Hee-Haw Politics

Clinton won, Fife lost, and now state Dems have high hopes for '98. But they're in for a wild-ass ride

That became evident in 1994, when Johnson ran for governor and haplessly tried to sell his leaden catch phrase, "a hammer and a hug," to a puzzled electorate. He didn't get past the primary--nobody knew what he was talking about.

As one Democratic insider puts it, Johnson was overprogrammed, overdirected to the extent that his message got lost in his dense rhetoric. Johnson has been viewed as something of a political marvel for his rapid ascent through the ranks at Phoenix City Hall. He leapfrogged ahead of a half-dozen contenders to rise from councilman to mayor almost overnight. In reality, the insider says, Johnson isn't at all politically savvy and doesn't really stand for anything; he just had the right backers.

"People think that for some reason he's some big political guru type, but the fact is that [then-city councilman] Skip Rimsza came to him months before and said, 'I'm going to support you.' That was his ace in the hole. He just built everything around that. He's not political. He's a policy guy."

Johnson has had ideas, but he's never been able to effectively "hammer" them into a message that could get him elected.

His lack of message was underlined by his generic campaign commercials in 1994. He spent half a million dollars to run ads that were cribbed from another candidate represented by his consultant, Joe Slade White.

In the ad, Johnson speaks about how he's challenged special interests--both the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Rifle Association--and concludes:

"I'm Paul Johnson. What do special interests have to fear from a 35-year-old husband and father of two young boys?


A Michigan state senator--who also lost her primary that year--asked the same question, shot against the same bluish-black background:

"I'm Debbie Stabenow. What do the powerful special interests have to fear from a 44-year-old mom with two teenagers?


Even Paul Johnson's biggest fans say Jane Hull has nothing to fear from this now-38-year-old husband and father of two teenagers.

This go-round, Johnson has some good ideas. Too bad Governor Jane Hull has the same ideas.

Johnson's problem is endemic to the party. The Democrats--and, least of all, Johnson--have no new message. They're hoping they can push Hull to the right, but short of that, she's co-opted their turf.

Bruce Merrill asks, "If their message is the same and their issues are basically the same--and frankly, they will be--then why would a Republican cross over?"

About the only issue where Johnson breaks with Hull is abortion, and even that is cloudy. Hull does not identify herself as purely pro-life or pro-choice. If she's able to walk that thin line, she can deflect that issue.

The Burnout:

Art Hamilton

Art Hamilton will likely challenge Secretary of State Betsey Bayless next year. Hamilton is a dynamite orator, a powerfully built African American from South Phoenix who oozes charisma.

Or at least, he used to ooze charisma. Art Hamilton has been the minority leader of the state House of Representatives for the past 17 years, but no one's heard from the guy in nearly a decade.

Seven years ago, the future, in fact, looked bright for Hamilton.

Thanks to a concerted effort by Impact '90--a campaign group whose goal was to take over one house of the Arizona Legislature--the Democrats won a majority in the state Senate in November 1990.

It was a historic time, with an amazing group of up-and-coming Democrats poised to fill higher offices. Then came a string of events that devastated the party, leaving only a handful of war-weary officeholders like Hamilton.

First came AzScam, the political-corruption sting that nabbed politicians from both sides of the aisle. Harried from office were Democrats Sue Laybe, Carolyn Walker and Jesus "Chuy" Higuera, among others. Some left in disgust, others remained and got quiet. Art Hamilton continued in office, but it has become obvious, over the years, that the episode has depleted him.

Then followed pressure from the right in the Symington Years. As Democrats in the Legislature increasingly became nonentities, then came Representative Sue Gerard and her group of moderate Republicans known as the Sue Nation. When Democrats refused to join forces with the Sue Nation, they became obsolete.

Hamilton has had a hard time putting together a strong minority because his allies in both houses keep leaving the Legislature with hopes of greater success. Rising stars like Chuck Blanchard, Lela Alston, Pete Rios, Karan English and Alan Stephans left the Legislature to run for higher office. They all lost, and only one--Rios--has returned to the Legislature. And now the battle-worn Hamilton is likely leaving to become the first African-American candidate to run for statewide office in Arizona.

The Feminist:

Janet Napolitano

In the state of Jane Hull and Rose Mofford, Janet Napolitano has a lot to learn. First, she should adopt Margaret Thatcher's political philosophy: A woman seeking office should accept conventional social values and behave like a lady. And then Napolitano should get a new hairdo.

Napolitano is probably the smartest, savviest pol of this lot. She'd make a great candidate in, say, Massachusetts. But she's got the wrong profile to run for office in stodgy Arizona.

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