Alfredo Gutierrez is one of Arizona's greatest living statesmen.
In contrast, Janet Napolitano, his rival in the Democratic primary for governor, has a nice résumé.
Gutierrez grew up in the Mexican-American shantytowns of the mines around Globe, an experience that forged his resolve to dedicate his life to fighting for fair play for all Arizonans.
At Arizona State University, he became the eloquent and effective leader of student protests. He was so effective, in fact, that the administration created bizarre student-code-of-conduct rules specifically designed to get him expelled.
So he moved on to become a trusted lieutenant of civil-rights legend Cesar Chávez.
He was Arizona's youngest-ever member of the state Senate when he was elected in 1972, and in 1974, he became the nation's youngest state legislative majority leader. In his 14 years in the Legislature, he wrestled into law many of the state's most progressive, and just, pieces of legislation. He helped create the state's indigent health care program. He was integral in rewriting state laws regarding the use of groundwater. And without him, departments such as the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality and the Department of Water Resources probably would not exist.
He is also so courageous, and so street savvy, that he once talked a group of Valley gangbangers out of assassinating a county prosecutor. He simply sat down with the guys in a park in the mid-'70s and explained that killing prosecutors usually gets you executed. Gutierrez made sense, and a prosecutor was saved.
Indeed, in the 35 years since he left ASU, he arguably is the one Arizonan who has best lived the noble public life envisioned by the genuine reformers of the '60s.
Gutierrez is now vying to lead this state. And he is the only candidate seriously discussing the painful remedies needed to save Arizona from a decade of incompetent and morally bankrupt leadership.
He's the only legitimate candidate, left or right, for example, who is proposing specific steps for closing the gaping tax loopholes that have given huge breaks to select businesses while crippling the state's ability to pay for needed programs.
In fact, he is the only candidate, Democratic or Republican, who seems willing to do something other than maintain the corrosive path of business as usual.
In him, Arizonans have a leader who has proved himself courageous enough to tackle any problem.
This is why it's so infuriating to watch Janet Napolitano, the poster blob for milquetoast party apparatchiks, waltz her way, with party anointment, to the Democratic nomination for governor.
Let's be blunt here: Janet Napolitano has been noteworthy as the state's attorney general only for her keen ability to strategically avoid being noteworthy. She has proved herself to be the master of non-commitment and non-engagement.
As attorney general, and earlier as the region's U.S. attorney, she has methodically avoided pursuing important but difficult and potentially controversial state cases. In place of courage, she has created façades of courage that merely mask easy political expedients. So her paramount message as attorney general has been, basically, "It is bad to hurt children."
I'm going to go out on a limb here: I think it's wrong to blow up World Trade Centers. Are you with me?
And just try to imagine Napolitano going to a Valley park and confronting a group of known killers about their plan to assassinate a prosecutor.
Sadly, though, Janet Napolitano is exactly what the Democratic leadership in this state wants. She has been anointed simply because Democrats are sick of watching the state's twerpiest and most venal Republicans win all the state races.
In her race for attorney general, Napolitano proved she can win the center.
It doesn't matter to the state's top Democrats that she won the center by acting like a neutered Republican.
The Democratic leadership knows that the center is theirs once Matt Salmon wins the Republican nomination because they know he will inevitably show his far-right colors. I'm guessing he'll blow it by showing up on some TBN talk show howling tent-show gibberish about Devil Democrats and the coming Apocalypse.
The Democrats can smell blood. But they've dropped their moral compass running for the kill.
So they've dropped Alfredo Gutierrez.
Which is wrong, both ethically and strategically. Gutierrez is the only candidate who can energize the state's large base of non-voting and newly transplanted Democrats. And I'd argue that the center will run screaming from Matt Salmon no matter who the Democratic candidate is.
The Democratic leadership might as well support the good candidate.
But Napolitano is their choice. And the Republic and Tribune seem to be playing along.
That's why it's time for some genuine, old-time Democratic grassroots power-to-the-people politics.
It's time for rank-and-file Arizona Democrats to shake their apathy and make Alfredo Gutierrez the party's candidate for governor.
Although the dailies imply otherwise, and the last poll showed Gutierrez trailing by almost a four-to-one margin, the numbers are far from hopeless for Gutierrez.
In the time since the most recent polling last month, Gutierrez has, like only he can, energized the Hispanic community and many rural communities in the state. And although he was behind, an unusually high number of voters was undecided.
It's estimated that about 150,000 Democrats will vote in the primary.
Perhaps 10,000 votes will go to second-tier candidates.
So Gutierrez needs 70,001 votes.
History and recent polls suggest there's good reason to believe that Gutierrez may have as much as 80 percent of the state's Hispanic vote, which could give him perhaps 35,000 votes.
He probably already has another 10,000.
Plus, as many as 45,000 Democrats are still undecided. And a large majority of registered Democratic voters have passed on early voting, suggesting that they may be waiting to make their decision closer to election day on September 10.
If this is true -- if Gutierrez could pull perhaps 60 percent of the undecided Democratic vote on election day -- he could steal the nomination away from the party leadership's anointed candidate.
For the good of the state, for the good of the marketplace of ideas, for the pleasure of seeing worthy people succeed, I hope Democratic voters make it happen.
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