Pols Posturing for Promotions

Who's angling for what, and against whom

All is deceptively quiet on the Arizona political front.

There are some rumblings -- to the east, as Scottsdalians wonder who might challenge Mayor Sam Campana, and farther east, as presidential contender John McCain pounds the New Hampshire pavement -- but for the most part, no one's talking much about the scenario for upcoming elections.

That doesn't mean they're not whispering about it.

I've been spying delicious morsels of political gossip hanging off busy lips all over the Valley. Tempe city councilman Hugh Hallman is on the verge of announcing a challenge to Mayor Neil Giuliano. State Representative Steve May is rumored to be planning to challenge House Speaker Jeff Groscost for his title, come January. Half the Phoenix City Council -- including Peggy Bilsten, Cody Williams and Phil Gordon -- is already talking about running for mayor in 2003. I've even heard that some of Governor Jane Dee Hull's fans are quietly investigating whether Jane, who ascended to the office when J. Fife Symington III resigned, could legally stand for a third term in 2002, given term-limit restrictions.

And on it goes. Here's a buffet of predictions.

The presidential race --Dan Quayle's out. The only surprise is that it didn't happen sooner. The meaty question: What will happen to John McCain? The senator's presidential campaign seems certain to last through early spring -- word has it that he's got enough campaign cash for a life line that long -- but beyond that, it's anyone's guess. McCain's memoir, Faith of My Fathers, is on the best-seller lists, but his war story hasn't gotten him the boost that he's looking for in public-opinion polls.

The strategy has been for McCain to grab second place in key states like New Hampshire, South Carolina and California, then sit tight, hoping George W. Bush will falter. But so far, McCain is still trailing the likes of Liddy Dole. And he hasn't grabbed a first-place spot in polling done anywhere -- not even here in his home state.

More interesting, from an Arizonan's perspective: What happens if McCain doesn't win the GOP nomination but does grab a cabinet position in, say, a George W. White House? Remember, McCain's a master at the campaign switch; when his friend and personal presidential fave Texas Senator Phil Gramm faltered in 1996, McCain jumped on the Bob Dole bandwagon in a blink.

The word is that McCain would love to be secretary of state, but, given his unstatesmanlike demeanor, would be more likely to end up as secretary of defense.

Who would take his spot? According to state law, Governor Hull would appoint someone to hold the office until the next general election -- in this case, in 2002.

One crazy scenario has Hull resigning her seat so Secretary of State Betsey Bayless can make the appointment. And Bayless appoints -- guess who? -- U.S. Senator Jane Dee Hull.

That's far-fetched. The rumored front-runner to succeed McCain is Representative John Shadegg, of the state's fourth congressional district. (Dark horse: District 3's Bob Stump.) That would open Shadegg's seat for a special election. The Republicans have always had a lock on CD4, and the district is home to a number of GOPers who could offer up a fun primary: Imagine state Representative Steve May against Paradise Valley's own Dan Quayle. . . . A favorite of some insiders: Bayless.

Another state lawmaker rumored to be a possible Bush cabinet appointee: State Superintendent of Public Instruction Lisa Graham Keegan.

And my own personal favorite suggestion, from a rather snarky GOP insider: Jane Dee Hull as United States Ambassador to Pinetop. Maybe that's why she's cozying up to George W.

The other U.S. Senate seat --Oh, yeah, we have another U.S. senator: Jon Kyl. He's so quiet, I tend to forget he's there, and up for reelection in 2000. The national Dems have tried to portray Kyl's seat as one of the most vulnerable in the country, which is just ridiculous, and obviously a ploy to try to lure some unsuspecting but highly qualified candidates into their lair.

It hasn't worked. The only Democrat's name I've heard in connection with the race is that of poor Ed Ranger, who should have learned his lesson last year, during his pummeling by John McCain.

Congress --The race to watch, as you've likely heard, is in the first congressional district, where Matt Salmon is actually sticking to his campaign promise and vacating the premises after three terms in office.

Jeff Flake, former head of the Goldwater Institute, is the unofficial front-runner on the GOP side -- the only side, at this point -- and he just got Salmon's anointing. "Flake is like the George W. Bush of local politics all of a sudden," one wag says.

But keep an eye on Tom Liddy, a Scottsdale attorney who is said to be taking his strategizing very seriously, and is reportedly hoping to break fund-raising records. (Word has it that state Senator John Huppenthal will be able to fuel a race, too -- so don't count him out, either, just because he's not the most exciting guy around.)

Tom is the son of G. Gordon. Now, normally I'd count a close relationship to a convicted felon as a negative, but who knows? With the Phoenix restaurant Nixon's and the movie Dick, perhaps Watergate is enjoying an unlikely renaissance.

Phoenix City Councilman Sal DiCiccio is also making a go at CD1, but insiders aren't giving him much of a chance these days. Look for Sal to lose big in the CD1 GOP primary, then come back to make a strong run at Phoenix mayor in 2003.

Beyond CD1, the speculation for any shake-ups extends toward 2002, when we'll have additional seat(s) in Congress. Look for Groscost to go after the East Valley's new seat and state Representative Ken Cheuvront, a Democrat, to eye a central Phoenix district, if one is created.

Governor --Jane Dee's term isn't up 'til 2002, but the speculation about this race began last fall, the day after she was elected. Matt Salmon and state Senate President Brenda Burns are GOP favorites; current Attorney General Janet Napolitano and PR guru Alfredo Gutierrez are among the would-be Dem contenders; and former AG-cum-radio jock Grant Woods could pick any party.

I've also heard some reruns mentioned: Democrats Terry Goddard, Paul Johnson and Sam Coppersmith. They're all smart, capable guys, but really, someone should create a committee that interviews candidates who've lost a major election in the past decade and make them explain what they'll do differently this time and why they deserve to have party volunteers lick their envelopes.

Otherwise, it's time for these folks to recruit some fresh blood.

One potential candidate who hasn't worn out his welcome on the campaign trail is Democrat Louis Rhodes, former head of the state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, who's now on a two-year fellowship at the local offices of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Rhodes is a self-effacing guy with a keen wit and a statewide base built during his years with the ACLU. He's my choice as dark dark DARK horse.

Mesa --Mayor Wayne Brown announced recently he won't run again. Top contenders for his spot include conservative councilman Keno Hawker, former councilman/lawyer Pat Gilbert and city activist Kirby Allan.

Part of the reason for all the jockeying and eyeing of upper offices on the part of Arizona pols is the fact that term limits will kick out most of the Legislature next year. That, combined with the recently passed Clean Elections initiative, could potentially offer open seats at bargain prices.

Toss in the 2000 redistricting and you've got the potential for a whole new political landscape, with lots of wanna-be landscapers.

The speculation and handicapping are only just beginning.

Read more of Amy Silverman's John McCain coverage

Contact Amy Silverman at 602-229-8443 or at her online address: asilverman@newtimes.com

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