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Religious Monument Gets a Sidekick: Bill of Rights

• New York Times
Workers prepared to install a limestone slab that is part of a monument to the Bill of Rights at the Arizona Capitol in Phoenix. It will be dedicated Saturday. 
PHOENIX — It started as a joke about 10 years ago. Chris Bliss, a juggler and stand-up comedian of Internet fame, had been scanning the headlines for inspiration and discovered the controversy over a granite monument to the Ten Commandments in the rotunda of Alabama’s state judicial building. 

“Instead of arguing over whether to leave up or take down these displays of the Ten Commandments,” he said in a comedy routine, “my suggestion is to put up displays of the Bill of Rights next to them and let people comparison shop.”

Funny or not, the idea intrigued him, so Mr. Bliss set out to search for Bill of Rights monuments, only to find there were none. He decided to try to build one, and to do it in Arizona, “a place that’s known as contentious, a backwater, even,” he said. As he spoke last week, the monument was beginning to take shape on a knoll overlooking the State Capitol, in a plaza full of other monuments and memorials honoring women, veterans and, yes, the Ten Commandments.

Before it could happen, though, Mr. Bliss, who left Phoenix for Austin, Tex., three years ago, had to figure out a way to get the Legislature to approve the monument on a slice of public land. In 2005, he was a guest on a radio show hosted by Kyrsten Sinema, then a freshman state representative, and asked if she would sponsor a bill.

“I’m a Democrat, and this is Arizona,” Ms. Sinema recalled telling him. “You need a Republican to push this legislation for you.” (Republicans have been the majority in the Legislature for at least 40 years.)

“I don’t like ‘nos’ for answers,” Mr. Bliss said.

Ms. Sinema, who was elected to Congress last month, devised a strategy. For the legislation to be approved, she said in an interview, it would need the support of a staunch Republican, preferably in the Senate, where many bills sponsored by Democrats implode. She zeroed in on Karen S. Johnson, whom she described as “Tea Party before there was a Tea Party.” (Ms. Johnson, who left the Legislature in 2008, prefers the “conservative” label.)

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