Take Me To Your Leader

Dems ponder new state chief; Bayless is Jane Jr.; McCain readies presidential bid

Mark Fleisher is an eternal optimist, which is amazing since the guy is also the chairman of the Arizona Democratic Party. He'll look you in the eye and with all sincerity tell you that 1998 was a good year for Democrats.

Uh-huh. The Democrats' only statewide victory went to attorney general-elect Janet Napolitano, and she won by keeping her distance from the Dems. The party's in a shambles. Yeah, the Ds picked up two seats in the state Senate, but they lost two in the House. Whose idea was it to run a felon in District 4? Or drop the ball entirely in District 3, on the Navajo Reservation, the Democrats' longtime stronghold?

The few Democrats left in office in this state have taken Napolitano's cue--they work outside the party. One elected official who requested anonymity says of the state Democratic Party, "It's an anchor. It's not an asset anymore."

The Dem says he called Fleisher for help during his race, when the Republicans were after him. He says Fleisher told him to send him postcards and stamps, and someone would paste the stamps on for him.

Meanwhile, the GOP is recruiting young Hispanics, twisting arms and making note of who's working hard and contributing the bucks it takes to get elected.

What's a donkey to do? Get rid of Fleisher? That may happen January 23, when the party holds its statewide convention. Fleisher's got three opponents: Tom Bean of Casa Grande, Ken Hollack of Page and the best known in these parts, lame duck state Representative David Armstead.

Armstead will do little more than acknowledge he's running, and take a pass when asked to comment on the hot potato of the election, Melodee Jackson. Jackson, who has been the state party's executive director for 17 years, has been at odds with Fleisher and many other Ds for years now. Many feel that Jackson has done a good job but that it's time for her to move on. Most state party executive directors only keep the job for about three years.

Phoenix attorney Stan Lubin, a current party vice chair and longtime Democratic activist, says Jackson is Fleisher's scapegoat.

"Mark is trying to make Melodee the battle, and she's not," Lubin says. "The battle is competence. He has not been able to raise money. . . . He's been outmaneuvered by the Republican Party--badly--and he has not been very effective at finding candidates or convincing people to support Democratic candidates."

Word has it that Jackson's gone, no matter who becomes chairman, and that party leaders are trying to find her another job.

Perhaps Jackson should go into political consulting. Just about every local Democratic consultant has quit taking candidates as clients, out of disgust. They'd prefer to run initiatives, and who can blame them, given the quality of Dem candidates we've had lately. I was surprised on election night to see that Paul Newman had two young kids wearing their own version of "I'm With Stupid" tee shirts running his campaign for Corporation Commission--a seat he could have won if he'd had some decent advice.

Whoever takes the helm of the Arizona Democratic Party next month must concentrate on bringing in new blood. The rank and file can't get excited over the party's future because they aren't inspired by its leaders. Armstead may change that.

Another potential fresh face is Greg Stanton, a Phoenix attorney who now heads up the Maricopa County Democrats' club, Nucleus. I'm told that Stanton is smart, savvy and well-respected, which means he's probably unlikely to cozy up too much to the party machine.

While the Democrats are contemplating their navels, Arizona Republicans are looking to higher office.

Secretary of State Betsy Bayless is earning a reputation as Arizona's Al Haig. The normally reserved Bayless has been steppin' out a lot lately, showing up at events on behalf of Governor Jane Hull. Bayless is reportedly telling crowds that she's the state's unofficial lieutenant governor, which is interesting, since Arizona doesn't have a lieutenant governor.

Bayless' assistant, Warren Whitney, acknowledges that his boss has a beefed-up role, although it hasn't been totally defined yet. Bayless attends Hull's cabinet meetings and is consulted on state matters outside her assigned purview of voter registration and notary issues. And, Whitney says, she's an "emissary" of the Governor's Office.

So, can we anticipate a Bayless gubernatorial bid in 2002?
"That's a long way off," Whitney demurs. "She's not even been sworn in yet" as secretary of state.

Rumors continue to spew from the McCain camp, as Arizona's senior senator gets ready to run for president. The latest word is that John McCain will announce his bid for the presidency some time in January, but not January 5, as the Drudge Report anticipated--only because the McCainites are determined that Matt Drudge be wrong.

Republicans on the holiday-party circuit also learned that Deb Gullett, director of McCain's Arizona operations, will soon resign. She's going to stay at home with the kids, she's telling people over the clam dip, but admits she may consult on the presidential campaign, too. It could be a family affair. Rumor also has it that Deb's husband, Wes, co-owner of the political consulting group High Ground Inc., will take part in the McCain run.

Now granted, I'm not part of McCain's inner circle, but no one I've spoken to thinks McCain has much of a chance at being elected president. He's reportedly having trouble finding anyone to work for him in Iowa and New Hampshire, and the national press is no longer singing his tune as it has for the past couple of years.

If the U.S. Senate holds an impeachment trial, it'll be interesting to see how McCain handles the issue of Bill Clinton's marital infidelity. McCain has already admitted to having an extramarital affair during his first marriage. Will that inoculate him from further scrutiny and criticism?

Contact Amy Silverman at 229-8443 or at her online address: asilverman@newtimes.com

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