Stealth Zealot

Pop quiz. Who’s Arizona’s other U.S. senator? Here’s a clue: He makes Dubya look like a liberal

For example, Kyl has worked alongside California Democrat Dianne Feinstein for several years pushing for extended rights for crime victims.

Pfister himself is a moderate Republican, a "Pinto Republican," he says, parodying the name used for the middle-of-the-road "Pinto Democrats" of Arizona. He has several times found himself at odds with his considerably more conservative friend, particularly on social issues. But Pfister says Kyl has always been respectful of his position, and Kyl, he says, "is not at all a fake" in his conservative values.

"Jon is Jon," Pfister says. "He lives modestly, he is frugal, he has the highest level of integrity, he's not at all a flashy guy or a guy who acts out of expedience. I do believe he deeply respected his father and what he represented, and I think he has modeled that sort of Midwestern Conservatism in his life. You can disagree with his views, but I have never questioned that he is a genuine, good man."

The other senator from Arizona.
The other senator from Arizona.
Still don't know who we're talking about? Keep reading.
Still don't know who we're talking about? Keep reading.

Kyl, he says, has helped Arizona "more than people realize." Pfister says Kyl has been a strong supporter of the Central Arizona Project, the massive federal canal project to bring Colorado River water into central Arizona. Kyl has consistently fought against closures or cutbacks to Arizona's military bases.

One of Kyl's great achievements was the landmark Arizona Water Settlements Act of 2004, the result of 15 years of work by Kyl and several dozen Indian communities and other stakeholders that, Pfister says, "essentially secures Arizona's water supply for decades to come."

Rita Maguire, former director of the Arizona Department of Water Resources, worked closely with Kyl throughout the Water Settlements process. She has only good things to say about Kyl's role in bringing about a settlement many thought was impossible.

In the months before the settlement, Kyl was flying in to Phoenix from Washington on Fridays and spending much of his weekends hashing out details of the agreement. Maguire says he was constantly bouncing from meetings with the different parties, "lunch here, dinner there, he was always moving," she says. "It was amazing to watch his energy and commitment to getting the deal done."

"One Friday night, my daughter and I drive into our driveway and we notice we've been followed by this beat-up old Suburban," Maguire says. "Well, it's Jon, and he jumps out of that thing and is all excited about something he had forgotten to tell me in an early meeting. That was it. He was just really earnest, really dedicated."

But it was by no means fun, Kyl tells New Times in the interview.

"It was one of the hardest things I've ever done," he says. "But I was in a position to be the catalyst. There wasn't anybody else who could do that water deal. And it had to be done."

Says Maguire, "To put it simply, that landmark water deal -- that very, very important, very complicated settlement to make sure we have water -- wouldn't have happened without him and his keen mind and all his hard work. It's just that simple."

What isn't so simple, Kyl's critics say, is why a guy who is so seemingly thoughtful and civilized can have the voting record of a Jesse Helms, the retired Republican senator from North Carolina.

While John McCain is seen as an independent-thinking moderate Republican, Jon Kyl is considered in lockstep with the Republican Party's far right.

Kyl loves big American business. He is good to the very rich. He has backed the Bush administration on every significant position regarding the war in Iraq, the "war on terror" and growth in defense spending. He has continuously defended the actions of military interrogators at Guantánamo and has been supportive of widespread government eavesdropping powers to combat terrorism.

In an in-depth analysis of voting records, the National Journal gave Kyl a 91 percent conservative rating, topped only by Senator Craig Thomas (R-Wyoming) with 92 percent. John McCain, by comparison, had a 52 percent "moderate" rating.

Studying Congressional Quarterly voting records, Kyl has sided with the president's position 96 percent of the time. When Dubya was up for reelection in 2004, Kyl voted with him 100 percent of the time.

That was the year that the Sierra Club held a press conference announcing that Kyl had a "0 percent" voting record on pro-environment legislation.

One of those votes was against John McCain's legislation to limit greenhouse gas emissions. Kyl on numerous instances has belittled research suggesting greenhouse gasses are contributing to global warming.

Kyl has voted nine times to open up Alaska to oil drilling.

He also voted against international cooperation to limit greenhouse gasses.

Sandy Bahr, longtime leader of the Arizona chapter of the Sierra Club, says Kyl has been "disastrous" on environmental issues. She says Kyl consistently put out false information essentially blaming environmentalists for the massive Rodeo-Chediski fire in east-central Arizona in 2002, pushed for Gale Norton for Interior Secretary ("who has done more damage administratively than we ever thought possible by one person," Bahr says), and has consistently supported a rollback of the Clean Air Act.

"Did you like the air over downtown Phoenix this winter?" Bahr asks. "If you didn't, talk to Jon Kyl, because he didn't think it was a problem."

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