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

The problem with that idea is that, as McGovern frequently observes, the AG is statutorily obliged to represent state agencies, boards and commissions. Kaites has supported legislation that would allow those entities to hire outside counsel.

McGovern has crunched the numbers, and correctly points out that if 60 cents of every dollar appropriated to the AG were spent on crime, it would necessitate the elimination of key AG divisions, including those that handle white-collar crime, civil rights and elder abuse.

Kaites' answer to the charge? Only this written response:

". . . You wanted my response to McGovern's charts and graphs outlining his assessment of my fiscal plan for the Attorney General's office. What's troublesome, is that at the taxpayer's expense, Tom has gained access to materials at the A.G.'s office, and they have distorted the numbers in order to run a negative campaign against me."

For the record, McGovern's charts are based on figures from Kaites' own press release.

Attacking the Kaites bogus budget plan was fair play, but McGovern crossed the line, recently, when he sent out a piece of campaign literature titled "A Tale of Two Candidates." Like any good hit piece, the mailer massaged the facts just enough to preserve the truth and yet make Kaites look like a putz.

To his credit, after the piece caused a stir on Horizon, McGovern compiled an inch-thick, tabulated notebook, titled "Just the Facts," backing up his contentions.

The piece was over the top in just one place, claiming that Kaites does not support the automatic transfer of juveniles accused of serious crimes to adult court, a hot statewide issue.

Technically, McGovern was correct. But he failed to explain the intricacies of the political battle behind that decision and thus grossly misled the voters. In 1993, Kaites opposed a Woods proposal, but supported a Symington one. And, in the end, Kaites was the chief spokesman for the state's juvenile justice initiative that included, among other things, the automatic transfer provision.

At the end of the Horizon debate earlier this month, still smarting from the "Buster Bad Ass" remark and the "Tale of Two Candidates" mailing, Kaites climbed back on his high horse and vowed, again, to run a clean race.

"What disgusts people is politicians not talking about their record, but attacking their opponent the whole time," he said. "I intend to run this race on my merits, with a positive message about my record on crime and not attacking my opponent."

That's Kaites' public shtick, and he's stuck to it with a few notable exceptions--like the time he told the Arizona Republic that Grant Woods is "evil."

In private, the Kaites campaign has been playing dirty pool for months.

On June 19, the day Tom McGovern's third child was born, the candidates were scheduled to debate before the Maricopa County State Bar Association. McGovern was a no-show, obviously, so Kaites thought he'd speak for McGovern.

According to an article in the weekly Arizona Journal, Kaites told the crowd, "Tom comes from humble beginnings where he was raised in a roach-infested apartment. He grew up to make something of himself, and his opponent is a jerk."

The joke didn't go over well with McGovern, who says he's steamed that he is the one who has gained a reputation as a mudslinger.

"It's appropriate to talk about his voting record. It's appropriate to talk about his policies," McGovern says. "He's been negative, personal, attacking [my] family, and it's appalling, but I'm sorry to say it's typical, because he's a little politician of no substance."

McGovern says Kaites threw the first punch--below the belt, at that.

Only Mark Flatten knows who slipped him that 1983 police report on McGovern, on which he based his February story for the Tribune. There is no proof that Kaites had anything to do with it. But there is evidence that he's been making hay with it for months.

Tim Casey, an attorney with Snell and Wilmer and counsel to the McGovern campaign, says he was at a legislative district meeting in Chandler last spring, and saw Kaites' campaign manager Bettina Nava placing copies of the Tribune story--with McGovern's comments removed--on chairs before the meeting.

Nava admits she passed out the story that night, but insists she handed out the story in its entirety, and says she hasn't done it since.

But that's not the only time the Kaites campaign has broached the Sea Isle incident. Kaites himself mentioned it at a May meeting of the Mesa branch of the Fraternal Order of Police.

McGovern says he's been approached by many people who say they received anonymous faxes of the story.

Casey is still trying to find who tracked down that police report, and how. Because of the age and obscurity of the report--and the fact that the case was dismissed before it made it to the courts--conjecture in the McGovern camp is that someone in the Kaites camp asked a cop to run McGovern's name through the National Crime Information Computer. That's illegal.

Outside of specific law enforcement purposes, NCIC checks can only be requested by the individual to be checked. On August 7, McGovern asked the Arizona Department of Public Safety to run such a search on himself, knowing that the report would include the name of whoever else had requested it. Casey, who's handling the paperwork for McGovern, says he was told by DPS the search would take two to three business days.

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