The Tucson Tragedy and Politics

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ASU pollster and political scientist, Dr. Bruce Merrill.

Ted Simons: We still don't know the motive behind the Tucson shootings, but some are pointing to what happened in our state as a call to change the tone of increasingly nasty political rhetoric. Here to talk about how the shootings could impact politics in Arizona and around the country is ASU pollster Dr. Bruce Merrill. Good to see you again.

Dr. Bruce Merrill: Good to see you Ted.

Ted Simons: Impact on political discourse, there's a lot of talk about this. How do you see it?

Dr. Bruce Merrill You know, I think that we have gone through a period where there's been a lot of things that have occurred, whether it was 1070 or the debate over the birther concept or all of the things that have been going on in Arizona. Plus, the economy has put a lot of stress on people. So there's been a lot of factors out there. And the rhetoric has been kind of negative and high tone. What I see happening right now, first of all, it's a tragedy in itself that we have to have something like that happen to have a discussion on whether or not there's been too much heated rhetoric. But you know what I see right now? I see an awful lot of people that are kind of coming together and saying, at least looking at the question as, has it been too much? Has it been too heated? And what do we do about it? Where do we need to go in the future? That can only be a positive thing for us.

Ted Simons: And yet the debate is starting to heat up now between those who are saying that there is some sort of causal connection and you've got to do this, that and the other. And others saying there's absolutely no causal connection. You're just trying to frame this and blame others for something that can't be blamed for.

Dr. Bruce Merrill: Like everything today, it's a complex issue. Number one, in a causal sense you can't really say that this caused this young man to do that. This man is psychotic. He's schizophrenic which means he isn't even thinking like we are. The way his mind works is only the way he understands it. And, however, it may be that he's had some connection with her for two or three years, have been following her and has been interested in her, which shows some level of cognitive thinking that he could do this. But to say that the events of the last year or two, particularly 1070, that's the thing most people are concerned about actually caused this young man to go off the deep end is impossible. You can't do that. However, could it have been a contributing factor? Well, sure. I mean, everything in the environment is a contributing factor.

Ted Simons: And with that in mind, because, you know, as we mentioned in a rising tide, all kinds of boats, even the crazy boats go up as well. If the tide is rising on nasty rhetoric, you never know what's going to happen. With that in mind, could this be, to use another metaphor, a watershed moment here? Could this something that changes folks?

Dr. Bruce Merrill: It could be. Out of respect to the families and to the congresswoman, you don't even want to say well, something good should come out of this. I mean, that's ludicrous because six people are dead, it's affected their families, et cetera. But the event did happen, and I think your point is a good one, Ted. That point is, can we learn from this? Can we benefit this? You know, the tragedy with Arizona is we're at such a crucial state with Arizona. Where the political leadership needs to focus on jobs, and the economy. I think the reason Obama hasn't done as well as a lot of people thought is because he didn't focus on jobs and the economy. If there's a state that needs political leadership that focuses on jobs and the economy as opposed to whether or not Obama should bring his birth certificate to Arizona, you know, before he runs again, it's Arizona. And, you know, the governor, she's been in an enigma to me in some respects. I go back and think of her support for raising sales tax when it wasn't a popular thing to do. Could have cost her the primary. I think that showed a lot of courage, a lot of leadership. On the other hand, when she talked about beheadings in the desert, I don't think that made Arizona look real good. So the question now becomes, where will she help take this state over the next few years? I've got a lot of confidence in her that whether it's this event or where she was going anyway that she's going to be an effective leader and help us in this area.

Ted Simons: Will that include re-examining things like gun laws? Will that include re-examining things like funding for the seriously mentally ill which I think we can safely say this shooter was a part? There's no denying that.

Dr. Bruce Merrill: Ted, again, you raise a good issue. These are legitimate issues needed to be debated, and we have a two-party system where people have different opinions. It's not that we shouldn't be able to discuss these issues or debate these issues and do it passionately. Because Democrats and Republicans have different opinions. The point is, when does it go over the edge? When is too much too much? I really do think that in Arizona we've been close to that edge, and that it hasn't been healthy for this state. So I hope in the future that we will tone some of that down, focus on the issues that need to be debated legitimately and move ahead to do what's best for the state of Arizona collectively.

Ted Simons: The sheriff of Pima County, I don't want to get to exactly what he said regarding the mecca of intolerance because there are those that agree and those that don't. However, he did say something else that was interesting in terms of pure politics. He said that were not going to find reasonable, decent people willing to subject themselves to serve in office. Is that a valid concern?

Dr. Bruce Merrill: Absolutely. It's been a growing concern even before the violence issue with financial disclosure, I've had a lot of people come to me who wanted to run for office and they found out what that involved, giving up your family time, living in a glass house, revealing everything since you were in the second grade and have said, I'm not going to put my family through that. Now you have the violence and is that a concern if you're a young family with young children? Absolutely. I think it's a very legitimate concern.

Ted Simons: So as a political scientist, what do you take from all this? What do you see, again, aside from the personal, the overview of politics in Arizona? We'll stick to Arizona. What are you seeing here?

Dr. Bruce Merrill: I think what I see in it is, I think, number one, we know now that words do matter. When we talk about words mattering, we tend to think about the negative words that cause this environment to be so bad. But we need to think about positive words, too. I mean, positive words matter. What we really need now is some very positive political leadership from both parties. I think in the long run will it have a huge effect on Arizona? Yeah, I hope so. I hope that it's going to bring us together, tone down the rhetoric and focus on the issues that are important.

Ted Simons: All right. Bruce, always good to hear from you. Thank you so much for your insight. We appreciate it.

Dr. Bruce Merrill: Good to be here.

Bruce Merril:ASU pollster and political scientist;

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