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By Monica Alonzo
Graham County Attorney Jack Williams says he plans to transfer investigation of the constitutional shoving match to another county.
The Patriot's Standard-bearer
Long before Air Force Captain J. Fife Symington III went to Thailand during the Vietnam War, Republican Evan Mecham was honing his plan for a nationwide constitutionalist revival.
At the core of Mecham's plan was the Tenth Amendment, which leaves to the states and the people those powers not specifically granted to the federal government. Mecham labored tirelessly on the topic.
Such matters weren't high on Symington's personal agenda. In the early 1980s, Symington was busy managing real estate developments and obtaining multimillion-dollar loans from Southwest Savings and Loan, where he sat as a director.
After turning against Mecham in 1987, Symington won the governorship by projecting himself as a moderate Republican--a man who cared about the environment and education, but who also understood the fundamentals of business.
Once elected, Symington steadily shifted to the right, becoming a champion of private education and abandoning environmentalism. In place of moderation, Symington vigorously adopted Mecham's call for a states' rights revolution.
That change in emphasis occurred as the federal government was investigating the governor in regard to alleged wrongdoing at Southwest Savings and Loan.
As strange as it might have seemed a few years ago, Symington has become a standard-bearer for the entire spectrum of Arizona's states' rights true-believers--the Coopers as well as the Mechams and the Macks.
He has legitimized the fight against federal control.
Here are some of the ways he has done it:
Six weeks ago, Symington told the Arizona Republic that House Speaker Newt Gingrich promised to hold congressional hearings on Symington's long-running battle with U.S. District Court Judge Carl Muecke, giving the governor a national platform to push his states' rights agenda.
Symington is angry at Muecke for his appointment of "special masters," who oversee the state's prisons to make sure inmates' constitutional rights, and the orders issued in federal lawsuits about those rights, are honored. The governor wants the feds to stop telling the state how to handle prisoner access to law libraries, inmate legal assistance and the prisoner Christmas packages.
The state Legislature, prodded by Symington, will cut off funding for Muecke's special masters on July 13, setting up a showdown between the governor and the federal judge. Symington could find himself on the receiving end of a federal contempt-of-court charge.
In May, Symington told reporters that Gingrich offered to hold hearings on the matter prior to the July 13 funding cutoff.
"As I told the speaker, July 13 [the possible hearing date] is a fairly critical date here because we have a state and federal conflict, and he's been very interested in that all along," Symington told a Phoenix daily newspaper. "He's watching."
John Cox, a Gingrich spokesman, says the speaker's top assistants have no idea what Symington is talking about.
Cox says he asked Jack Howard, a special assistant to the speaker, about Symington's expected hearing. "He's [Howard] not familiar with a hearing on special masters this summer," Cox says.
The Governor's Office refuses to return New Times phone calls.
But Symington has certainly fought other states' rights battles.
Launched with great fanfare last summer, the Constitutional Defense Council was expected to be Symington's battering ram in the war to blast away at federal laws that violate Arizona's sovereignty. The council was armed with $1 million in taxpayer funds to roll back the federal government's intrusion into powers reserved to the states by the Tenth Amendment.
The CDC "will wage aggressive legal warfare against federal mandates that flout the Tenth Amendment and cloud the future of our state," the governor said.
The first anniversary of the CDC's formation comes up July 17. So far, it has failed to file a single lawsuit. The potential cases the council is reviewing are either so mired in technicalities that states' rights become secondary, or the cases are already being handled by the state Attorney General's Office.
"Clearly, we would have preferred a very clean Tenth Amendment issue," says Phoenix attorney Roger Ferland, who has been hired by the council to research and possibly file litigation involving the federal clean-air and clean-water acts.
The problem, Ferland says, is that the federal laws are written in such a way to make it difficult to find a direct violation of the Tenth Amendment. "You can't go out and find those on the street," he says.
Symington does not just fight against the federal government's overstepping of constitutional bounds. He tries to change constitutions that impinge on his own powers.
Angered with the Arizona Corporation Commission's regulation of utilities, Symington last year threatened to change the state Constitution to remove powers granted to the commission.
"If we have to change the Constitution to change the Arizona Corporation Commission, then we'll change the Constitution," Symington promised. So far, the Constitution has not been changed.
And when Symington did not like how Attorney General Grant Woods conducts his office, he attempted to move the entire civil division of the Attorney General's Office under the governor's control.
"We don't really have to work with him," Symington said, shortly after the attorney general criticized Symington's antifederal positions.