The Clash of '98

John Kaites and Tom McGovern — John McCain's and Grant Woods' hand-picked candidates for attorney general — are duking it out like schoolboys, while the Dems' Janet Napolitano goes to school on them

Kaites left the County Attorney's Office after seven months and joined the law firm Struckmeyer and Wilson. In November 1992, Kaites was elected to the state House of Representatives. After one term, he won a seat in the Senate, where he continues to serve.

As a lawmaker, Kaites gained a reputation as the governor's man on crime, supporting Symington favorites like juvenile justice reform and sexual predator notification. He was named chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee in 1996, but by then Kaites already had his eye on the next prize: the attorney general's seat being vacated by Grant Woods in 1998.

Kaites has pursued the AG spot with the single-mindedness of a cat chasing a moth. He'd already earned a reputation as a party loyalist, a constant fixture at GOP events. He'd been currying favor with the law enforcement and insurance communities for years in the Legislature.

Now it was time to cash in his chits and raise money for the AG race. But there was a problem. In Arizona, officeholders are required to resign from one office to pursue another, unless they're in the final year of a term.

Instead of resigning, or holding off on the AG campaign while focusing on his tasks as a state senator, Kaites introduced legislation that would allow an officeholder to create an "exploratory committee" to raise money to run for another office, while maintaining the original office. The bill passed.

Subsequently, he was investigated by an independent counsel who found that Kaites' new exploratory committee law had so muddied the waters that it was not clear whether he had violated the original resign-to-run law.

And by the end of 1997, weeks before he officially announced his candidacy, John Kaites had raised well over $100,000.

You might call him an effective legislator.

Like his opponent, Tom McGovern hails from Pennsylvania. He was raised in Philadelphia, the eighth of nine children in a poor family--as he regularly reminds audiences. He graduated from Duquesne University and Delaware Law School. In 1983, the year he graduated from law school, McGovern had his other brush with the law.

On a Sunday night--four days before he took the bar exam--McGovern was heading home to Philadelphia from his weekend bartending job in Sea Isle, New Jersey. He had borrowed his older brother's car, and had offered two women a ride back to Philadelphia. Both decisions proved to be mistakes.

According to police records and McGovern's own account, the future lawyer picked up a pizza and brought it into the women's home, so they could get their belongings before the drive. Before McGovern had even entered the house, one woman brought him a duffel bag, which he put in the trunk of his car. He then went inside to eat, where he found a group of young men. He was told they had been in a bar fight--at a bar miles from where McGovern worked--earlier in the evening and were hiding out from their adversaries. A few minutes later, a group of Sea Isle, New Jersey, cops burst into the house, SWAT-team style.

"I was the first person they encountered, so I was face down eating carpet in about a second," McGovern recalls. "It was my great luck to walk in with a pizza and the girls, five minutes before the SWAT team."

The cops searched McGovern's car and found a gun in his friend's duffel bag. McGovern was arrested and charged with illegally carrying a weapon and obstructing justice. He says that when he tried to protest that he wasn't involved, the cops searched the car and found marijuana residue in the ashtray.

McGovern says he's never smoked pot; it was his brother who inhaled.

"I've had friends sell drugs, I've had friends killed by drugs, and it is one of the proudest achievements in my life that being exposed to that poison in a high-crime, lower-middle-class urban environment, that unlike many in my generation I have been able to say no to it too many times to count. Not because I am a moralist on the subject or better than any other person, but . . . some tiny part of me knew that it was a nice way to repay mom and dad."

McGovern's brother admitted it was his pot. It was revealed that the gun was actually an air pistol designed to look like a gun. McGovern was exonerated within days.

McGovern, now 40, resisted the lure of public office until he'd made his fortune. After law school, he moved to Phoenix to take a job with the firm Black, Robertshaw and Copple, where his practice focused on insurance defense litigation. He started his own firm in 1989, and won a number of lucrative cases, including a $16 million judgment in 1993 against Samaritan Health Systems.

Then he accepted a job as Grant Woods' third in command.

Under Woods, McGovern served as special assistant attorney general--the spot now-Congressman John Shadegg held under AG Bob Corbin, he always says.

Kaites is quick to point out that his GOP opponent has never prosecuted a criminal case, but McGovern reminds him that generally county attorneys, not attorney generals, handle such cases. In fact, McGovern has logged his share of high-profile court appearances. Last year, he defended the state's law banning partial-birth abortions before U.S. District Court Judge Richard Bilby.

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