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

A New Mexico-born lawyer appointed by Clinton as U.S. attorney in 1992, she resigned the office this fall to run for state attorney general. Alas, Napolitano's best-known claim to fame is as counsel to Anita Hill during then-Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas' confirmation hearings. That puts her on the wrong side of conventional sexual politics in Arizona, where Hill represents the worst extremes of feminism.

Napolitano showed some political savvy by first emerging as a rumored candidate for governor. After she'd lured myriad bloodthirsty journalists to her press conference, she dashed their hopes of a bitch fight with the news that she was focused on the attorney general slot.

Leave it to the sociologists to understand why, but feminism hasn't caught on here in politics. Look at the legions of feminist candidates who have met failure: Carolyn Warner, Claire Sargent, Karan English and more. Then look at the few women who have managed to win high office here: Hull, Mofford and a handful of others who were safe choices.

Napolitano may succeed at playing down her feminist reputation enough to get elected, but it's also possible that her history will speak louder than her campaign message and land her in defeat.

She's got a shot, albeit long, at attorney general. But she wouldn't have had a prayer against Jane Hull.

The Elitist:

Steve Owens

In his unsuccessful congressional bid last year, Steve Owens began his campaign appearances with the same narcoleptic mantra:

Hi.

I'm Steve Owens.

My father was a truckdriver.

My mother still works at Sears.

While true, it's about as believable as the notion that right now, Hillary Clinton is whipping up a batch of Toll House cookies in the White House galley.

The Tennessee-born Steve Owens has got everything it takes in the way of biography to be the people's candidate, but he doesn't have grit. He's more an appreciator of the distance he's come than a respecter of where he was--and where his voters are.

Owens' wardrobe is Brooks Brothers, not Sears, and he went to college at Brown and law school at Vanderbilt. Those credentials don't earn a whole lot of respect in Arizona's sixth congressional district, where the voters are an amalgam of ranchers, Native Americans and a few Scottsdale bedrock conservatives.

Neither does the fact that Al Gore is Steve Owens' close personal friend, nor does the unimaginable reality that Owens is even stiffer than the vice president.

He's so stiff, Owens' handlers joke about hiding his hair spray.

Owens moved to Arizona in 1988 to marry his law-school girlfriend, and quickly got involved in Arizona Democratic politics. Once a staff member for then-senator Al Gore, Owens considered returning to his native Tennessee to run for office, but wound up setting his sights on Arizona.

He joined Brown and Bain, a local law firm teeming with Democrats, and in 1993 became the state party chair. Privately, critics complain that Owens and his successor--lawyer and former Congressman Sam Coppersmith--found grassroots political organizing distasteful.

To illustrate, one such critic reaches out, handshakes, then immediately wipes his hand off on his pants. That, he says, is how Owens and Coppersmith shake hands with Hispanics, blacks and union members. True or not, the story gets at the tensions within the party.

Owens only lost by a couple of thousand votes in 1996, but given the circumstances--Clinton's victory, record campaign donations from labor unions and incumbent J.D. Hayworth's incredibly pathetic performance--he should have won.

He has announced he will challenge Hayworth again next fall. It remains to be seen whether the national party will again invest substantially in Owens' effort.

The Bleeding-Heart Liberal:

Terry Goddard

The "L" word has always been the nastiest word in Arizona politics.

In Terry Goddard's case, "L" doesn't only stand for liberal. It stands for loser. Goddard is touted as one of the most desirable Dems around, but the reality is that, after two runs for governor, he hasn't held public office in this decade.

Narrowly defeated in a run-off against Fife Symington in 1991, Goddard, the son of a former governor, lost the 1994 gubernatorial primary. The four-term Phoenix mayor has spent the past several years heading up the local office of the federal department of Housing and Urban Development.

Goddard's record in office--while admirable in many ways--is not the stuff that wins elections in Arizona. A knee-jerk idealist, he championed historic preservation and arts funding. Projects built while he was mayor range from the successful Arizona Center to the disastrous Mercado to the hideous Patriots Square Park. His original plans for the new City Hall building were far grander than what his successors finally built. All of that cost money.

Two initiatives Goddard supported would cost a lot, as well: ValTrans and the Arizona Citizens for Education initiative; the former would have funded a light-rail system, the latter, billions for public education. Both have been criticized by his opponents as far-fetched and ill-conceived.

And liberal.

The Wimp:

Eddie Basha

The leader of a weak minority party has to have gonads. After years on the sidelines, grocery tycoon Eddie Basha decided to enter politics at the top, seizing the gubernatorial nomination in 1994--but he backed out of the game.

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