IN MO'S FOOTSTEPSTHREE DEMS SPRINT THE QUIET RACE TO FILL UDALL'S SHOES
Mo Udall ended more than his own Congressional career when he retired this spring, conceding at long last to the withering disease that has dogged his footsteps for so long. As Udall stepped down, Arizona slipped from pre-eminence to oblivion in the pecking order of the U.S. House of Representatives.
The effect of this transformation, remote though it may seem to someone waiting for the 5 p.m. bus at Central and Thomas, would be hard to overstate. Federal subsidies, such as those that made the Central Arizona Project possible, are only the most obvious means by which Udall protected his beloved home state. For three decades, Mo, the consummate saddle-bred statesman, carefully wrapped Arizona in a safety net of grants, loans and subsidies even as he preserved its illusion of Western self-reliance.
The election of Udall's successor to Congressional District 2 is as important to voters here as in Tucson, the traditional seat of the district. Udall's district actually takes in a big chunk of the Phoenix-metropolitan area because, in the last federal reapportionment, the state's Republican majority sculpted the boundaries of his district to include as many Maricopa County Democrats as possible.
The Republicans packed so many Democrats into Mo's district, in fact, that the only relevant race for his seat is the Democratic primary, scheduled for August 13. And of the five Democrats running, only three--Maricopa County Supervisor Ed Pastor, Tucson Mayor Tom Volgy and possibly Tucson abortion-rights activist Virginia Yrun--are expected to tally more than three digits on the state's election computers.
A person, especially in the heat of an August afternoon, might easily overlook this race. Indeed, it has been all but overlooked by most of Phoenix's major media, which have devoted far more attention to the battles over potential new Congressional seats than to the competition to fill this existing one.
Despite the Democratic odds, the race carries symbolic importance far beyond district boundaries, maintains Mo Udall's brother Stewart. Mo himself transcended such limitations to become a statesman of national stature. "Serving constituents is one function, but there are those who become U.S. Congressmen, in the sense of serving the whole nation, by taking a broad MD120 Col 1, Depth P54.04 I9.06 interest in the larger issues," says Stewart, who preceded Mo in Congress and left to become President John F. Kennedy's secretary of the Interior.
Mo Udall, still confined to a VA convalescent home in the Washington, D.C., area after breaking his hip last fall, left no hand-picked successor on the Arizona political scene. But he left a legacy by which voters can measure the race's ten candidates, says his brother.
"That is a large order to ask of these young people running for his seat, and I wouldn't want to build expectations that they could accomplish what he did, in the short run," Stewart comments. "But in outlook and ability, certainly, I would want to see this in his successor."
FROM HIS EARLIEST DAYS in Congress--long before seniority enlarged his influence--Mo Udall stood out because of his ideals and his integrity. "Mo was certainly one of the strongest environmental voices in Congress," notes Stewart Udall. "He was also a reformer, especially back in the Fifties and Sixties before his [Parkinson's disease] began to slow him down."
"Mo wanted to make the political system work better," Stewart explains. "He spoke up on the financing of political campaigns, for instance. His position was to have more public financing so there could be less domination by special interests."
Of the three front-running Democrats, only Tom Volgy has picked up Udall's cry for campaign-finance reform, crusading against "the river of money" he blames for perverting the Democratic process into a game for special interests. To make his point, Volgy has voluntarily imposed a spending cap of $1.25 per Democratic voter on himself in the primary and is refusing to take money from political action committees (PACs).
He needled the other candidates to do so as well, reaping points in the voters' eyes when none did. His opponents, however, needled back, pointing out that he hasn't ruled out taking PAC money in the future. Volgy denies he is waffling.
"If you limit the amount of money a candidate can raise, you automatically limit the power of the PACs because that's where most of the money is coming from," Volgy reasons. "PACs were originally supposed to be a tool of reform, and there's nothing inherently wrong with them, but they've been corrupted by the river of money."
Col 3, Depth P54.02 I9.03 United States destitute and without knowing a word of English. He recounts a childhood of grinding urban poverty, but managed to earn a Ph.D. and now teaches international politics at the University of Arizona.
With Volgy's self-imposed financial limits, his campaign strategy depends on activating an extensive network of grassroots support developed during 14 years as an activist in Tucson's funky, university-area neighborhoods. He doesn't plan to do any TV advertising, and only a little radio advertising in areas where his name recognition is low.
Volgy, despite his expertise in foreign affairs, goes out of his way to emphasize his ideas on economic development, civil rights and other topics reflecting the voters' introspective mood.
Pastor, on the other hand, runs counter to the usual fate of Democrats and Hispanics in this state--he is the campaign's top fund raiser. He is liked and trusted by conservatives, so much so that he has raised around $200,000--substantial portions of it from Republicans--and won the endorsement of the Arizona Republic. Pastor, who says he hopes to raise a quarter of a million dollars, is running both a down-home, hand-shaking campaign and an expensive media blitz crafted by First Tuesday, the Phoenix political consultants.
The son of a Hispanic copper miner from the eastern Arizona mining town of Claypool, Pastor was a poor boy who bootstrapped his way up through hard work and the public-education system, eventually earning bachelor's and law degrees from Arizona State University. But the same is essentially true for Volgy, who punches home the point with his campaign slogan, "It's time to make the American dream the American agenda."
Neither, however, seems to embody Udall's twin gifts for personal warmth and ideological brilliance. "If Volgy is elected, he will be great on policy," says Janet Napolitano, a Phoenix Democrat and party leader who considered running for Mo's seat herself. "If Ed goes back there, the district will have great constituent services."
VIRGINIA ("GINGER") YRUN, whose slick, well-orchestrated campaign has startled her opponents and sent her stock soaring in recent polls, defies stereotypes to an even greater degree than either Pastor or Volgy. She describes herself as a local kid who Yrun, though coming from a staunch Democratic family, has switched party registration more than once, most recently changing back to Democrat three weeks before announcing her candidacy in June. She claims she was always a Democrat at heart, and her campaign manager Tim Dickson says she only switched to Republican "to vote against right-wing, anti-choice extremists." Yet Yrun's polish and patrician manner, and her expensive, glossy campaign literature resonate more with Republican cachet than the Democrats' usual tweedy appeal. And there is little in her background to confirm Yrun's claim that she shares the experience most Arizona Hispanics have lived.
Both of her parents were professional people, not laborers. When Yrun was graduated from college with a degree in education, at a time when gifted minority students--including Ed Pastor--were flocking to the ghettos to fight poverty, she took a teaching position at the most exclusive private school in Tucson.
Yrun now resides in the predominantly white, wealthy foothills area of northeast Tucson, outside Udall's Congressional district with its large populations of low-income and minority residents. (There is no requirement that candidates for Congress live in the district they want to represent, at least until they are elected.)
Yrun, in fact, is a downright baffling quantity to many political observers, as is her motivation for entering the race after four other Democrats had announced their intention to run. "Her nickname in Phoenix is `Why run?'," snipes a Phoenix attorney active in Democratic politics. "She's a long shot MD120and she knows it, but this could be a way to get her name known and set herself up to run for something else in the future, or maybe a national spot with Planned Parenthood."
Yrun says she is running for Congress because "I thought I could do a better job than the other people running. I think people in the district and throughout the state are tired of politics as usual, and I am definitely not a career politician."
Attempts to probe beneath Yrun's graceful surface, however, are often met with a polite opacity. For instance, asked how she evolved from the rabidly anti-abortion Catholic Church to become an abortion-rights activist, Yrun says she never experienced a conflict between the two.
She credits the nuns with teaching her leadership skills and encouraging independent thinking, a claim that lifts eyebrows among many people familiar with the Catholic education system.
TOM VOLGY'S QUEST for Congress stems partly from his love of issues, partly from his desire to fulfill his immigrant parents' dreams for him, he says. But it also is rooted in his frustration as a municipal official. "As mayor I see the impact of what the feds do very directly," Volgy says. "Since 1980 the cities have been abandoned by the federal government. They literally told us, `Good luck, you're on your own' to solve problems like the homeless, unemployment and decaying infrastructure."
Volgy is at his best, and most eloquent, when he discusses issues. His voice, whether he is facing a roomful of hostile developers or a friendly luncheon crowd, is laden with persuasive nuances. Yet he remains a political maverick after 14 years on the Tucson City Council, distrusted by old-line Democrats and the business establishment alike.
Phoenix Democrats compare him to former Phoenix Mayor Terry Goddard. "He's low on gratitude to people who've helped him; he's just not a people person," says one.
Volgy, however, has been enormously popular with Tucson voters. He entered politics as a neighborhood activist, at a time when developers dominated the city's leadership. Since then, Volgy has built strong support among the city's Hispanics, clustered on the city's south and west sides, while remaining popular with homeowner groups around the university where he still lives.
programs benefiting minorities.
"Ed votes right and supports the fundamental environmental issues, even when there's significant political pressure not to," Carpenter notes. Pastor, however, was silent during the long debate over the ENSCO hazardous-waste facility, which would have been built in his district, eroding potential support among environmentalists. Volgy outstripped both Pastor and Yrun to win the influential Sierra Club endorsement--an important signal to the district's environment-conscious electorate.
Despite Pastor's generally spotless record of constituent service, even supporters are hard-pressed to identify a single larger issue on which he took the lead during his years in public office. And early canvassing showed his name recognition was low not only in Tucson and southern Arizona, but in Phoenix as well.
Asked why he wants to be in Congress, Pastor describes it in terms of a career move. "I decided to run when Mo announced he would not seek re-election in 1992, so it's something I've been planning for a long time," Pastor says. "Sixteen years at the county is long enough, I felt. But I still enjoy doing constituent work, and I hope to continue serving my constituents at the federal level."
Pastor attributes his name-I.D. problems to his quiet, consensus-building style and to the political realities of being the only Democrat in a sea of Republicans for so many years prior to Carpenter's election.
"I've never been a guy seeking headlines," he says. "I never got into partisan mudslinging, never publicly disgraced or discredited any of my [Republican] colleagues. It would've made headlines if I had, but what would have happened the next time my constituents needed something?"
Pastor's longtime Phoenix residency is also a disadvantage south of the Gila River, where most of the district's voters live. But he believes it's a problem he can overcome. "People mention it, for sure, but once they've met me, it goes away as a problem," he says. "One of the things that was said of me when I retired from the county was that I have integrity. Carole Carpenter said, `Ed's door is always open, you can always talk to him. And once he gives you his word, it's as good as gold.'"
The Arizona Farm Bureau, a group traditionally dominated by conservative only in southern Arizona, but also throughout the state.
Get the ICYMI: Today's Top Stories Newsletter
Catch up on the day's news and stay informed with our daily digest of the most popular news, music, food and arts stories in Phoenix, delivered to your inbox Monday through Friday.