Commission Impossible

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

West and Kunasek have been friends for 26 years and served together in the Legislature. The relationship extends into West's campaign as well. Porter, Kunasek's top aide, was present at West's announcement and has contributed to his campaign. Lindy Funkhouser, a Kunasek appointee at the commission who was forced out by Irvin and Jennings, is listed as counsel to West's campaign.

Kunasek also is linked to Stiteler. He was an investor in one of Stiteler's land partnerships.

But Kunasek and West both deny that they're working on a package deal.
"We are not joined at the hip. If we disagree, we disagree, period," Kunasek insists. "And the one that gets the second vote on any disagreement is the one who carries the day. As far as him getting my proxy, it ain't going to happen."

Irvin did not return calls for comment.
Still, West's tendency to go right up to the ethical line between his public and his private roles calls into question the entire premise of his campaign: that he has the most integrity and character for the job.

In the race for the commission, West has gotten close to the line again. He has accepted $8,300 in PAC money and personal contributions from bankers and investment advisers, despite a possible conflict of interest in both areas.

West and Newman have both taken money from the state's utilities within the past year, according to campaign finance reports, although not directly for their corporation commission races. The state's utilities have agreed not to contribute to corporation commission races because it's such an obvious conflict of interest. And commission candidates generally never take contributions from utilities.

Still, West's treasurer's campaign took $500 each from APS and SRP in 1996, and another $150 in January 1997 from SRP. His treasurer's campaign also collected $150 from Richard Snell, chair of APS' parent corporation, in November 1997. That was before he announced for corporation commissioner but after he knew he couldn't run for treasurer again.

Newman's legislative campaign accepted $350 from AT&T in 1997 and, in 1996, $275 from APS. That was also before he announced he was running for corporation commission.

Funds can be transferred from one committee to another, so utility money could indirectly end up in the corporation commission campaign. In fact, in March, Newman transferred $3,473 from his legislative committee to his corporation commission campaign, according to records on file with the Secretary of State's Office. West had not made any transfers, as of last week, the most recent deadline for filing finance records.

Paul Newman once took a beating to protect someone else's money.
It was the summer after he graduated high school. He was working as an Italian ice salesman in his hometown, a little place outside Jersey City. "I tell you, on a hot summer day, you were the most popular guy around in that truck," he recalls.

Maybe too popular. While he was making rounds, he was jumped by a gang. They took the keys from the ignition, and began hitting Newman, trying to get him to give up the cashbox. Newman curled into a ball, hugging the cash to his chest.

He ended up in an emergency room, but they didn't get the money from him.
For Newman, 44, it's a pretty good metaphor for the theme of his campaign.
"My main focus is to make sure that the consumers of Arizona don't get screwed," Newman says. And he's going to have to hang on if he wants to get onto the commission to do that.

Newman is financially outgunned by West, according to the most recent campaign filings. West has raised nearly $123,000 in contributions, compared to Newman's $55,467, according to the most recent reports. Most of Newman's money comes from retirees, with some larger donations from unions and prominent Democrats like Phoenix lawyer Paul Eckstein. West is also a two-time statewide office winner, while Newman is largely unknown outside of his legislative district. And West has the power of the Grand Old Party behind him.

Newman also seems badly in need of a day planner. He was hours late for two campaign appearances in Fountain Hills and Tempe when he blew a tire driving from Tucson. His campaign staff couldn't find him. He only learned that reporters were present at the investors' lunch when he walked in; it caused him to shift the focus of his speech at the last minute, from a technical talk to a campaign spiel.

About the only thing Newman has going for him is that he shares the same name as an actor known for Oscar-worthy performances and salad dressing.

However, that may be enough to tip the race in Newman's favor, says ASU professor Bruce Merrill, who conducted the KAET poll that showed voters almost evenly divided.

"If you go back and look, in the late '60s and early '70s, when the Republicans controlled everything, the only Democrat who won for two or three elections was a guy named Kennedy," Merrill says. Merrill doesn't think people confuse Paul Newman the candidate with Paul Newman the actor, but "when you have a good name, a name that is familiar and positive to people, they'll choose it."

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