Donald Trump v. Ted Cruz Battle over Arizona Delegates Pales Next to State Republican Party Feud

Right-wing gremlin A.J. LaFaro, ready to take another crack at censuring AZ GOP chair Robert Graham.EXPAND
Right-wing gremlin A.J. LaFaro, ready to take another crack at censuring AZ GOP chair Robert Graham.
Stephen Lemons

One of the many bouts of culture shock I endured during the years I lived in New York City was watching two grown men get into a fist fight over a dime lying on the sidewalk near the building where I worked.

They both reached for it about the same time, and this being what passed for machismo on the mean streets of Gotham, neither would yield, so they began going at it.

I was on my morning break, and like the rest of humanity on Broadway at that hour, enjoying the free entertainment.

The smaller man somehow gained possession of the dime, ran to the corner, jumped in a cab, and was off with his prize, leaving his rival looking pathetic and plainly unsatisfied.

After all, it was the fight the guy wanted, not the dime.

This anecdote comes to mind whenever the Arizona Republican Party prepares for another meeting, and along with it, the inevitable donnybrooks, kvetching, and pettiness that plays so rough.

Don’t get me wrong: As with the head-splattering violence in HBO’s Game of Thrones, I never miss an episode of this local Republican rumble.

The next spitball-fest is scheduled for April 30 at the Mesa Convention Center, where 1,251 delegates elected from across the state will meet for the Arizona Republican State Convention. 

There, the state party will elect 55 delegates to represent Arizona this July at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, with its anticipated riots, tear gas, and general repeat of the Democrats’ disastrous 1968 convention in Chicago.

Graham at the January AZ GOP meeting: He seriously is considering a run to replace current Republican National Committee chair Reince Priebus.EXPAND
Graham at the January AZ GOP meeting: He seriously is considering a run to replace current Republican National Committee chair Reince Priebus.
Stephen Lemons

In addition to these 55 delegates, AZ GOP Chairman Robert Graham, along with current Republican National Committeeman Bruce Ash and Committeewoman Sharon Giese, are bound by law to vote for billionaire bloviator Donald Trump on the first ballot.

That’s because Trump handily won Arizona’s winner- take-all Republican presidential preference election in March.

However, if Trump cannot clinch the nomination with a majority of delegates on that first ballot, then delegates are free to vote for whomever they want on the second.

Surrogates for Trump and his nemesis, Texas U.S. Senator Ted Cruz, have been scrambling to ensure that these delegates commit to their respective candidate for any subsequent ballots.
Arizona Treasurer Jeff DeWit is Trump’s man in Sand Land — his state campaign chair.

DeWit’s called shenanigans on slithery Arizona GOP operative Constantin Querard, who reportedly is doing the bidding of Canadian-born pol Cruz.

Bottom line: The state GOP’s 58 delegates could be unchained on the second ballot, unless Querard can get them to swear unholy allegiance to Beelzebubba, er, I mean maple leaf-boy.

Which is why Graham recently told a national news outlet that Arizona is “still in play” vis-a-vis its delegates, though the affable chairman has claimed neutrality and insists that he is not shilling for Cruz or Trump.

The ongoing guerrilla war between Trump and Cruz aside, local, far-right GOPers again are unsheathing their long knives for Graham, elected to his position in 2013 with support both from the “moderate” and “moonhowler” factions of the state Rs.

Arizona Treasurer Jeff DeWit, Donald Trump's man in Sand Land.
Arizona Treasurer Jeff DeWit, Donald Trump's man in Sand Land.
Stephen Lemons

During the state party’s big January 2016 meeting, despite Graham’s boasting support from wing-nutty pols like Congressman Trent Franks and having raised beaucoup bucks for the last election cycle, a conservative faction led by former Maricopa County GOP chair A.J. LaFaro went on a headhunting expedition, seeking both to censure Graham and to pass an “anybody but McCain” resolution, dissing the re-election efforts of Arizona’s senior U.S. Senator John McCain.

Anticipating this, the state party brought in a ringer as a parliamentarian, who killed the resolutions on technicalities before they got to a vote.

But LaFaro, a guy famous for calling GOPer and former Governor Jan Brewer a “Judas,” is not a man easily tramped down, so he’ll be at the upcoming April 30 meeting, trying to gather enough signatures from attendees to put a censure of Graham to a vote of the state delegates.

To achieve this, LaFaro and his minions will have to gather John Hancocks from 20 percent of those present to move the resolution to the floor.

The language of the censure is broad, calling Graham “one of the worst Party [chairmen] the AZ GOP has ever endured,” accusing him of violating Arizona law, and alleging “dictatorial actions” on his part.

Graham also gets dinged for his “constant intimidation, bullying, overreach, and unilateral policies” in the proposed resolution, which demands Graham’s “immediate resignation.”

LaFaro, who spoke to me for this column, says he and his people “got screwed” in January by the parliamentarian. So they’re going for a second bite of Graham’s fanny.

Constantin Querard (who else?) reps Ted Cruz in AZ.
Constantin Querard (who else?) reps Ted Cruz in AZ.
New Times File Photo

The feisty ideologue says his goal is to force Graham’s resignation. He admits that he’s motivated by personal animus.

“Don’t like him,” LaFaro says of Graham. “Don’t like what he’s done for the past four years, and there’s a large group of us [who oppose him].”

For LaFaro and his associates, Graham is part of the RiNO (Republican in Name Only) establishment, which is controlled by the “McCain mafia,” as it’s called in some circles.

Interestingly, things that may seem relatively minuscule to outsiders garner a malevolent tinge when viewed through the glasses of Graham’s critics.

Take the $50 ticket to attend the state convention, and the estimated $4,000 that prospective delegates to the Cleveland convention may have to spend for food, lodging, and travel.

Squawking over the $50 fee has reached a fever pitch on various right-wing blogs and newsletters. In his proposed censure of Graham, LaFaro refers to it as an “unconstitutional” poll tax.

LaFaro asserts that the $50 fee is illegal under the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1996 decision Morse v. Republican Party of Virginia, which held that a similar fee had to be submitted for pre-clearance under the Voting Rights Act.

(Irony alert: most modern-day Rs are not fans of the VRA, much less the concept of pre-clearance.)

But the AZ GOP insists that case does not apply to its fee and that the $50 ticket basically is a donation to defray the cost of renting out the Mesa Convention Center.

Those purchasing a ticket also get a $10 food voucher for the day, according to the AZ GOP website.

In the $50 fee, some perceive a sinister plot to keep the anti-McCain, anti-Graham forces from being at the state convention. Not all Rs agree.

Prominent local GOP blogger Barbara Espinosa – fan of neither LaFaro nor Graham – wrote an April 1 post saying the whiners should “be ashamed of themselves” and should “pony up and quit bitching” about the $50.

What about the $4K to go to Cleveland?

According to AZ GOP spokesman Tim Sifert, the $4,000 estimate that delegates to Cleveland may be out of pocket is just that: an estimate. Though $1,000 of the $4K is a fee mandated by the state party for the various outings and events it’s organizing.

The estimate started out as $2,500, but has been bumped up as interest in the GOP primary has skyrocketed, Sifert tells me.

He compared it to a Super Bowl with two really good teams squaring off.

Sifert referred me to a link to the California GOP, which estimates that a delegate will have to pay “between $3,000-$6,000” out of pocket for the privilege of participating in Cleveland. That estimate includes a “$900 participation charge.”

The spectacle of all of these AZ tuskers playing poor mouth makes you wonder if they might be in the wrong party.

Sure, as Rs, they worship rich folks, but they seem to want some good ol’ Democrat welfare when it comes to paying their way.

They might be interested to know that, according to Barbara Lubin, spokeswoman for the Arizona Democratic Party, attendance at its local state convention this year was freer than a sucker-punch at a Trump rally.

Yet Lubin says the Dems have told delegates to its national convention in Philadelphia that they may be out of pocket as much as $3,000 on the high end.

See, GOPers, there ain’t no free lunch, not even for the Bernie Sanders-socialist crowd.

On the other hand, Dems do make for cheaper dates, if Arizona Rs want to turn in their elephant plushies for stuffed donkeys.


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