The irate caller to KTAR's Talk to the Governor radio show last November 24 sounded a bit like Dustin Hoffman doing "Tootsie."
"Hello, Governor," the man said in a kind of Southern accent, after introducing himself as "Bill from District 18."
"I'm calling about the criminal bill. . . . You know, we tried to get this through last year and we didn't have your support on it. The attorney general, we met with him. He was talking about truth-in-sentencing the 16- and 17-year-olds and we didn't get your support on it. I can't figure out why."
Governor J. Fife Symington III counterpunched in his familiar drone: "Actually, I think that's incorrect in terms of where everybody was in the last session. . . . We want to keep crime away from the door."
"Bill" quickly got in another jab when Symington finished.
"Governor, I appreciate the rhetoric," the caller said, his drawl mysteriously slipping away as he continued. "But I wish you would have helped us last time along when I think we had a bill that was very viable. . . . And we just could not as Republicans get your support on it."
It appeared a fairly testy, but forgettable, exchange between a governor and an aggrieved, but surprisingly well-informed, citizen.
But "Bill" wasn't who or what he said he was.
If numerous sources contacted by New Times are correct, the caller was Steve Tseffos, official spokesman for Attorney General Grant Woods.
Tseffos, however, denied knowing the caller's identity after New Times played him the first part of the KTAR tape.
"You're saying you don't know who the person is on that tape?" Tseffos was asked.
"I don't have any further comment," Tseffos replied, terminating the brief interview.
The deception gives Symington new ammunition in his simmering feud with Woods, a publicly played-out battle that has given local columnists plenty to chortle about for more than a year.
Ironically, Symington and Woods had made a stab at kissing and making up the same week that spokesman Tseffos lied to Symington and thousands of radio listeners.
The supposed reconciliation came after a year of bickering marked by serious differences of opinion among the pair about Indian gambling, proposed changes in the Arizona Criminal Code and, naturally, about the propriety of the financially troubled Symington's campaign loans from his family.
In one episode, Woods blasted Symington's veto of legislatively mandated changes in the state's Criminal Code--which the attorney general and his minions had strongly endorsed.
"If you want to play politics and pander to the right, then I can understand it," Woods said of fellow Republican Symington, for whom he campaigned in 1990.
Woods pointed out that the vetoed Criminal Code was not as "soft" on crime as Symington had been saying. For example, Woods said, revised laws would have meant mandatory prison terms for white-collar criminals convicted of stealing more than $100,000.
Symington partisans saw that as a thinly veiled reference to a $197 million civil lawsuit brought by the Resolution Trust Corporation against the governor and other ex-directors of Southwest Savings and Loan for blatant self-dealing. (Symington hasn't been charged with criminal offenses and continues to deny wrongdoing in the Southwest Savings affair.)
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
A former newspaper reporter, Tseffos signed on with Woods before the hard-fought 1990 primary race against Steve Twist. He has a reputation as a loyal and effective soldier in the ambitious Mesa Republican's army, a man known to berate media types for real and perceived reporting gaffes concerning his boss.
Symington spokesman Doug Cole didn't return telephone calls to New Times seeking comment. Sources inside the governor's office say there is an unwritten--but strictly enforced--policy not to respond to the paper because of previous New Times stories critical of Symington.
And what does Grant Woods have to say about his spokesman's telephone call?
There's no telling--instead of from Woods, the official response to Tseffos' call comes from first assistant attorney general Rob Carey, who says he hasn't asked Tseffos anything about the call and doesn't plan to.
"We have a lot of things going on here that are more pressing than whether Steve called to give his opinion under a false name," Carey says. "If he did do it, he'd have been in just as much trouble if he had given his own name.