Monday, February 04, 2008

More Ancient Arizona Political History (from 1993!)

I think my editor liked my war stories from 15 years ago, because I got the top spot on the page, above Linda Turley-Hansen (“Don’t Lose Sight of Gun Rights!”). Or maybe it was just because they had a guest column from Don Bivens, and as he’s chair of the Arizona Democratic Party, he got the “rail” position along the left edge because the only thing lower in the Tribune op-ed universe to a former state Democratic Party chair is the current state Democratic Party chair.

The last paragraph, on re-reading, seems a bit harsh. I do appreciate what Bill Clinton accomplished as president, and it’s not like I would have figured out a way to fight the ’94 wave. But I’m convinced that 2008 isn’t the 1990’s, because most people understand the failure of the conservative movement. We don’t have to triangulate anymore, it’s more of a bipolar political world, and triangulating only makes the “Overton Window” shift to the right and away from the light. That’s a very cryptic explanation of a longer philosophical point, one which probably managed to kill the joke, sorry.

Campaign 2008
East Valley Tribune, Feb. 3, 2008

I’ve heard from both a true-blue Democrat and a ruby-red Republican that some supporters of Gov. Janet Napolitano are furious with her endorsement of Sen. Barack Obama. They’re supposedly outraged because they feel Napolitano owes her political career to Bill Clinton, who appointed her U.S. Attorney for Arizona in 1993.

Arizona political culture is rather gossipy, and there's a good chance that the two people, despite their different party registrations, were passing on something they had heard from the same irate person. But as somebody who was in politics in 1993, I want to remind folks of what actually happened.


As people now know, each new administration gets to appoint a new set of U.S. Attorneys, and by tradition (tradition being more important to the Senate than oxygen), the senior senator from the same political party as the incoming administration "recommends" candidates for this appointment. “Recommend" actually means "pick," because a single senator can block confirmation with one of those "holds" that substitutes for filibusters nowadays. Thus, when George W. Bush took office in 2001, the choice for U.S. Attorney, Paul Charlton, was originally proposed by Arizona's senior GOP senator, John McCain. (The decision to fire Charlton, originally for "performance-related issues,” later downgraded to "random chance," came without senatorial recommendation.)

The tradition held in 1993 when the Clinton administration took office. Clinton got to appoint new U.S. Attorneys, and in Arizona, the state's senior Democratic senator, Dennis DeConcini, offered his all-but-binding recommendation, Janet Napolitano.

Napolitano didn't know either Clinton well before DeConcini offered her name; she supported the Clinton-Gore ticket in 1992, but she wasn't a "Friend of Bill." Instead -- besides being an intelligent, well-qualified attorney, and all that boring substantive stuff -- she was recommended by her law partner and mentor, the late John P. Frank, who was informal advisor to DeConcini (and just about every other Arizona Democrat) on legal issues. With "JPF" in her corner, Napolitano became the leader for the appointment.

But Napolitano had an additional qualification. DeConcini expected a primary challenge in 1994, and wanted to shore up his support among Democratic voters. DeConcini, a pro-life Democrat, had voted to confirm Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, which angered many Democratic base voters. Napolitano and Frank had served as counsel to Anita Hill at the Thomas hearings. Incredibly, 36 hours before Hill’s testimony, Hill had no counsel until Napolitano and Frank volunteered and took a red-eye to DC.

Napolitano thus offered an additional political advantage to DeConcini, as recommending Hill’s attorney for a high-profile appointment might help mollify Democrats still upset with his Thomas confirmation vote. It also made Napolitano’s Senate confirmation tougher, as Republicans believe the only people entitled to due process and legal representation are either Republicans or developers facing bank fraud charges, or, like Fife Symington, both.

Republicans -- who insist that Democrats accept whomever a GOP administration designates, regardless of past partisan activities -- hold Democratic nominees to a “higher” standard, and initially blocked Napolitano’s appointment. The Republicans cited a misleading magazine article by David Brock, who since recanted his work for the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy, including his slur on Napolitano. Ultimately, fewer than 40 Republicans voted to block a vote on the appointment, thanks to bipartisan and personal support from DeConcini and Sen. Pete Dominici, R-N.M., for whom Napolitano once worked. The full Senate voted, and she was confirmed.


So while President Clinton formally nominated Napolitano, DeConcini actually sponsored her, and with Domenici, got the nomination through the Senate. Any credit and loyalty really isn’t owed to Bill or Hillary Clinton.

Other lessons? First, people worried about the “tone” of the current Democratic presidential race need to recall what did happen in 1994. If you’ve been in a primary with Dick Mahoney, what Obama and Hillary are doing seems like a warm bath. Second, I’m now out of politics and proud of my little law firm -- and I suppose I do owe gratitude toward Bill Clinton for my private-sector success. If it hadn’t been for the first 2 years of the Clinton administration, I might still be in politics.

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