Stealth Zealot

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

DeConcini called Kyl recently to tell him he would be supporting Pederson. Like so many others, DeConcini says he respects Kyl as a person. He just doesn't agree with his politics.

Needless to say, Kyl is in the catbird position in Washington to be a powerful voice for Arizona interests. Indeed, he argues this is one reason he should be reelected.

"I'm part of the leadership now," he says. "I'm in a much better position to help than in the past."

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.

But opponents argue that Kyl has used his leadership only to gain more power in the national Republican Party. And to gain power in the Republican Party, you have to curry favor from the party's right. And you do that by making points about taxation and federal spending. And you make those points by cutting government programs while reducing taxation on the wealthy to "unleash the economy."

For example, Kyl voted against a federal highway funding package that would have brought money to widen I-10. The package, he said, was full of pork (which it was), and also, he argued, did not give enough to Arizona.

He was right. But, opponents say, instead of complaining about the paltry end product, what Kyl should have done -- and consistently has failed to do -- is fight for more money for Arizona from the get-go: when the spending packages are getting hashed out in committees and in back rooms.

"Here's an example," DeConcini offers. "If Luke Air Force Base needs new housing, but the committee of jurisdiction to build housing doesn't authorize it, his position is it's a done deal. But I [would push for] $25 million for that anyway. The key here is this: That money will not go to reduce the federal deficit, it will go [to a project in some other state]. To make a specious ideological argument that you're reducing the deficit by not taking the money, and then let that money go elsewhere, is just bad for Arizona."

This point is bolstered by the fact that Kyl stepped down from the Senate Appropriations Committee to join the Senate Finance Committee.

Appropriations is the plum assignment for any "bring home the bacon" senator. Finance, which essentially handles broader federal taxation issues, is the plum for big- or small-government ideologues.

Kyl, however, says this argument is bogus.

"I have done very well for Arizona in my positions," he says. "From funding to make our forests healthy again, to helping the Indian tribes with their roads and medical needs, to meeting the challenge of illegal immigration, I'm in a very strong position to help the people of Arizona."

In 1986, Jon Kyl was on the verge of becoming a partner in his powerful law firm.

He would have become a very wealthy man.

But that year, Eldon Rudd announced he wasn't running again for Congress at the same time Jon Kyl's children were reaching maturity. Like his father, Kyl decided it was time for him to dedicate his life to public service.

"He sat down with his wife, Caryll, who really is his partner, and decided it was time," says Bob Fannin, his longtime friend and adviser. "I know for a fact he gave up a lot of money to do it. He could have been a rich man. But he decided this was more important."

For the next 20 years, Fannin says, Kyl has been tireless in his efforts to shape U.S. policy "in what he sincerely believes is the best interests of the country."

"It's difficult to fully state how important he's been for this country. He reads everything. He is the man who understands policy as well as anyone in Washington. Because of that, people go to him as the expert on crafting legislation and getting things accomplished. He won't say it because he's so humble, but he really is one of the critical figures in Washington right now."

Fannin thinks so much of Kyl that the former party chairman agreed to be the senator's campaign finance chairman.

Between Fannin and Kyl, the fund-raising potential is almost limitless.

"Oh, my," says political analyst Bruce Merrill. "It could get crazy. Kyl is extremely powerful, and there will be a lot of extremely powerful, wealthy interests who don't want to see him go. He will be able to raise whatever his people believe he needs to raise."

In other words, the Arizona senator will probably have the wealthiest campaign coffers and most expensive campaign in the history of Arizona politics.

But Jim Pederson, his opponent, is actually rich. And Pederson proved in his guidance of the party through the Napolitano and Goddard races that Democrats and Independents are willing to throw money at the party if Jim Pederson throws his money first.

"It will be a very well-financed race on both sides," Merrill says.

For his part, Kyl does not seem to be taking the challenge lightly. His schedule is already divided between senator time and candidate time, with the weekdays usually spent in Washington and the weekends usually spent raising money and talking to groups of well-wishers.

What Kyl may need to do, though, is venture outside his comfort zone, something he has seemed loath to do in his 20 years of public life. He preaches well to the choir at Republican fund raisers, he is a whiz in policy debates or negotiations, but he seems ill-at-ease in front of television cameras or mingling with crowds of nonpartisan Arizonans.

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