Son of Watergate

Can Tom Liddy use his father's notoriety to break into Congress?

"And Tom stood up and he said, 'You have no right to talk to me like that.' And he was sent to the principal's office."

Frances came to school and listened to the story from the principal, the teacher and her son. The principal told her Tom shouldn't have talked back.

Liddy Bourne recalls, "My mother said, 'Well, you should not have spoken to my son that way.' And they had suspended Tom, and she said, 'We will take the suspension with pride.'"

All in the family: G. Gordon, Tom and Frances at the senior Liddys' Scottsdale home.
All in the family: G. Gordon, Tom and Frances at the senior Liddys' Scottsdale home.

Frances had to work all day, so a neighbor agreed to watch Tom during his three-day suspension. Tom was the "big, tough guy on the block," accustomed to defending himself with his fists when his classmates called his dad a jailbird.

The neighbor had a son with Down syndrome.

Liddy Bourne cries through the rest of the story.

"Tom and the boy became very close friends, and Tom, then, when he played, he would take his friend with him, and he would say, 'This is my new best friend, and you're all going to play with him.'"

Tom and the boy remained close for years; inspired by the friendship, Tom later volunteered with Special Olympics.

"The beauty of it was that this boy no longer just had a family member supporting him, he had a friend in the neighborhood, and that speaks to Tom's heart," Liddy Bourne concludes, sobbing.

A gentle observation: The Liddy kids sure do cry a lot.

"It's because that time was a character-building time," she says.

Her father's name? "It's a double-edged sword. But that said, it opens the door. It provides opportunities to get things done."

For some crowds, like the one that gathered at his parents' home, or the conservative Arizona Republican Assembly that met last month in Prescott, Tom Liddy flaunts his famous name. For others, he downplays it. (Despite repeated promises from the campaign, neither G. Gordon or Frances Liddy returned messages asking for comment for this story -- including an answer to the question, "How can a convicted felon keep firearms in his home?" G. Gordon spoke just briefly for this story at the fund raiser at his home, and Tom refused to be photographed alone with his dad or to give New Times photos of the two together.)

Bottom line, Tom Liddy: Was what your father did wrong?

"Wrong? Wrong, that deals with morality. It was illegal, I would say. Clearly, it was illegal. And you know, I just feel that I wasn't put on this earth to judge my parents. . . . Knowing what I know now, I probably would have handled things differently. But I think it's unfair, to not just my dad but to everyone involved, to prejudge. I don't know what my dad knew at the time, and certainly the country was in a completely different situation, in the middle of the Cold War, with the riots and all that sort of stuff; I just feel that it's not appropriate for a son to judge his father."

So, Tom Liddy is asked, do you differ from your dad on the issues?

Tom is coy. Oh, there are dozens, he says, including bedtime when he was 11.

Joking aside, father and son differ on at least one major issue -- education. Tom is far more supportive of public education, especially pay increases for teachers. His standard line, which he repeats every chance he gets (often more than once in a sitting):

"Stacy, my wife, is a teacher. My mom was a teacher. Stacy's mom is a teacher. My great-aunts Anne, Loretta and Margaret were teachers. My grandmother on my mom's side was a teacher. My granddad on my father's side was a teacher before he became a lawyer."

And Tom was a teacher, for a year before he joined the Marines.

His strong support for public education -- generic talk about increasing teachers' pay and local control of schools -- sets him apart not just from his dad, but from most of the Republicans vying for the CD1 primary.

Otherwise, there are few places where the candidates differ much, which has made for some boring debates. One area where they diverge is using taxpayers' dollars to build a stadium for the Arizona Cardinals. (DiCiccio supports the stadium; Bitter Smith and Flake do not.) Despite Tom's anti-tax talk (he wants to do away with the marriage and death taxes and sharply reduce the capital gains tax), he supports paying for the stadium.

Could his support have something to do with the fact that Cardinals employees are among his top contributors, and Nicole Bidwell, daughter of the team's owner, is married to Larry Pike, one of his unofficial advisers?

Absolutely not, Liddy says. "It would be an insult to even mention it."

Liddy says he's all about straight talk (a phrase borrowed from John McCain), but after listening to Liddy at a recent debate sponsored by the Arizona Chamber of Commerce, one Jeff Flake supporter dubbed Liddy "the king of doublespeak."

Moderator Grant Woods asked the candidates whether they thought George W. Bush should choose a pro-choice running mate.

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