Before September 11, there were seven of them. Seven candidates standing for major office who, at age 45 or younger, were a collective statement about the turnover in Arizona's political power.

There probably never had been so many youngsters clamoring to run the state before. And the sudden swarm of campaign signs from yuppies seemed like either a fabulous promise or a quiet death.

Here were seven reasons to believe at last that the era of Evan Mecham and his raving, graying followers could be over. Here also were seven reasons to wonder whether there could possibly emerge from among these pallid novices the strong national leaders and staunch pillars of respectability that Carl Hayden, Barry Goldwater, and Mo Udall have turned out to be.

After September 11, when all the votes from the primary election had been tallied, there still were five. Only Steve Twist, the forty-year-old protege of Bob Corbin, and David Eisenstein, the 38-year-old, Mecham-endorsed Republican, had been eliminated from the attorney general's race. They had succumbed to someone even younger, 36-year-old Grant Woods.

In every one of the races where it was truly young against old, youth won out every time.

Forty-one-year-old Georgia Staton defeated veteran attorney Dick Segal in the Democratic primary for attorney general. Fife Symington, who is 45, won out over Sam Steiger, Fred Koory, Ev Mecham, and Bob Barnes as the Republican choice for governor; Terry Goddard, the Democratic candidate who is so perennially fresh-faced that he seems younger than 43, crushed Dave Moss. Dick Mahoney, 39 and an altogether unconventional contender in the Democratic primary for secretary of state, beat the plodding incumbent Jim Shumway in a runaway upset that may have been the primary's biggest surprise.

Suddenly it was clear that the new wave of political influence in Arizona will not be replacing the old guard gradually. In fact, if Mahoney defeats Republican challenger Ray Rottas, the top three positions in the state will commence to be governed by the heirs apparent when the voting booths close on November 6.

Maybe it has happened this way as a mandate from the voters. After the public humiliation of the Mecham administration, after the terrifying spectacle of watching him try to steer his wildly smoking political vehicle toward the capitol again, perhaps nothing would do except for something completely different--a political landscape that is not only better educated and less idiotic, but simply new.

Maybe it also had something to do with sheer demographics. Arizona capitulates only reluctantly to trends, but even it could not hold out forever against the numerical onslaught of the baby boomers.

Whatever the reason is, a new political age is upon us. We are about to be lead by the Sixties kids, the generation that was once intent upon changing the world.

WHAT EVERYONE REMEMBERS best about the most visible Sixties kids is that they majored in college in the tools of anarchy--that they knew all about tear gas and smoking dope, commandeering administration buildings, melees with police, communal sex, and streaking their own blood onto university walls. ("Lenin won, Fidel won, we will win!" wrote the kids who rioted at Columbia, in literally blood-red letters.)

What the world tends to assume is that nothing mattered more to them than forcing the calcified Establishment to rethink America's involvement in the Vietnam War, and the senseless way it was treating minorities, the earth and finally, even women.

Many onlookers thought at the time, and still think, that there was nothing magical about any of this, notwithstanding the fact that Woodstock has already been written down in the annals of myth. These parents and observers were relieved that not every kid became a Sixties kid, and that even the ones who did cooled down in the Seventies. By the Eighties, large numbers of Sixties kids were piloting cars with prominent hood ornaments into spacious garages, and many critics sighed with relief and comforted themselves that everything was nearly back to normal. Many others, the lovers of the Sixties, have thought that the bygone era was a miracle of human development, and that it has been largely lost. Although they hope not. They hope that the ideals of harmony and human rights it stood for are burning still in an abundant number of hearts. They hope that the only thing the Sixties kids have really given up is the violence. They hope that, as the Sixties kids come to prominence, they will lead the world in a new way.

And will they? There's no one answer, not for the world and not for Arizona. This is a pretty complex thing, after all, the ferreting out of the major values of a new generation of leaders. There are lots of little answers, though. A few of them are noted here.

KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Deborah Laake