Autograph Hound

Derrick Lee is the most powerful political figure you've never heard of

"What kind you like?"

"You mix it up. And remember, bring me more ginger -- you know, you know how I like it. Which one you like making? Make me a fresh one. 'Cause you know, I'm a black Japanese."

She runs the sushi bar inside Fred Meyer, he explains once she's gone.

Derrick Lee: "I was really rude to people [who circulated petitions] before I ever went out and gathered."
Derrick Lee: "I was really rude to people [who circulated petitions] before I ever went out and gathered."
Derrick Lee: "I was really rude to people [who circulated petitions] before I ever went out and gathered."
Casey McKee
Derrick Lee: "I was really rude to people [who circulated petitions] before I ever went out and gathered."

"To me, this is a cakewalk, a gravy train," Musgrove says as he straightens his piles of petitions. "I don't have anybody over my back, telling me to pound, pound, pound, work hard."

A woman passes. "You registered to vote? My dear? Stop and see me on the way out."

"Sir? Are you a registered voter? Would you like to register?"

"Miss? Are you a registered voter? C'mon back here, girl. You did [sign already]? Okay, thank you."

"Young man? Are you registered to vote?"

"Yes."

"Have you signed my initiative?"

"Nope."

"C'mon over and let me give you the 911 on it, man. So you can make the good choice."

The man walks off.

"You come at 'em in a certain way," Musgrove says. "You don't want to offend them. Definitely, you don't want to run them into the store, so they tell the manager.

". . . You keep asking. It's a numbers game."

Sunny emerges from the store with a tray of California rolls. At least $8 worth of sushi, Musgrove figures.

"See? Being a petitioner ain't all bad," he says as he digs in. "Only bad part is, I cannot do these chopstick things. Guess I'll have to pick 'em up with my ol' crumbsnatchers."


A chat with Austin Musgrove may be highly entertaining, but don't consider it a civics lesson.

Too bad Musgrove doesn't know US West is funding that telephone deregulation initiative, or he might have gotten the brother of the US West employee to sign. Many of his interpretations of the petitions he's carrying are less than accurate.

For example, the drug-policy initiative isn't simply about prescribing marijuana in a pill. It would also redirect drug forfeiture funds to substance-abuse treatment programs, decrease penalties for small-time marijuana violations and increase penalties for major drug crimes.

And Healthy Children, Healthy Families does not seek to reallocate funds collected from the 1994 tobacco-tax increase, but rather from the multistate settlement reached recently with tobacco companies.

Musgrove isn't the only one who mixes up the facts. Wendy Deer started circulating petitions the last week of December, when she got laid off from her assembly-line job at a Mesa manufacturing firm. Deer says she had no interest in politics before she answered Lee's ad, but she's learned a lot in the past few months.

"This has really kind of opened my eyes to what is going on out there," she says. Plus, "it gets you out and you get to talk to a lot of people in a lot of different areas." She makes about $400 a week. A few weeks ago she worked the Chandler Ostrich Festival and spent most of her profits on food and a tee shirt, but it was a lot of fun.

Deer sounds like a carnival barker as she launches into her multi-petition pitch for a tall, middle-aged woman who stops one recent morning.

"Good morning! We have some initiatives to get on the ballot for November elections. One for Healthy Children, Healthy Families, where we want to provide health insurance for working uninsured parents and their children, strengthen KidsCare and also provide for Arizonans' health needs for the next 25 years through the tobacco-settlement money. On this one alone we need 100,000 signatures by July 1. Then we have one here for the abolishment of drugs, one for citizens growth management, one for the citizens' redistricting. The abolishment of taxes over the next four years, state income tax over the next four years, and just go to the state sales tax, as some of the states are now doing. And lastly, we have the phone initiative where we are trying to lower the phone bills by updating all the old phone regulations and putting rate caps on all the local phone services. This does not mean your long distance, this is just the local phone services."

Deer stops to take a breath. The woman tucks her half-finished crossword puzzle under her arm and, bending on one knee, picks up a pen. She finishes one, looks at the others.

"This one here's for drug abolishment," Deer says, holding up a clipboard.

"How do you intend to abolish drugs?" the woman asks.

"You tell me. I don't know. That is a very controversial, iffy issue. What we want to do is better educate the people that are out there doing them, stiffer fines and penalties for the felons that are out there pushing them, this type of thing. That's what we're after."

"It's not for dropping any sentences for drug users, right?"

"Doing what, now?"

"It's not abolishing any sentences for drug users?" the woman asks -- pen poised, ready to sign.

"No. No," Deer assures her.

But that's exactly what it would do -- at least, it's one of the things the drug policy initiative would do.

Jessica Funkhouser, director of elections services for the Arizona Secretary of State, says she knows of no provision in the state's election laws regarding misrepresentation of an issue, although she doesn't rule out the possibility that there could be a general criminal statute that could apply. The state does require that each petition be attached to a copy of the initiative itself, which Lee's petitioners do.

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