Friday, April 30, 2010

Legislative measures spark national outcry and what could be costly boycotts of state

Legislative measures spark national outcry and what could be costly boycotts of state
Phoenix Business Journal - by Chris Casacchia

In the past month, Arizona lawmakers have lifted bans on concealed weapons and eliminated gun permits; passed a “birther” bill for presidential candidates to prove their citizenship; and invoked the toughest immigration law in the country.

The triple whammy has sparked a national outcry and demands for state boycotts, making Arizona the butt of jokes everywhere, from “Saturday Night Live” to “The Colbert Report.”

As the rest of the country inches toward recovery from the Great Recession, the political and public-image ramifications of such negative publicity are the last thing Arizona needs as it tries to attract businesses, tourists and knowledge workers, experts say.

“What a disturbing step backward for our state,” said Stephanie Houser, a public relations executive and founder of launch flix, which is developing a feature film on a Holocaust survivor and his experiences in Nazi concentration camps.

“As someone who has only recently become involved with teaching the lessons of the Holocaust and the dangers in singling out a group of people, I am even more dismayed to see this development,” she said.

The state’s new immigration law mandates that police check the documents of any individual “where reasonable suspicion exists that the person is an alien.”

Some PR experts and political insiders believe headlines about Arizona’s gun, birther and immigration laws are overhyped, fueled by ratings-starved networks and tabloid journalism. Others think the state is the laughingstock of the country.

“This absolutely tarnishes Arizona’s image in the eyes of pragmatic Americans who believe in basic civil liberties,” said Dave Cieslak, who ran communication efforts for Barack Obama’s presidential campaign here.

“‘Show me your papers’ isn’t the most catchy tourism slogan,” said Cieslak, who established Scutari and Cieslak Public Relations in February. “We should be highlighted on national TV for our achievements in science, technology and sustainability –– not for blatant bigotry toward people with a darker skin color than our Republican lawmakers.”

Jason Rose, a PR strategist in Republican circles, said there could be a short-term hit to the state’s economy because of liberal backlash. But in the long run, those same “liberal interests in Arizona will be defeated at the polls, showing such policies aren’t extreme, but mainstream,” said the president of Rose & Allyn Public Relations in Scottsdale.

“That being said, Arizona Republicans would be well-served from a public relations standpoint by being as passionately pro-legal immigration as they are anti-illegal immigration,” said Rose.

Gordon James, who did PR work for both Bush administrations, is confident law enforcement officers will treat guests with respect, but said convention and tourism organizers will want to know how the new law will be enforced and how it might affect visitors.

“Will they think the new law has the potential for civil rights abuse? I think the answer is yes,” said James, owner of Gordon C. James Public Relations in Phoenix.

James is deeply connected to the GOP. His clients have included the Republican National Committee, the Arizona GOP, Stop Illegal Hiring, U.S. Sens. John McCain and Jon Kyl, and U.S. Reps. Jeff Flake and John Shadegg

Phoenix is a finalist to host the 2012 Republican National Convention, a major economic coup for any city. Despite a rash of bad press, Arizona GOP officials aren’t concerned that the new immigration law will sway the site selection committee, which toured the city and its amenities last month.

“Nope, not at all. There’s no apprehension on our behalf,” said Arizona Republican Party spokesman Matt Roberts. “The RNC site selection committee over the next couple of months will look at the logistics and the pluses and minuses, and make the best decision they can for the members coming to Phoenix.”

The 2008 GOP presidential convention in Minneapolis-St. Paul had an estimated economic impact of $170 million and created more than 2,500 jobs. Arizona’s tourism sector, a major economic driver, is fighting to attract visitors and can’t afford any lost business, including the potential RNC.

This week, San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera called for a boycott of Arizona, and the American Immigration Lawyers Association canceled its fall convention here.

Tourist groups are deeply concerned about the law’s repercussions.

“Arizona tourism is currently in a very fragile state of recovery, and the negative perceptions surrounding this legislation are tarnishing Arizona’s image and could easily have a devastating effect (on) visitation to our state,” Debbie Johnson, president of the Arizona Hotel & Lodging Association, said in a prepared statement.

Angel Cabrera, president of the Thunderbird School of Global Management, said this law could have serious ramifications for the school, its students and corporate clients.

In an April 22 letter to Gov. Jan Brewer asking her to veto the bill, he wrote that a large segment of the school’s students and visitors are from Latin America. The school offers a Global MBA program in conjunction with Tecnologico de Monterrey in Monterrey, Mexico, and runs an executive education program for top multinational companies throughout Latin America.

“Since enforcement of this law could very possibly be directed primarily at individuals of Hispanic origin, I am deeply concerned about the negative impact it could have on those students and our relationship with the Tec,” Cabrera said in the letter.

“This law could have some serious ramifications for the executives who travel to Thunderbird for these programs and, ultimately, could dissuade those companies from continuing their contracts with the school,” he wrote.

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