NO MERE MR. NICE GUY

GUBERNATORIAL HOPEFUL EDDIE BASHA IS KNOWN AS A PHILANTHROPIST AND A CRUSADER FOR EDUCATION. WHAT HE'S NOT KNOW AS IS A DEMOCRAT

In his formal announcement speech, Basha accused the state of prostituting itself to entice low-paying companies to locate here. Yet when Bashas' Markets Inc. decided to build a new warehouse in Chandler, it bargained for $200,000 in incentives from the city.

But Eddie Basha's most immediate political concern is that a significant number of Democrats just don't perceive him to be a "true" Democrat. The midtown, high-rise Democrats can't abide a bald guy from Chandler as the party's standard-bearer. He's too East Valley. He's got too many money-grubbing friends. He's too high-volume retail. He's got too much capital.

He's just too Republican.
The fact that Basha actually has been a Republican now and again over the years isn't helping to quell suspicion.

When he first registered to vote in the 1950s, it was as a Republican. His admiration for John F. Kennedy turned him into a Democrat in 1960. For the Goldwater-Johnson race in 1964, he was a Republican. Richard Nixon drove him back into the Democratic ranks in 1968, where he remained until 1990, when he reregistered so he could support a moderate, pro-education Republican legislator who faced "a Mechamite" in his primary.

"Several of us who were Democrats did that," Basha says. "And we were successful in getting our guy elected."
In early 1992, Basha became a Democrat again. But that didn't stop him from endorsing Tom Freestone, an East Valley Republican who came within an eyelash of unseating Democratic Corporation Commissioner Renz Jennings in November 1992. Party faithful still fume about that.

While supporting myriad worthy causes, the Basha family has also given thousands of dollars to the campaigns of Republicans such as U.S. Senator John McCain, Attorney General Grant Woods and former U.S. representative John Rhodes. In 1990 and 1991, the family made nearly 80 contributions--totaling $11,260--to legislative, state and congressional candidates of all stripes.

Basha's prolific campaign-giving dragged his name into the AzScam bribery sting in 1990. Transcripts of conversations taped by undercover agents indicate that when one of Basha's legislator friends, education advocate Candice Nagel, came under preelection attack from Arizona Republic editorialists, Basha phoned her and said he and his sons would give her $1,000 so she could "take out an ad and fight those bastards."

Nagel chose to take Basha's money instead of the cash proffered by undercover gambling advocate Joseph Stedino. Stedino was furious. "Why is Eddie Basha's money better than my money?" he repeatedly railed. Later, as he attempted to coax lawmakers into accepting bribes, he cooed, "I wanna be your Eddie Basha."

"I believe it's our responsibility in a democracy to help people run for political office," Basha says. "It's incumbent on people to help those who want to run for office, whether we agree with them or not."
Is that why he frequently gives to two candidates seeking the same office? "Yes, sir. . . . If only people with means can run for political office, our democracy is in trouble," says Basha, who, as of December 31, a full eight months before the primary election, had already socked more than $200,000 of his own money into his campaign.

Basha's own election bandwagon is laden with Republicans. Former Mesa Tribune publisher Charles Walheim--whom Basha calls "a mentor"--is on the campaign committee. Walheim is a business associate of another Republican Basha backer, Joe Woods, father of Republican Attorney General Grant Woods. Tracy Thomas, founding member of the right-wing Lincoln Caucus, is also pushing Basha.

Conservative Republicans John and Sara Lynn Geraghty took out a full-page ad in a newspaper titled Art-Talk urging Republicans to switch parties and support Basha in the Democratic primary. The Basha campaign promptly refunded $1,000 in campaign donations from the couple, fearing that the unsolicited ad constituted an in-kind contribution that would put the Geraghtys over the $640 limit on individual donations to gubernatorial candidates.

Democratic wags say the ideological stew brewing in the Basha campaign caldron drove Carole Carpenter, a Democrat and former Maricopa County supervisor, to resign as Basha's campaign manager in December. When she quit, Basha paid Carpenter an undisclosed lump sum, conceding there were "strenuous" ideological arguments. Neither Basha nor Carpenter would elaborate.

Basha campaign consultant Bob Grossfeld has a novel spin: The more divergent ideologies under the campaign big top, the merrier. "But I don't think very many people stopped to consider, well, what is that really going to be like?" he says. "Who am I going to have to sit down and work with?"

What some Democrats call questionable leanings, Basha sees as fierce loyalty to his causes and to his friends. It's actually an advantage, he says--the ability to transcend rank partisanship.

Besides, Basha can trot out his own list of Democratic supporters, and there are plenty of heavyweights, including House Minority Leader Art Hamilton; Andrew Hurwitz, former regents president; and Dan Eckstrom, an influential Pima County supervisor.

And now he's got the resurrected Rick DeGraw, a wizard Democratic campaign strategist whose career had been fallow in the wake of his conviction in the AzScam case. (DeGraw, originally charged with nine felonies, pleaded no contest to a single misdemeanor charge of attempting to hinder prosecution.) DeGraw points out that no Democrat gets elected in Arizona without Republican support. Basha's campaign is No. 263 for the veteran campaign consultant.

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