King Day in Arizona

November 20, 1990

(TC The city fathers of Phoenix ought to quit trying to get the 1993 Super Bowl for their town. The voters of Arizona in solemn referendum decided that their state should not celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day as a state holiday, which 47 states observe. The key issue was whether the National Football League can dictate these matters to Arizona. Referendums are a bad way to make law, but the people, in effect, rejected the Super Bowl in 1993, and that ought to be respected.

All this came about from a gesture of help from the NFL owners to their colleague, Bill Bidwill, who moved the St. Louis Cardinals to Phoenix. They would bring the Super Bowl to his market if Arizona adopted King Day. The NFL has past discrimination to live down, a largely black work force and dependence on the goodwill of black consumers in the television audience.

The Arizona establishment had things all worked out to oblige the NFL. Enter Evan Meacham, the disgraced former governor running to get his job back. He managed to get the holiday on the ballot. His own campaign fizzled but his demagogic gimmick succeeded. The voters rejected both King Day and Mr. Meacham.

This is not Arizona's biggest headache. The election dead-heat for governor is. Gov. Rose Mofford is going out of office and no one knows whether the Democrat, Terry Goddard, or the Republican, Fife Symington, will succeed her. A special session of the legislature, to create a run-off election, was to be asked to re-enact King Day over the wishes of the voters. That may become the chief run-off campaign issue. Mr. Goddard wants to combine Washington and Lincoln's birthdays into one, federal style, and add King Day without adding an 11th paid state holiday. Mr. Symington wants a cooling-off period on the issue.

Meanwhile, this year's Fiesta Bowl at Tempe is in confusion and convention business is jeopardized. The black population, nationwide, is being felt in the marketplace, which is the answer to a lot of problems. Arizonans may want to reconsider the Martin Luther King Day issue another time under less pressure. But they are entitled not to have the Super Bowl in 1993.

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