WHO KILLED KING?

THE VALLEY'S HOTTEST POLITICAL STRATEGISTS TEAMED UP TO PUSH MLK DAY. NO WONDER IT FAILED.

"Get the fuck out of my campaign! You are nothing but an aerobics instructor!" he yelled. "You're a joke! Why don't you go do another grand opening?"

Coughlin says he is a little ashamed of his performance now, but he also claims that his was a nearly unavoidable crime of passion. He is a young Republican, a former finance director for John McCain's campaign for the Senate who only began studying the life of King when he was assigned to work on the 302 campaign. (Prior to that, he successfully ran the pro-English Only campaign for Nelson Ralston Robb.) Despite this late start, Coughlin says his conversion is complete. "I should not have said it, but I care," he says. "Obviously, this was not a traditional political campaign, an insurance ballot or even a candidate. We are talking about traditional American values, things that are in the constitution. You can get real close to the bone."

You can, indeed. A few days after the Martin Luther King Day defeat, the Zaler contingent will not be comforted. Seated at a conference table at the Hardaway Connections offices, Zaler himself is still second-guessing the campaign as though he can reverse the outcome. He says mournfully, "If we had gone to women and said, `This is your holiday, too!' If we had made the linkage with human rights, it wouldn't have mattered what happened on Sunday with [CBS sportscaster] Greg Gumbel."

Seated beside him, Hardaway has become teary eyed. She explains, her voice breaking, that her father was a manager for black musicians, among them Pearl Bailey and Lionel Hampton. Although a bigoted man in some ways, he was responsible for "opening up" Las Vegas casino owners to the idea of allowing his clients to sleep and eat in the same hotels where they were performing. She says, "This is a very long-term, emotional commitment for me."

She has just accused Robb and Coughlin of a lack of vision that caused Proposition 302 to fail, but it becomes suddenly clear where she believes the heaviest blame lies. "If I had been younger, and less afraid to make waves, I would have made so much noise at those early meetings with the Better America Committee!" she says. "I lost my vision!"

IF ROBB AND COUGHLIN SUCCEEDED in coddling the emotions of senior Republican voters, did they mobilize the minorities, who some observers feared would be ignored by a Republican firm? The answer is, not overwhelmingly. Despite Democrat Rick DeGraw's grassroots efforts, his numbers show that in the minority voting districts in Maricopa County, turnout approximately equaled that of the 1988 election. In one way, that's good: 1988 was a presidential election year, and everyone voted in higher numbers than usual. In another way, it's not good: Proposition 302 was the issue that could have resulted in truly extraordinary turnout among minorities. But it didn't happen.

"The truth is that we just didn't have time to put together an effective grassroots campaign," Robb admits. By the time the campaign got organized in late August, it was too late for an extensive voter-registration drive before the registration deadline of September 17, he explains. And after that, the efforts directed at existing minority voters by DeGraw's group were apparently not an unqualified success.

Zaler and Zink disagree with half of this rationale. They say they were trying to gear up to register young and liberal voters throughout the summer, in case Mecham's petitions succeeded in putting 302 on the ballot. They also say they were discouraged from doing it by members of the MLK-BAC, particularly Steve Roman of Valley National Bank. They were told that "the numbers" might show older Republicans were the swing vote. If it turned out to be true, why risk alienating Republicans with a highly publicized campaign to register liberals, minorities and gays?

By the time "the numbers" were in--numbers proving that young voters were the crucial ones--the opportunity for widespread registration had slipped by.

"They said, `We don't know if we need your people to be registered,'" recalls Zink. "That term `your people' really got to me."

Roman vehemently denies the "your people" comment, and says Zaler and Zink were asked to keep a low profile over the summer, as was everyone else working with the MLK-BAC committee. He says he feared that visible, pro-MLK Day activity would only irritate Mecham's soldiers and strengthen their resolve to obtain enough signatures. Within the Hispanic community, Tommy Espinoza has some ideas about why DeGraw's outreach didn't work better. Long an organizer among Hispanics, who account for 18 percent of the state's population, he says that the mindset of his community was never understood, despite DeGraw's liberal ties. To understand so divisive an issue as the MLK holiday, organizers should have been willing to "go beyond the norm of politics"--the phoning, signs, commercials on Spanish-speaking radio--and strive to perceive the real obstacles.

Some young Hispanics are attached to the ideals of the Sixties, says Espinoza, but his community in large part is composed of older, conservative Hispanics and others who don't identify with King. These folks aren't wealthy, and they believed their taxes would increase if they gave state employees another paid holiday.

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