THE BEST OF FIFE

HE BROUGHT US AN RTC LAWSUIT, A GRAND JURY INVESTIGATION AND A "CAR OF THE PEOPLE." NOT TO MENTION GEORGE LECKIE AND ANNETTE ALVAREZ. OH, WHAT THE HECK, WE'LL MENTION THEM.

Legislators have to share in the blame for the tax cuts and/or regulatory relief they offered to mines, utilities and dog-track owners, but it was the governor who signed the bills.

While Fife brags about his $100 million tax break for middle-income Arizonans, Kay Jeffries, executive director of Common Cause, estimates the most recent legislative session alone cost those same Arizonans hundreds of millions of dollars in lost taxes from big business.

Best grandstanding: It's a tie! Grousing about murderer-cum-star ASU law student James Hamm was pretty bad--apparently, Fife doesn't believe the "Corrections" part of the Department of Corrections.

But equally galling was Fife's call for the impeachment of U.S. Judge Carl Muecke after the judge held Department of Corrections chief Sam Lewis in contempt for attempting to ban girlie mags from Arizona prisons. Muecke pointed out that Lewis violated the state's own pledge--a signature on a court order--allowing prisoners to read any magazine that didn't include instructions on weapon manufacturing.

Annoyed, Fife called for Muecke's impeachment, although the U.S. Constitution clearly states that such action can only be taken after the commission of high crimes and misdemeanors. And, as it turns out, maybe Fife has learned to believe in "Corrections": this fall he endorsed Scott Bundgaard, GOP candidate for Legislative District 19 and a convicted felon.

Best pretend vacation: Leia James, director of public relations for the tourism office, admitted to New Times in 1992 that a plaid-clad likeness of Fife was cut and pasted onto a photograph of the Grand Canyon. Presto! Fife Does Arizona, for an ad promoting a photo contest sponsored by the Arizona Department of Tourism. We know the governor prefers to take his vacations out of state.

Best patrician move: Lawmakers flew off the handle in 1991, when Fife and Ann jetted off to Santa Barbara for a vacation--at a cost of $5,000 to Arizona taxpayers. Seems the governor was testing a new plane for the state's fleet. The fleet already included another two-engine and two one-engine aircraft, but that wasn't enough. In the end, the Department of Public Safety plunked down $2 million for another plane, a used two-engine 1988 Beechcraft. The move was justified with the argument that the money came not from the DPS budget, but instead from shared funds from confiscations during federal drug investigations.

Best display of homophobia: Fife raised a ruckus last year when he heard Northern Arizona University was offering a new course, "Transsexualism and Society." He called it "an insult to taxpayers," and when he was informed that the instructor--Thurin (formerly Carmen) Schminke, a sociology graduate student and transsexual--wouldn't be paid, he complained that tax dollars would go to pay for "power, lights and room."

Fife must have nauseated even himself, because after a few days, he reversed his position.

Best foreign relations: When the state Department of Commerce selected Jorge Mejia to run the Arizona Trade Office in Mexico City, it wanted a man who understood the business philosophy of Arizona's chief executive--Fife. It picked the right guy.

Mejia quickly used his office to enrich his friends and family. He steered a $21,000 computer contract to a family friend, hired his son and niece to do telemarketing work and guided an accounting contract to a firm that employs his wife.

Mejia was simply following Fife's example. After all, Fife used the opportunity of a meeting with then-Mexican president Carlos Salinas in October 1993 to introduce a personal friend, Oregon businessman Brad Bishop, to Salinas. Bishop is "keenly interested in infrastructure investment in Mexico," Fife told the Mexican prez.

Bishop made sure he followed protocol by sending Mejia a $3,306 check several weeks later, purportedly to cover translation work done by a Mejia relative. Mejia's secretary blew the whistle on the Bishop check. She was fired.

Mejia, meanwhile, was given a raise in August and a one-year extension on his contract.

Best foreign relations, Part II: Japan's largest bank let Fife off the hook this year for more than $135 million in loans used to finance construction of the Camelback Esplanade.

The Esplanade turned out to be a $103 million financial disaster for the Japanese bank and a Japanese construction firm that invested $38 million in the development. But luckily for Fife, Dai Ichi Kangyo Bank never insisted that Fife fulfill his personal guarantee on the loan.

Four years ago, Fife proudly defended his business record during a Capitol Hill hearing. Fife lectured a skeptical Senator Howard Metzenbaum on how he put together the Esplanade deal and was willing to risk his fortune on the project. The centerpiece of Fife's spiel on investment in America was his willingness to lay it all on the line in the form of his personal guarantee to repay the Dai Ichi loan.

"What was your risk?" Metzenbaum asked Fife on February 7, 1991.
"The risk is called bankruptcy if we fail. We owe $135 million to a bank," Fife said in sworn testimony.

"But when you put this deal together, you invested no money," Metzenbaum said, referring to Fife's out-of-pocket investment of $216 into the Esplanade, which generated $8 million in developer fees for Fife's company. "Are you on the note for $135 million?"

"Yes," Fife said.
"Personally?" the senator asked.
"Yes. Yes, me and my partners are on the guarantee, and if you do not call that risk, I do not know what risk is," Fife responded.

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