Commission Impossible

An underfunded Democrat takes on a powerful Republican in a quest for the state's least-sexy elected office

Treasurer is only the most recent office that West has held. He was elected to five terms as a state representative and three terms in the state Senate. He's racked up a lot of alliances, favors and friendships in that time.

As a state senator, he led the impeachment hearings against former governor Evan Mecham, even though it cost him support among the Republican party's diehard conservatives, especially Mecham's fellow Mormons.

West says without irony that he views public service as an extension of his religious faith, a public ministry. (He is Catholic, an ordained deacon and a member of the St. Francis Xavier parish in Phoenix.)

But now, forced by term limits to leave the treasurer's office, he's looking for another pulpit. He says this campaign will be his final go-round in the political world. (Corporation commissioners are limited by law to a single six-year term.)

West says this race is about integrity and competence, about bringing peace and tranquillity to the fractious commission.

"They have a lot of good people down there, and they have to restore their pride, their professionalism and their competency," West says. "They all feel like they've been beat around the head."

He cites the agency's high turnover--he incorrectly puts it at 43 percent--as evidence of its problems. He also cites a rate decrease requested by Tucson Electric Power that took the commission two years to approve.

Over and over again, West hammers on the discord at the commission. In fact, his only specific proposal for the commission is to hire a management consultant to help run the place.

"I'm not going to live down there in that chaos," West says. "I'm used to order, I'm used to competency, to professional conduct."

Jerry Porter, Kunasek's aide, says West's experience makes him best for the job.

"We need somebody that's got management experience, that's actually managed an agency," Porter says. "You've got two commissioners here who've never really had an agency to administer before, and it functions poorly because of that."

West points to his record as treasurer as an example of what he can do. There has been no turnover in the past four years, and two perfect audits from the Auditor General's Office.

But there's more to West's record than West and his supporters are telling.
Jennings, the only Democrat in statewide office, went after West in the GOP primary. Jennings was the first to raise the ethical issues about West that Newman is pressing now.

"Tony West is a guy who calls himself a big man for a big job. Well, he's been a big government conservative," Jennings tells New Times. "His ministry has been to utilities, banks and big business. And for him to run for the state's top consumer office is absurd."

In a scathing letter and press release last month, Jennings castigated West for accepting his state pension without actually retiring, for lobbying the state government while working for it and for his relationship with John Stiteler.

"Tony West's excesses and ethical lapses are a working example of why people dislike politics and politicians," Jennings wrote. "Fortunately, elections give voters a chance to say when they've had enough!"

West fired back, calling Jennings' charges "outright lies" and Jennings himself "a disgrace."

The exchange was largely ignored by the media. Now that Newman is raising the same issues in the general election, however, West is starting to come under closer public scrutiny. And it's revealing a side of West that he'd prefer to keep out of the papers.

Though West boasted at his announcement, "You haven't read a lot of headlines about the Office of the Treasurer," he's suffering from selective memory. There has been plenty of press about West and his performance while in office.

West's biggest public embarrassment came in 1994 when he resigned as treasurer just before midnight at the end of his first term, and then resumed office three days later. The move enabled him to begin collecting his $37,000-a-year state retirement pension, for his legislative service, at the same time he was drawing a $54,600-a-year state salary.

West was widely criticized on opinion pages and on the floor of the state Legislature, which passed a measure to close the loophole, dubbed "the anti-Tony West bill."

The pension flap wasn't West's only blemish while in the treasurer's office.
In 1993, West came to the aid of his old friend John Stiteler.
Stiteler and West's connections run deep. West works for Stiteler Investments, a real estate and investment firm, as a sales representative. West is also a business partner in Stiteler's 99th Avenue Limited Partnership, where West's share is valued at more than $100,000, according to his most recent financial disclosure statement. The two are also close personal friends.

In 1990--with West's help--Stiteler convinced a state retirement fund to invest in at least one project he was involved in. Stiteler also got a $137,000 fee for later introducing another developer to that board. West has never said how much he received for his assistance on these deals.

In 1993, Stiteler, despite a string of tax liens and bankruptcies behind him, was appointed to another retirement board, the Arizona State Retirement System, which oversees the state's multibillion-dollar retirement fund.

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