Donkey Gong

Some state Democrats will stop at nothing to dethrone their chairman

While Fleisher hasn't set the Arizona Democratic party on fire, he certainly hasn't done any worse than his recent predecessors, who include two of his most vociferous opponents, Sam Coppersmith and Steve Owens.

Fleisher has infuriated a small but vocal and powerful knot of local Democrats--apparently because he challenged the authority and competence of state party executive director Melodee Jackson, who's practically set a record in state-party-directorship longevity: 17 years and counting.

"Believe me," Fleisher says, "if I was a supporter of Melodee Jackson, and hadn't had a conflict with her, they'd all be big supporters of mine."

He claims that a cabal of Democrats wants to control the party, and they do that through Jackson.

"What we're fighting is a very important battle for the success of the party in the future," he says. "If we don't change, if we don't move forward in how we treat people and how our party is run, we're never going to be victorious. . . . It's not a small club, it's a big tent."

Before he was chairman, he says, legislators had to run their campaigns alone.

"You know," he says, "we had nine state senators come out and help [District 18 Senate candidate] Stan Furman the Sunday before the election. We've never had unopposed legislators come out and help anybody before."

Fleisher is reminded that Furman lost.
"Doesn't make any difference. It's the unity of the party. It's the effort that we're making. It's people realizing that there's a greater whole by working together than being individual. And until you get that communicated to people, that together we're stronger than individually, we'll never win."

Some Arizona Dems agree. Former House minority leader Art Hamilton has written a letter, circulated to state committee members, supporting Fleisher. A handful of current legislators has signed a pro-Fleisher letter, too. David Eagle, who recently lost a reelection bid to chair the Maricopa County Democrats, attributes his loss to his vocal support of Fleisher.

In a letter released Monday, Eagle describes the "control group" that opposes Fleisher--including, along with Owens and Coppersmith, John P. and Lorraine Frank, Sam Goddard and Rick DeGraw--and accuses them of excluding "various members of affinity groups, ethnic groups, labor and other traditional Democratic groups because it threatens their ability to control the state party."

That's not a new accusation, and one the "control group" has repeatedly denied.

Lorraine Frank and DeGraw have both voiced their disapproval of Fleisher in letters full of accusations of poor fund raising and bad decisions. Fleisher denies the charges, and, without access to the party's internal records, it's impossible to tell who's right.

The latest anti-Fleisher letter hit the mail Tuesday. Signed by a dozen Democrats--including Coppersmith and current state party officers Lois Pfau, Burt Drucker, Betty Liggins, Stanley Lubin and Amelia Mancini--the letter reiterates the poor fund-raising charges against Fleisher and then goes on to detail the substantiated charges about Fleisher's personal business dealings.

"Mark has been questioned about a number of these matters and his stock answer has always been that everyone else has wrong information, that it was all someone else's fault or that someone is lying," the letter states. "He absolutely refuses to acknowledge any wrongs. That is his style. . . . We have concluded that Mark Fleisher does not deserve to remain as our Chair."

So, why bother? Fleisher's asked. Why not walk away?
"Don't think that hasn't crossed my mind more than once," he says. "I have a lot of people that have really stuck their necks out in support of me. And some have gotten their heads chopped off."

Like David Eagle.
Will Mark Fleisher's head be the next to roll? Asked about his chances, Fleisher displays his patented naive optimism, a trait that might be a necessity for the head of the Arizona Dems.

"I think things are going fine," he says. "I think I'm going to win. I'm hoping to win on the first ballot."

He might be right. Observers say there are only about 60 solidly anti-Fleisher state party committee members among the 270 or so eligible to vote. To win, a candidate must get more than 50 percent of the vote; if a winner doesn't emerge on the first ballot, the least popular nominee is eliminated, and so on, until a chair is elected.

Fleisher's opponents might end up hurting themselves more than Fleisher. Although there are three other people running--Tom Bean of Casa Grande, Ken Hollack of Page and David Armstead of Phoenix--the rabble-rousers haven't rallied behind a candidate. They're just anti-Fleisher.

So he may well remain party chairman. And who knows? He may soon be taking home a party salary, thanks to his own resolution. And Melodee Jackson--whose resignation is rumored to be imminent, even if Fleisher is defeated--may soon be looking for work.

Does any of this matter?
No, says one disillusioned Dem who's considering reregistering as an Independent. A like-minded friend had told him, "'This is a fight over who is going to rearrange the deck chairs on the Titanic.' My response was, 'No, this is more like a fight over the salvage rights.'"

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