Dem Quixote

Jim Pederson wants comfy outdoor dining without misters -- something all voters can agree on

Jim Pederson is a consummate politician: He's rich, well-connected, and not above pointing fingers at the opposition. He's also quite dull -- or, to be fair, at least unwilling to bite when he's baited with stupid questions from newspaper reporters. All these skills will come in handy should the former Arizona Democratic party chairman take Republican incumbent Jon Kyl's seat in the U.S. Senate next year. Pederson, a commercial real estate developer raised in Arizona, announced his candidacy earlier this month, not long after stepping down from a four-year stint as party chairman. He helped get Governor Janet Napolitano elected and revitalized a lot of dreary shopping malls in the Valley, and now he's ready to tackle politics firsthand. And frankly, any guy who wants to create a temperate outdoor restaurant that doesn't use a misting system gets my vote.

New Times: Why do you want to run for Senate? And please don't tell me you long to give back to the community.

Jim Pederson: Well, this represents a turning point in my life, as you can imagine. I've lived in Arizona all my life, and I care deeply about the issues facing our state.

NT: You mean ugly architecture? Illegal immigration? Phil Gordon?

Pederson:Well, I mean that the middle class haven't gotten a break, and that's true of the entire nation. I plan to stand behind the middle class, because they're the power in our country.

NT: Okay. But why would anyone run against Jon Kyl? I mean, Jon Kyl wears cowboy boots. In Phoenix, that practically ensures an election win.

Pederson:No. I think it's a myth that just because you put on a plaid shirt and boots, you win votes in Arizona.

NT: I think you're wrong!

Pederson:No. Especially in rural Arizona, I think people are a lot smarter than that. I plan a campaign based on issues and ideas. And [Kyl's] voting record hasn't been exposed to the people of Arizona. Once they learn he was the deciding vote on prohibiting Medicare from offering lower prescription drug prices, or that he's a vehement opponent of stem cell research, he's going to have a tough time explaining that to Arizona.

NT: You've said you'll fight for middle-class interests. What would those be? Little League? Poly blends?

Pederson:If you take all the issues that relate to health care and education, they affect the middle class disproportionately. Think about it: Our American middle class started after World War II, but they quickly developed into the backbone of this country. The middle class really helped develop this country as a world power, and there's an all-out assault on the middle class. And if it keeps going, we're not going to have a middle class. Most of President Bush's tax cuts were aimed at the super rich, which doesn't benefit the middle class.

NT: Republican party chairman Matt Salmon says you're "completely out of touch with voters' values." I guess he means because you're really rich and everything.

Pederson:I really didn't see the light until my mid-50s. It's true, I've been fortunate in my business, and I owe Arizona a lot, but my values stem from a much earlier life.

NT: One in which you were poor?

Pederson:My wife and I started this business with a paper clip and a piece of Scotch tape. And Matt Salmon is trying to tie me to the Eastern liberal establishment!

NT: You've promised to make immigration your top issue. But the Republicans have already called dibs on that issue: John McCain and Jim Kolbe are sponsoring a bill that --

Pederson:But they haven't come up with a sensible solution to illegal immigration. We need to find out who is coming into the country. A work visa program is needed, too. Kyl says, "These people who are already here have broken the law, and they have to go back to Mexico and stand in line." I'm telling you, the bill is DOA. It's not going anywhere. It doesn't have a chance, because it's pure pandering to the right wing. Which is not the way to get things done.

NT: You're known primarily as a developer of shopping malls. Let's talk about the shopping mall as a metaphor for politics.

Pederson:When you develop a shopping center, you're creating a people place. When I drive into one of our 25 shopping centers, I pretend I'm driving in for the first time. Is it people-friendly? How do you get in and out? What's your first impression? Does it provide a restaurant with outdoor dining?

NT: All important political questions.

Pederson:Well, what I mean is, I gave a challenge to my people: "I want you to create an outdoor dining area that you can enjoy in August, without misters."

NT: Wow.

Pederson:Well, misters are not people-friendly.

NT: They ruin hairdos.

Pederson:People in this country need to come together -- that's the shopping-mall metaphor. They're being separated into partisan camps. I think that's not what most people want. They want invested politicians. Not ones who, at the end of the day, just point fingers at the other party and then bury their heads in the sand. You have to keep working. We need to create a political environment that lets people have interactions with public officials, who come to the middle and offer what people are looking for. Like a shopping mall does.

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