Monday, September 20, 2004

Which Choice Is Worse?

No, it's not the presidential race, it's the general election for Maricopa County Attorney, the county's chief legal officer and prosecutor.

I'm not quite sure I understood the headline my editor gave me when the column ran yesterday. Don Harris may have been a Republican until the day before he filed to run for County Attorney as a Democrat, but he still needed more of us Democratic voters to support him than his opponent. So I'd have written "Voters picked pair," but when I guess you get Viagra jokes into the Tribune, you can't be too picky. I couldn't get the accent in Jesús Cristos in the paper, however. Must be that conservative East Valley thing.

East Valley Tribune, Sep. 19, 2004

The election is still six weeks away, and I’m already dreading having to vote for a new Maricopa County Attorney. Only the collective majestic wisdom of the less than one-fifth of eligible voters who bothered to cast ballots in the primary election could choose a general election matchup this dreary.

You have to feel sorry for Andrew Pacheco, who did about everything he could, and still came in third in the GOP primary. He ran a serious campaign and got the endorsement of both incumbent Republican U.S. Senators and the other daily newspaper. But, seriously, what chance does a guy named Pacheco have in a Maricopa County GOP primary? Jesús Cristos himself would need to change his name to something much more Anglo to have, yes, a prayer with that crowd.

(That’s assuming they also wouldn’t find “Jesus Christ” too foreign-sounding a name, and could look past his unfortunate public statements in favor of helping the poor and infirm. Any competent political consultant would know that Jesus could do so much better politically if only he would change his name to something like “Buck” or “Joe” and start preaching about turning our backs on illegal immigrants. You’ll never win any elections around here fretting about the least among us. Forget faith, hope, and charity; it’s tax cuts 24/7 if you actually want to win.)

So we get a choice in November of Andrew Thomas, the Republican who thinks the county attorney’s job is to fight abortion and illegal aliens, and Don Harris, the recently-reregistered Democrat who thinks what the county attorney’s office needs is a more creative sexual harassment policy -- because you’d have to come up with something really creative for Don Harris to consider it sexual harassment.

You also have to feel sorry for the career prosecutors, who really make the office work. After a decade of leaks, publicity-hounding, and political vendettas against the Democratic governor and the Republican sheriff, they probably were looking forward to new leadership that would focus on getting the job done right. Now we’re facing a choice between an ideological right-wing kook and a non-ideological kook, each of whom seems to have other priorities than representing the county and prosecuting crime fairly and properly.

Prosecutors will have to confirm charging decisions and plea agreements according to new standards. If Thomas is elected, defense attorneys will tell prosecutors that they can’t ask for jail time, because will keep the defendant from his regular occupation of picketing abortion clinics. “Community service” will include distributing anti-abortion fliers at churches, or guarding against those pesky Pinal County immigrants who keep crossing into Maricopa County. If Harris is elected, plea agreements will have to be reviewed at the very top, if the defendant is a babe. Defense attorneys looking for better results for their clients will file briefs accompanied by Viagra prescriptions.

Career prosecutors will have to decide if any possible shot at a judgeship is worth all that.

Media reaction to the primary results has shown an interesting bias, plus a new joke: In Arizona, what do you call a moderate Republican? A former legislator.

When the minority of Democrats active in primaries flirted with Howard Dean, pundits fretted that Democrats shouldn’t give in to their most loyal liberals, because nominating a full-throated liberal might scare moderates and swing voters. But when the minority of Republicans active in primaries chose the most conservative and right-wing candidates, that’s just the way things are.

With Republicans in full-fledged “irrational Kerry-hatred” (remember when it was supposed to be bad for Democrats to be so angry at Bush?), and with the GOP throwing moderates over the side like so much bilge water, when do the same pundits begin to fret that Republicans have moved too far to the right?

Or is it just not possible to be too far to the right these days? If so, that makes it pretty hard to find middle ground -- so don’t be surprised if the election really is a duel to drive turnout among each party’s base.

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