, so some may decide they’re not going to come here because they don’t have the same rights here,” Atkinson said.

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Arizona governor signs anti-Planned Parenthood bill

Gov. Jan Brewer has signed into law a bill to cut off Planned Parenthood’s access to taxpayer money funneled through the state for non-abortion services.

Arizona already bars use of public money for abortions except to save the life of the mother. But anti-abortion legislators and other supporters of the bill say the broader prohibition is needed to ensure no public money indirectly supports abortion services.

Planned Parenthood Arizona says a funding ban will interrupt its preventive health care and family planning services for nearly 20,000 women served by the organization’s clinics. The organization says it will consider a legal challenge to the new law, which is called the “Whole Woman’s Health Funding Priority Act.”

The measure targeting funding for Planned Parenthood for non-abortion services was one of several approved by Arizona’s Republican-led Legislature related to contentious reproductive health care issues this session.

Brewer, who signed another anti-abortion bill in April, said, the new measure “is a common sense law that tightens existing state regulations and closes loopholes in order to ensure that taxpayer dollars are not used to fund abortions, whether directly or indirectly. By signing this measure into law, I stand with the majority of Americans who oppose the use of taxpayer funds for abortion.”

The ultra-conservative Republican governor also signed the state’s controversial anti-immigrant bill into law in 2010. The U.S. Supreme Court recently held a hearing on the constitutionality of the measure.

Brewer is the author a book called “Scorpions for Breakfast: My Fight Against Special Interests, Liberal Media and Cynical Politicos to Secure the Border.”

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