On November 2, 1983, President Ronald Reagan signed a law designating the third Monday in January as a national holiday in honor of Martin Luther King. Inspired by this action, several states established a holiday to honor Martin Luther King (MLK). Arizona was not one of these states.
In 1986, there was an Arizona house bill to create a MLK holiday. The bill would have created the MLK holiday by combining the existing state holidays for Washington and Lincoln into a President's day. This bill was defeated by one vote. After this bill was defeated the issue of the MLK holiday in Arizona became emotional.
Nine days after the MLK holiday bill was defeated in 1986, Governor Bruce Babbitt issued an executive order creating a paid MLK holiday.
When Evan Mecham became governor in 1987, he immediately rescinded the MLK holiday, claiming that the holiday was illegally created. Mecham offered a Civil Rights Day that would be observed on a Sunday. Mecham's action aroused national condemnation.
There were drives to put the MLK holiday up to a public vote. As a result, there were two separate propositions for a MLK holiday in the 1990 statewide election. The two propositions were Proposition 301 and Proposition 302. Proposition 301 eliminated Columbus Day as a paid state holiday and substituted the MLK day. Proposition 301 left the total number of paid state holidays at ten. Proposition 302 would just add the MLK day on as another paid state holiday. Proposition 302 would have brought the total of paid state holidays to eleven. Neither proposition passed.
After the MLK holiday vote failed in 1990, Arizona received a lot of criticism. Around the country conferences, conventions and other groups boycotted Arizona. The National Football League disqualified Phoenix as the host city for the 1993 Super Bowl game. The loss of the Super Bowl denied Phoenix a projected $200 million in revenue.
In November 1992, voters passed an Martin Luther King Civil Rights Day holiday. Arizona was the last state in the union to formally install an MLK holiday. (New Hampshire has a Civil Rights Day.) But Arizona was the only state to approve the MLK holiday by popular affirmation.
Alozie, Nicholas O. "Political tolerance hypotheses and white opposition to a Martin Luther King holiday in Arizona, opens a new window." Social Science Journal. 1995. Vol. 32, Issue 1.
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