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Arizona Democrats' Defeat Dissected and Why the Party Needs to Bust Out a Guillotine or Two

All's forgiven, Terry, if you'll just get Arpaio indicted before you exit office.
Stephen Lemons

NEAR BEER
The only thing lame duck Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard could do to redeem himself from his painful-to-watch, failed run at becoming this state's CEO is call a news conference announcing the indictments of Sheriff Joe Arpaio and the entire MCSO command staff.

Barring the unlikely occurrence of Goddard indicting Maricopa County's (for the moment) Teflon Don, Goddard should take a cue from Dave Chappelle's career arc and fall off the face of the planet once his term's done in January.

Sure, Goddard was doomed. But it wasn't Arizona Senate Bill 1070 that doomed him, or Governor Jan Brewer's signing of that vicious breathing-while-brown statute. No, Goddard, and his fellow Democrats, doomed themselves. They ceded the entire immigration debate — the only one that mattered, sadly — to the Republicans, without ever attempting to do otherwise.

In fact, Democratic candidates and their flacks were encouraged to avoid the dreaded term "SB 1070" altogether, as if it invoked the Devil himself.

They were advised by internal pollsters, focus group gurus, and party hacks to talk "tough" on the border or even, as in the case of quisling Dem Jon Hulburd, embrace it and ignore the stench of nativism sticking to them.

Hulburd, who went as far to the right as possible in conservative Congressional District 3, was still bested by 11 points by the much-maligned Ben Quayle. In CD5, Democratic Representative Harry Mitchell, who also cozied up to nativism and 1070, was undone by his foil, David Schweikert.

What better evidence do you need that between heroin cut with powdered Pedialyte and the real deal, the customer will always opt for the latter?

Congresswoman Ann Kirkpatrick in CD1? She, too, copped a Republican-lite line on immigration and was whupped by Paul Gosar, a wingnut ivory-puller. Only Representative Gabby Giffords in CD8 mimicked a tusker and pulled it off. Nevertheless, insane-in-the-membrane Tea Partier Jesse Kelly nearly engineered an upset.

Democratic rationalizers will throw CD7's Congressman Raul Grijalva at me, in riposte. Yeah, his Republican nobody-foe Ruth McClung came too close for comfort, but Grijalva still topped her by five points. By the end, he had to apologize for backing the boycott over 1070, but he didn't back off his opposition to the law itself.

There are other issues here in Sand Land, but immigration and the poisonous combo of nativism and xenophobia are the dominant factors, unavoidable in our prickly needle patch.

Dems were clueless as to how to respond to 1070, because for so long they have taught themselves to betray their beliefs and hide beneath a thick duvet of false moderation.

Goddard, for instance, waffled from jump, first finding 1070 "troubling," then whining because mean ol' Jan Brewer wouldn't let him defend it in court. He even blasted the federal government for suing over 1070, though he knew (secretly) it was the right thing for the U.S. Department of Justice to do.

Supporters defend Goddard, claiming he had no choice, that as AG he was duty-bound to protect 1070 like a mama hen guarding her newly hatched chicks.

If that was his only excuse, Goddard should have resigned his office, denounced 1070 and the governor for signing it, and exposed the law as an unconstitutional boondoggle benefiting the Snell & Wilmer lawyers hired to defend it, the private prison industry, and merchants of hate, such as state Senate President-elect Russell Pearce.

I won't argue against 1070's popularity in Arizona, but the GOP's nativist battering ram wasn't constructed in a fortnight.

Some — like yours truly — were ringing the tocsin at the beginning of 2010, as Pearce set 1070 in motion. Too many Dems, however, were turning tail, concocting alibis, avoiding public statements.

So when Goddard gave his concession at the Wyndham Phoenix on Election Night, I was startled to hear him utter the following:

"This state that we love is not, has never been, and must not become a place of hatred and racial unrest. We must resoundingly reject Russell Pearce and those that would make our great state a poster child for racial discord in this nation. We cannot allow that to happen to Arizona."

It was raw flesh to the party faithful present, stuff they'd wanted to hear Goddard emphasize during the campaign.

If he had, perhaps he wouldn't have garnered around 70,000 fewer votes than Democratic Attorney General hopeful Felecia Rotellini.

Rotellini, too, adopted a near-beer attitude toward 1070 in the general election, as her rival Tom Horne painted himself as Mr. 1070, Mr. Ethnic Studies Ban, and Mr. Anti-Amnesty.

Her stance didn't get her past Horne, but she fared better than Goddard did against his opponent. Brewer's spread, at last count, was more than 200,000 votes. Whereas Horne crept past Rotellini with around 60,000. (Early ballots and provisionals were still being counted as this column went to press.)

 

With Horne-Rotellini, voters went for the Canadian Moosehead rather than the O'Doul's. But unlike Goddard, Rotellini brought passion and a thrill for the one-two punch to her game. She upped her name recognition, and earned a rep. Not bad for a first run at elective office.

HEAD ROLL
We've been down this desolate road before, of course. Remember 2008, when a Barack Obama-led Democratic wave swept across the land?

Arizona Democratic leaders had talked up the possibility of taking back the state House in '08, why, maybe even the state Senate. Instead, the local donkey-kongs, true to form, lost seats in the Legislature.

Though the congressional delegation boasted a majority of Ds, and the Dems picked up a couple of Arizona Corporation Commission seats, Governor Janet Napolitano already had her Samsonite packed for D.C., leaving Arizona with the reptilian Jan Brewer in her place and the Republinuts firmly in control.

Ticked, the Democratic base revolted at the state party meeting in January 2009.

Chairman Don Bivens, though acknowledged by all as a fine fundraiser, was replaced by Tucson politico Paul Eckerstrom after Eckerstrom threw his name in at the last minute and gave a barn-burning speech promising a unified message and a contest in every legislative district. Dems rewarded him with the party's crown.

Two weeks later, to the disappointment of all but cynical insiders (and Republicans), Eckerstrom resigned his post, citing family issues. I've always believed the rumors that party muckamucks forced him out, though Eckerstrom denied such rumors at the time.

Bivens was voted back in, but his executive director, Maria Weeg, was cut loose as a sop to the Dems with pitchforks. Former Grijalva staffer Luis Heredia eventually eased into Weeg's seat.

This backstory was uppermost in my skull when I spotted Bivens in the ballroom of the Wyndham on Election Night. I told him that 2010 was like déjà vu all over again.

He wondered what I meant. Two years ago was oh-so-different, he insisted, what with a gain in the congressional delegation — specifically Ann Kirkpatrick's 2008 win, now returned as a loss in '10.

What about the Legislature, I wondered, with the GOP picking up seats, again, and Russell Pearce hovering, buzzard-like?

"Oh, Steve, nothing's changed there in 40 years," he pooh-poohed. "When's the last time Democrats won the Legislature? Under this districting plan, as it exists right now, it is not possible, whether it was year one or year 10, for the Democrats to have a majority in either the Senate or the House. Our hope is in the new redistricting plan."

Maybe, but what I'd just heard — amazingly — was the chairman of the state Democratic Party conceding the Legislature to the Republicans.

Having majorities in both houses would be difficult to achieve, but at least the Dems could shrink the gap, making it harder for GOP crazies like Pearce and his ilk to pass insane laws like 1070 — a law that became a litmus test for the entire freaking election and every candidate in it.

Bivens also gave me some blather about reaching his hand out to the tuskers. Thing is, Don, with a Republican supermajority in place, the Dems are now as insignificant as the team that always plays the Harlem Globetrotters and loses. Um, or the Suns.

Days later, executive director Heredia sent an e-mail to the party's precinct committeepersons providing talking points that largely mirrored what Bivens had told me: We couldn't help it, it was a Republican year; the Dems haven't taken the Legislature in 40 years; the only statewide seat the GOP picked up was the AG's Office; and on and on.

(History lesson: Democrat Pete Rios was state Senate president from 1991-92, when Dems controlled the upper house. In 2000, the Senate was split 15-15, and moderate GOPer Randall Gnant was Senate president.)

Bivens had to concede to me that the Dems had no unified position on immigration. So, what if we're back here two years from now, having the same lame conversation, with the same tired explanations?

"We won't be," Bivens assured me, Pollyanna-ishly. "On the immigration issue, there's going to be a big push to get the federal government off the dime and do something."

Unfortunately, that push will be coming from the nativist right, not from the pro-immigration faction. Message to Latinos: Prepare to be backstabbed yet again.

 

Granted, under Bivens' leadership, the party raised around $4.2 million this year for state races, according to Dem spokeswoman Jennifer Johnson. That's expected to outpace the state GOP, as Dems have done in the past.

Yet the Dems are not attracting new voters at the rate necessary. The Republicans, who already have an edge on registration, picked up another 12,000 registrants since the end of July, according to the Arizona Secretary of State's Office. The Dems picked up only 1,700. Independents outpaced both at 29,000. But when indies are breaking right, that's hardly a neutral factor. Hell, by 2012, independents may surpass Democratic totals for registration.

Johnson claimed it was a unique situation, attributable to 2010's not being a Democratic year. Okay, but what the heck happened to all the Latino voters whom various groups were claiming to have registered?

If you ask me, Bivens and some other leadership-level Dems are a little too comfortable with their losses. Bivens is a big-shot lawyer with a Paradise Valley address. And he's a partner in the same law firm that's making bank off 1070 — Snell & Wilmer, the mega-firm hired by Brewer to defend Pearce's bigoted legislation in federal court.

Should Bivens take the fall for the Dems' debacle? Only if someone of substance is willing to take his place and stick to it. No flakes this time. (Two names I hear being floated as Bivens' possible replacement, Jon Hulburd and state Senator-elect Kyrsten Sinema would be colossal mistakes, but that's a future column.) And if he or she can't pull in the cash like Bivens, well, as far as I can see, all that Democratic loot didn't prevent the Republicans from being victorious, or Pearce from becoming state Senate president.

The Dems need some litmus tests and wedge issues of their own, and some ideological underpinnings. Arizona GOPers enforce ideology by hunting RINOs (Republicans in Name Only) and leaving them headless in the desert.

Sand Land Dems should do likewise to DINOs. Pull out the guillotines and start chopping. At this point, weenies, what have you got to lose?


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