VOUCHING FOR ALSTON

She chuckled.
"People would come rushing into my office all the time asking if I had heard the latest bizarre thing that Mecham had said or done. I could never believe it at first, but it always turned out that he actually had said or done the most outrageous thing.

"Those were sad days when they held the impeachment proceedings. That changed the whole atmosphere. And then it got even worse with AzScam. Now the place will never be the same again."

I had wondered how Senator Alston's message would play in the arena. So I went to watch her in a minidebate with her opponent at the Soroptimist Club downtown.

Lisa Graham, 35, is a Stanford graduate who majored in speech pathology. During her two terms in the state House of Representatives, she became the darling of the Republican far right.

The small room atop a downtown bank building was packed with well-dressed matrons who sipped politely on their tall glasses of iced tea. Judging by their initial reactions to the introductions, this was a predominantly Republican group.

To the Soroptimists, Senator Alston was a Democrat, and from the west side, someone who had attended Phoenix Union High School and the University of Arizona. That she had been instrumental in the construction of the west-side campus of ASU gave Alston no cachet in this group.

Representative Graham of Scottsdale was all bright and shiny. She is a clone of all those freshly scrubbed political hard-liners who gave us first Richard Nixon and then Ronald Reagan.

Representative Graham spoke enthusiastically about what vouchers could do for Arizona.

Alston pulled no punches:
"I am opposed to vouchers," she said. "I believe they are unconstitutional, for one thing. If someone sues, we will be in court spending millions to defend it. That's all money that should be spent on our children."

This was not a message the Soroptimists particularly wanted to hear. Their enthusiasm was restrained.

Lela Alston's message does not please the well-to-do, because it will prevent them from reaching into the pockets of the poor for tuition subsidies for their offspring.

Her message infuriates the rich and encourages the poor. Three cheers for Lela Alston.

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