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Basha does not believe DeGraw's role in AzScam is bothersome. "I don't know what he did wrong," Basha says. "Whatever it was, to me, it's insignificant. He's got a lot to offer this state. And he's a friend. I stand by my friends."
Does he ever. Basha's loyalty to his friends can be refreshing or alarming, depending on one's point of view.
"I had a lot of respect for Duke Tully," Basha says of the former Republic and Gazette publisher who resigned in disgrace after fabricating a colorful military career. "Duke Tully is a bright guy."
And of Conley Wolfswinkel, the once-high-flying East Valley financier and developer who was convicted in a check-kiting scheme, Basha gushes: "Conley's a dynamic man . . . I respect him, I admire him. He's making lots of money again. I'm glad."
Eddie Basha is a much better talker than he is a speaker.
It's not that he's a wretched public orator, although he is a bit nasal and wooden, and not likely to inspire the masses. It's just that his speechifying pales in comparison to the warmth he exudes when he is talking with--and not to--people.
When he speaks of his family and its heritage, his business, his commitment to education and children's issues, he does so with urgency and enthusiasm. His oval body becomes graceful, his eyes get a faraway look and his passion--a truly ethnic passion--cascades out.
He becomes Zorba the Candidate, and if he could have five minutes alone with every voter in Arizona, he would be their governor.
Most campaign handlers shudder at the thought of such voluble, transparent body language. But Basha revels in his ethnicity. In everyone's ethnicity.
"I'm proud of my ethnicity. We should all be proud. I have a zest for life and a zest for people," he says. "The other night, I was speaking at the Croatian dinner, gave the welcoming remarks. I felt at home with the Croatians . . . I could be at the LDS church in Gilbert, giving a speech Sunday evening and feel very much at home with the LDS people. Or I could be at the Mariachi Fiesta Saturday night, where I was, singing some of the songs I know in Spanish--not too many--and feel very much at home."
Basha's gift for remembering names and faces is enough to make any politician green with envy.
Former governor Rose Mofford, who parlayed similarly strong personal skills into a 51-year political career, says she is supporting Basha because he knows the state so well.
"And he just cares so much for people," Mofford says. "I've been to many funerals where Eddie was the only other person I knew."
Basha's gentle persuasiveness has allowed him to chalk up an impressive list of victories for his cause, education.
"He's a charmingly disarming fellow," says Bill DeLong, a former Republican state legislator who chaired the Senate Education Committee.
DeLong says while Basha was serving on the state Board of Education, he helped mastermind innovative education programs and then "soft-sold" them to reluctant lawmakers.
"His commitment can be overwhelming," DeLong says. "When he decides that he's going to get behind something, he's ferocious, but in a tactful and diplomatic way. He takes his setbacks in stride, he swallows hard and moves ahead again."
Basha says his dozen years as an unpaid lobbyist at the state legislature would serve him well as governor. "No candidate in the Democratic party has that kind of experience," he says.
The Basha family has called Chandler home since 1919, when Eddie's grandparents, Najeeb and Najeeby Basha, moved there from Sonora. The family, whose children had taken Catholic training in Sonora, was greeted by a flaming cross.
"It wasn't because we were Catholics, because my grandfather was a Mason. It was because we were Semites. We were Semitic people," Basha says. "The Klan was anti-Semitic as well as anti-Catholic and anti-everything else. That left an indelible impression on my family, and that was transmitted to me."
He fondly recalls being part of an extended family, presided over by the matriarch, Najeeby.
Basha says, "My grandmother was a wonderfully generous person. She came over third-class on a boat. She was poor all her life. My grandmother was widowed at age 44. My grandfather had diabetes, and he knew he was dying. . . . He told my dad, 'Take care of my jewel.' So when my grandfather died, my dad continued to live with my grandmother. And when he married my mother, he said, 'If you're going to marry me, you'll have to move in.' So we all lived together in this house. My dad, my mom, my grandmother, and my dad had four sisters and a brother, and they were all unmarried at the time.
"And I remember my grandmother, how frugal she was. She'd feed her family for a week on a leg of lamb. . . . Yet as frugal as she was, she always shared. It was intrinsic. It was something that she inculcated in our minds, my dad's generation and ours."
Najeeb Basha went bankrupt in his dry-goods venture. His sons, Eddie Sr. and Ike, later scraped together enough money to start their own retail business in 1932. It was to blossom into Bashas' Markets Inc.