Fife and Me -- A History
Here's some ancient Arizona political history, triggered by the unsuccessful candidacy of former Gov. Fife Symington for chair of the GOP committee in Legislative District 11. It's internal political party politics, a topic about which I unfortunately know something. Being chair of a state party, as many of you have heard me say, is like taking small children to a fancy restaurant. You always want people to say when you leave, "I wish you could have stayed longer."
My editor enjoyed the local color and gave me more space than usual. Everyone's still in a bit of shock that the D's picked up one of the seats in this district in the state house.
CELEBRATING 'DEFEATED POLITICIANS WEEK'
East Valley Tribune, Dec. 3, 2006
Fife Symington, I feel your pain.
Which feels pretty odd, especially knowing our history. I once was on Fife’s holiday gift list (Cookies from Home -- nice choice). I represented the permanent lender for Symington’s Mercado project. When the loan closed, we were friends. Once he had to repay it, no more.
Trying to stave off bankruptcy, he sued me personally. I was a witness in his bankruptcy trial, and both of us testified in the lawsuit between the Mercado’s permanent and construction lenders. The jury returned a verdict for my former client, convincing me of the accuracy of a poll of 12 registered voters.
Politically, we similarly moved farther apart. Fife started as a moderate, back when moderation was cool. As governor, he appointed good people, like Chris Herstam as chief of staff, Ed Fox at environmental quality, and Betsy Rieke at water resources. He campaigned as the alternative to the failed ideology of Evan Mecham, then as governor started channeling Evan Mecham. Now he’s the most anti-abortion, anti-gay marriage Harvard College grad around.
After my defeat in the 1994 GOP wave, I got elected chairman of the state Democratic Party, where much of my role consisted of Fife Symington jokes -- after his bankruptcy filing, political comedy gold. Assisted by Symington’s continuing ethical and political troubles, Bill Clinton carried Arizona in the 1996 election, the first for a Democrat since 1948. But Symington couldn’t squawk much about Clinton, not after getting one of Clinton’s last-minute pardons.
I now also share with Fife, besides residing in Legislative District 11, an unsuccessful political party election. Last month, Symington ran for chair of the District 11 GOP committee, and lost 215-166 to incumbent chair Rob Haney.
Haney is reportedly (permalinks don't work; scroll down to "Fife's Running") a tireless grassroots organizer who recruited most of the district’s precinct committeepeople, who elect the chair. He also detests Sen. John McCain, another District 11 resident. Haney won approval of resolutions censuring McCain from both District 11 and the Maricopa County GOP committee, embarrassing a potential presidential candidate.
Besides Symington, an entire slate ran for District 11 GOP office to try to limit some of the intra-GOP squabbling, with endorsements from Sen. Jon Kyl and Reps. John Shadegg, Jeff Flake, and Rick Renzi. (McCain stayed out of the fray, but notable by her absence was state Sen. Barbara Leff, who is now officially as right-wing as they come.) Despite the endorsements, Fife’s entire slate lost -- big.
In my case, eight years ago, after being a congressman and State Chair, I ran from my district for the state Democratic Party committee. Like Fife, I wanted to unseat the incumbent state chair, a buffoon with a knack for shooting other Democrats in the foot. Unfortunately, his true-believer supporters thought actually winning elections was for sissies, so I lost.
The Haney faction is only following the advice of Matthew Dowd, President Bush’s former pollster, who believes most independent voters almost always vote with one party. Using Dowd’s research, Karl Rove instructed Bush not to govern from the center, but rather by rallying the base and dragging along rightward-leaning independents.
But Dowd’s analysis may not hold up, because the base can devour endless red meat and only clamor for more. A twice-elected former governor and the most hawkish GOP senator were insufficiently conservative for District 11 true believers, who wanted their carrion even more right-wing -- potentially too right-wing for many independents.
There are few things less worthwhile than internal political party elections and bickering. Like faculty politics, it’s so vicious because the stakes are so low. And one of your greatest burdens as a candidate or public official is the vitriol from those exhausting true believers theoretically on your side. They proclaim loudly that they stand on principle, but it sure seems like petty squabbling over personalities.
In Congress, I was tormented, with a viciousness that even Rob Haney might admire, by people who thought the most important issue facing our country was The School of the Americas. (Go Google it, and see that on the Internet, nobody knows your issue is a dog.) And don’t get me started about the 2000 Nader campaign. Thanks again, Ralph.
A major accomplishment of the long, dark night of the Bush administration is convincing Democrats we have more important battles than intramural ones. It’s bad for the state, but as a Democrat, I’m delighted that Republicans want to mimic our worst mistakes -- and even more delighted if the GOP wants to convert “independent in name only” voters into actual independents.
While District 11 has an 18-point GOP registration edge, there also are over 20,000 registered independents -- 21 percent. If you can only be a Republican if you’re a real true believer, then Democrats may keep finding common cause with those independents and “soft” Republicans.
District 11 independents may be becoming more independent than Republicans would like. They certainly had no problem voting for both Democratic Gov. Janet Napolitano and Republican Sen. Kyl -- and Democratic state Rep.-elect Mark DeSimone thanks them, too.