WHO KILLED KING?

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

And although economics was the problem, Espinoza suspects that economic arguments would not have been the answer, in the way Robb and his group perceived them as the answer for senior Republicans. What was needed, he says, was the recruitment of admired Hispanic leaders to carry the message of civil rights to their own people. "If they would have put forth some individuals in our community who had succeeded because of Dr. King's efforts, you would have had people between thirty and forty saying, `I never would have gotten this far without King,'" says Espinoza. "People would have said, `He didn't just do this for blacks.'" What happened instead is that Espinoza attended one pro-MLK Day press conference after another where not a single brown face was seated on the platform.

As for the black community, Art Hamilton laments that his constituency didn't come to the polls the way they could have, but he doesn't fault the strategies of the BAC or Nelson Ralston Robb. The problem lies with the members of the small black community itself and with the way they perceive themselves as powerless, he says.

The black community is not well organized, according to Hamilton. There are no Kiwanis or Rotary clubs, no chamber of commerce, nothing beside the churches to rally black voters. The one organization that is best suited to serve as a spearhead, the NAACP, is not well utilized.

Insiders add that even the power of black churches sagged where the MLK Day was concerned, after the Reverend Warren Stewart removed himself from the front lines in order to turn his attention to other things. Stewart is a charismatic leader whom the troops rally behind; the Reverend Henry Barnwell, who took his place, is not.

According to Hamilton, blacks knew that if they wanted their hero to be honored, they had to deliver him into white hands. They were reluctant enough to do so, according to other observers, that the MLK Day issue had stalemated in the black community in the pre-BAC years, and became vital only when resuscitated by the self-interests of Phoenix business people.

"If we had the ability to run the issue, I think we could turn out the vote in large numbers," says Hamilton. "But we know that no matter how hard we work, we are absolutely dependent on the larger community. That does cause some disaffection.

"I think the minority community has come to believe that they cannot affect the course of where things are going in the state, that their vote doesn't really count. And some of us have become forgetful of the price we paid to achieve the franchise."

If minorities in urban Arizona voted on November 6 in about the same percentages that they cast their votes for president two years ago, it wasn't true in the rural areas: In out-counties that are heavily Native American or Hispanic, turnout dipped from 4 to 11 percent, according to DeGraw's postelection numbers. And that was only one of the telling indicators that the message of civil rights never reached beyond Maricopa and Pima County lines. (See related story, page 22.)

The dismal numbers demonstrate a main weakness in the Nelson Ralston Robb campaign: Rural Arizona was virtually ignored. Beyond a single mailer that targeted rural areas, few efforts were aimed there, and no grassroots efforts at all. Robb says he simply never found a "hook" that would make Proposition 302 relevant to the out-county masses, who apparently perceived it as a business boon for Phoenix and Tucson. Coughlin adds he felt confident of winning if 302 carried in the urban counties.

As for the Republican voters who caused all the friction between campaign organizers and Zaler, did they come through? After all the pains that were taken not to offend them, was it worth it?

No and no. All of Arizona watched as, in the wee hours of November 7, the votes came in from Mesa and Sun City--the votes of the oldster conservatives that turned the gubernatorial election in Fife Symington's favor. At the exact time, Proposition 302 plunged to its death. In the end, the favored electorate of the Nelson Ralston Robb bunch hadn't cared. Coughlin, Robb, and de Berge laid it at the feet of the NFL and the threat to withdraw the Super Bowl from Phoenix that aired on CBS the Sunday afternoon before the election. They say the football league cost Proposition 302 about 60,000 votes when it gave closet racists an excuse that camouflaged their "no" votes.

Even Valley pollster Bruce Merrill, who wasn't a campaign strategist and has nothing to justify, estimates that the NFL changed 30,000 minds.

Maybe all these people are right. The NFL could have done it.
As the movement for a Martin Luther King holiday staggers to its feet again, however, its expanded leadership isn't safeguarding itself against football honchos, as though that were the most important thing. As it considers the alternatives that are left--a special election, inclusion of a vote on the holiday on the gubernatorial run-off ballot--it is trying to move in a new direction that won't repeat the problems of the Nelson Ralston Robb strategy.

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