By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
By Weston Phippen
All of this must worry Renz Jennings. Though he says his opponent's aggressive campaign style plays shrill and hysterical, "too much like a politician on the make," Jennings knows elections are more often won by candidates who provoke emotions than by those who resist simple solutions to complex problems.
Freestone thinks the commission has been "anti-business." He thinks it should provide more incentives for new and existing companies to create jobs. That's a concise, alluring proposition.
With less than a month before the election, Jennings has taken a hard look at his reelection chances and decided he can no longer merely answer Freestone's questions. He's digging into his leather case, pulling out the supervisor's dirty laundry.
Renz Jennings says he regrets having to run a negative campaign. But, he adds, Tom Freestone started it.
@body:Newspaper reporters like Tom Freestone. They like him because he dutifully returns telephone calls and because he allows them total access to all documents and memoranda that come across his desk, a claim verified by one reporter who's covered him.
That reporter says Freestone not only allowed him to examine anything on or inside his desk, but also to copy documents and use Freestone's office when the supervisor was otherwise occupied.
"He's just smart enough to know he's too dumb to lie," the reporter says.
"My secretary knows to come and get me out of a meeting if there's a reporter on the phone," Freestone says. "I know they've got deadlines, and I just hate to see that 'could not be reached for comment' in a story. People see that [and] they think you're out on the golf course. Or that you're hiding."
In fact, Freestone's a favorite source for many reporters. In 1991 his name appeared in 239 separate stories in the Arizona Republic and the Phoenix Gazette, far more than any other county supervisor. He says he's been told he's been quoted in more than 700 stories in the Mesa Tribune in the past few years. Reminded of a press release that called him "obscure," he laughs easily.
"I've been around a long time, for 24 years in politics," he says. "People know me all over the state. I've got a lot of friends."
It seems he does. Almost everyone who knows Freestone attests to his good humor, if not to his administrative capabilities. One Republican who's worked with Freestone calls him a "sweet lummox," while another notes there's a shrewd side to Freestone's apparent guilelessness. "He always knows exactly what he's doing," this former county employee says. "He's the most instinctive politician I've ever worked with. He has a real gift for making people underestimate him."
In his sports coat from J.C. Penney and his scuffed shoes, Freestone has been campaigning hard. A recent week found him bouncing from Yuma to Flagstaff to Phoenix to Tucson. He readily acknowledges he's been aggressive, though he denies he's been negative.
"I'm sticking to the issues. I'm just raising questions," he says. "The best way to handle it is to answer the questions. If you weren't connected to the issue, fine, say you weren't connected and move on. And if you made a bad decision, the course that will win you the most votes is to admit that you made a bad decision and come up with measures to ensure it doesn't happen again. Nobody's perfect, and voters understand that."
Freestone's only real issue, he insists, is the economy.
"You can't do anything for anybody unless you've got a pot of money," he says. "You've got to have jobs. You've got to have a consumer class."
Freestone seems to know only one speed--full throttle. That's one reason some of his supporters were disappointed when, in May, he opted out of the race for the newly created District 6 congressional seat.
Freestone says his exploratory committee decided he couldn't raise enough money to make a credible run for Congress, especially not against the sleek, well-financed organization of Doug Wead.
"To be honest, I was embarrassed," he says. "I've never been much of a fund raiser. I've always raised paltry amounts. But people were talking about how [newly created District 6] was Freestone's district, about how I ought to walk away with it. But it seemed like I couldn't raise a dime."
Freestone says he originally wanted to raise $100,000 before announcing for Congress. Then he cut the goal to $50,000. Then to $35,000. He still couldn't raise the money. So in May, he dropped out of the race, even though he says his polls showed he was a strong contender.
"I made up my mind, and I promised my wife, I wasn't going to go into debt on this race," he says. "There were some people pretty angry with me--some haven't spoken to me since I decided not to run. They said I could win, and I'd make the money back when I got to Congress. But I didn't want to get up there with all these special interests willing to help clear up that debt. I'd like to think I would have resisted that, but I didn't even want to put myself in position to be tempted."
Of course, there were other Freestone allies who thought better of saddling Arizona's delegation with a freshman so dense as he. One prominent supporter offered his help so long as Freestone ran for practically anything but Congress.