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

That was a tough one. Bilby had expressed his displeasure with the law beforehand. But during the arguments, Bilby was so frustrated he actually came down from the bench and, in a somewhat embarrassing development, took over McGovern's questioning of a witness. The state lost.

As special assistant attorney general, McGovern also successfully handled appeals that confirmed two death row executions, handled still-unresolved tobacco litigation and argued the tuition tax credit before Arizona's Supreme Court. The court has yet to rule.

After 13 months, McGovern resigned to run full-time for attorney general.

Unlike the governor's role, the attorney general's is largely that of an administrator. The AG does not set policy; he or she follows guidelines set by the state's statutes. That partially explains why this race has become so ugly: It comes down to matters of personal integrity and administrative ability, rather than a real difference of opinion on policy matters.

McGovern and Kaites don't differ significantly on most issues--although you'd never know that, listening to the two of them. A Kaites-McGovern debate strays from substantive discourse at every available opportunity. At a recent match before the Pima County Republican Women in Tucson, McGovern accused Kaites of not supporting Hispanics because he has a plan that would eliminate the AG's civil rights division.

"You don't have to trust me," McGovern told the crowd. "Read his handout."

Kaites took the mike, shaking his head. "From that document, somehow extrapolated is that I don't like a certain race," he said, laughing and pointing to a young Hispanic woman in the corner. "This is Bettina Nava, my campaign manager."

After the dust has settled, and one picks among the detritus, the positions of the two AG wanna-bes on pertinent issues seem to shake out as follows:

Constitutional Defense Council--Kaites supported the creation of the Constitutional Defense Council, Fife Symington's way of skirting Woods and hiring a Washington, D.C., firm to defend Arizona laws subject to constitutional question. Even after the CDC itself was declared unconstitutional, Kaites voted to create another one.

McGovern opposes the idea of a CDC.

Medical Marijuana--Kaites opposes the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes.

McGovern agrees with Kaites, and believes Arizona's law is unconstitutional, but says he will uphold the will of the people, as expressed in Proposition 200, approved in 1996.

Open Primaries--Both candidates support the proposal to open primary voting to independent and third-party voters.

Indian Gaming--Both candidates support it.

Anti-Tobacco Litigation--The state's $2.2 billion anti-tobacco lawsuit is scheduled to go to trial in March. Kaites opposes Woods' current contingency fee plan, which could net the AG's outside counsel almost $400 million. Kaites says that's too much. McGovern says he would not break that agreement.

Public Records--Both candidates say they support opening up the AG's Office and releasing AG opinions. Woods has been criticized for labeling such opinions "attorney-client privileged" and keeping them secret.

McGovern says that, in contrast to his former boss, he will allow the press access to the inner workings of the AG's Office in almost all cases.

Kaites agrees. He even says he is considering setting up a press office at the state's Department of Law.

For all his claims of openness, Kaites has run a tightlipped campaign. He refused to grant New Times any on-the-record interviews during the race, citing his reasons as "campaign strategy." He has, however, responded in writing to some questions.

Crime--There is no topic that resonates more with these two than crime.

Guess what? Both Tom McGovern and John Kaites hate criminals.

McGovern is no pansy. This guy wants to execute child rapists. But it's Kaites who begins stump speeches with the pronouncement, "I hate criminals and I hate crime and I've dedicated my life to fighting crime."

This has become a race to see who can be the biggest, the meanest, the toughest, the most effective crime fighter. Even though the AG has very limited authority over criminal prosecutions--in almost all circumstances, those are left to county attorneys--Kaites has all but promised that, if elected, he personally will catch, cuff and prosecute every criminal in the state of Arizona.

The Kaites strategy is nothing new. It's lifted right from Fife Symington's 1994 reelection campaign. In 1994, Symington was beleaguered, badgered by charges of financial impropriety and a horrible record on social issues. He made juvenile justice reform his hallmark campaign issue, and won reelection.

McGovern teases Kaites, calls him "The Caped Crusader" and "Buster Bad Ass," but he's obviously bothered by Kaites' stack of law enforcement endorsements--even if Kaites does seem to have won the support of the cops with multiple pay raises while he was in the Legislature.

To that end, McGovern has focused on kicking Buster's bad ass, showing the voters that Kaites' crime-avenging persona is smoke and mirrors and not appropriate for the role of AG.

McGovern hammers on the police pay raises and Kaites' relatively short time as a criminal prosecutor.

He also picks apart his opponent's pledge to devote more of the AG's budget to crime fighting. Kaites says he would earmark 60 cents of every dollar appropriated to the AG's Office for fighting crime. Under the AG's limited purview, that means money for narcotics and organized crime investigations, as well as criminal appeals.

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