I was raised in North Carolina as a Southern, yellow-dog Democrat, meaning that my FDR-lovin' grandfather would normally rise from the grave and put his ghostly hand bone to my cranium if I even so much as suggested that folks shouldn't vote donkey.
However, after communing with him in the great beyond through my strip mall psychic, my Tar Heel granddaddy's granting me a pass. That is, after I told him all about this "Democrat" named Jon Hulburd.
See, my address puts me square in John Shadegg's soon-to-be-former Congressional District 3, which's currently getting fought over by two rich dudes: Hulburd, the pseudo-Dem who likes dipping into his wife's mega-buck S.C. Johnson-padded bank account for Drano money to spend on his campaign; and Republican Ben "Tater Tot" Quayle, a chip off the old spud, ex-Veep Dan Quayle. (See our October 14 cover story on the race.)
But as somebody who returned home to Raleigh one Christmas to dance on segregationist U.S. Senator Jesse Helms' grave, I can tell you this: If Hulburd were running against the reincarnation of Rasputin in Republican form, I'd be tempted vote for the mad monk's doppelganger.
I could stand Hulburd's insincere outrage over junior Quayle's scribbling for Nik Richie's TheDirty.com under the pseudonym of Boogie Nights character Brock Landers if Hulburd actually tried to stand for some Democratic principles.
But he stands for none that I can sniff out. He unequivocally supports Arizona Senate Bill 1070, has been unwilling to roll back George W. Bush's tax cuts for the über-rich, and, worst of all, would not vote for the DREAM Act, the proposed legislation that would grant children of undocumented immigrants — brought here when they were tykes — the chance to legalize their status if they go to college or serve in the military.
Hulburd's stance on the DREAM Act really sticks in my craw. If a Democratic candidate cannot support the DREAM Act, then why be a Democrat?
Some Dems tell me that Hulburd's faking it, that he has to veer right to beat Quayle and put a D in CD3. After all, the guy once worked for former U.S. senator from Colorado Gary Hart, he of "Monkey Business" infamy. So could Hulburd be that bad? Plus, the donkey-kongs need every Dem they can get, with the U.S. House up for grabs and nearly every Democrat-held congressional seat in Arizona in play.
Hey, I hear y'all. I agree that the lesser of two evils is less evil. Yeah, Quayle's a schmuck. His ad claiming, "Barack Obama is the worst president in history," is one the dumbest political stunts I've seen on the boob tube in any political season. But all Hulburd's got to distinguish himself from Quayle is that he's not Brock Landers, and that ain't good enough.
One last note: Quayle's online, pseudonymic bawdiness is, in this day and age, really no big deal. For all those politically correct Dems crying that Quayle doesn't "respect women" because of his Dirty postings, spare me the drama. You're the same crowd that was so quick to come to the defense of former President Bill Clinton during the Monica Lewinsky scandal.
I think we can all agree that Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard would make a far better governor than Jan "Had Did" Brewer. Indeed, I've always liked Goddard on a personal level. The man is genteel, highly intelligent, and well spoken. Which makes his lack of fight all that more frustrating.
Early on, Goddard seemed to think — or his consultants and campaign advisers plucked from former Governor Janet Napolitano's ranks so wrongly informed him — that he would shimmy into the Governor's Office this year as the rightful heir to Napolitano's middling, do-nothing legacy.
And before the hapless Brewer signed neo-Nazi-hugging state Senator Russell Pearce's SB 1070, this pipe dream may have been grounded in fact. With our state mired in budget woes and ranked as the poorest in the nation (save Mississippi) during Brewer's accidental and ineffectual stewardship, Goddard had his white horse primed to ride to our (ahem) rescue.
But Goddard waited too long to engage Brewer. He should have been on the attack in January, not picking out the color scheme for his new office on the ninth floor of the Capitol's Executive Tower. And as Pearce's 1070 began to blacken the political landscape, Goddard should have led a vigorous charge against it.
Instead, as with most Dems, he did not recognize the threat that SB 1070 posed. After Brewer signed the ill-fated breathing-while-brown legislation, he vowed to defend it, even though the law was destined to be enjoined in federal court. Plus Brewer wasn't about to let her rival co-opt her key to re-election. She hired law firm Snell & Wilmer to protect 1070, and Goddard was left with bupkis.
Goddard's impotence on 1070 mirrors the Dems general impotence on the issue of immigration, both in this state and nationally.
As the 1070 beast slouched toward its hideous birth, and as the Pearce-led Republicans ramped up their nativist, Mexican-bashing rhetoric, the Dems were unorganized and clueless. They should have been opposing 1070 in the state House and Senate with every legislative trick they could conjure. Instead, they were running scared, offering token opposition.
House minority leader David Lujan — more concerned with his failed bid in the Democratic primary to replace Goddard as AG — even abandoned his post and avoided voting on 1070. Such cowardice continues in the Democratic camp. Rather than point out how disastrous 1070 has been to the state's economy and image, and bemoan the costly (and ultimately futile) court battle over it, the donkeys have chosen to piggy-back on the state GOP's big lie: that Arizona is under "attack" by a rampaging brown horde from the south and that the menace must be thwarted by onerous, unconstitutional, and racist legislation.
The GOP is quite practiced when it comes to manufacturing fear and scapegoating minorities. Here in Sand Land, 1070 became the functional equivalent of George W. Bush's nowhere-to-be-found weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Scare the bejesus out of people and they will follow.
Sure, crime is dramatically down in Arizona, as is migration across the Arizona border. There were no headless bodies in the desert, as Brewer claimed there were. And the murder of southern Arizona rancher Rob Krentz offers but one anecdotal incident to counter the evidence of the FBI's crime stats for the state, which show violent law-breaking to be at an all-time low.
Moreover, every sociologist and immigration expert worth his or her sheepskin will attest that there is no correlation between immigrants and increased criminal activity. Quite the contrary, study after study shows that immigrants are less likely to do ill deeds than their U.S. citizen counterparts. And yet the Republican lies persist — and people believe them.
Why? Because a shibboleth not crushed becomes a truism. If the Republicans serve, and the Dems do nothing to bat the tennis ball back over the net, the Dems lose by default. It's that simple. Yet the best the Dems can come up with is to mimic the tuskers at their game, without offering any solutions or ideas of their own.
President Obama has not helped. He's caved on immigration, betrayed Hispanics with inaction, and increased militarization of the southwest border by throwing another $600 million down the black hole of border enforcement — when he should have crammed immigration reform down the throats of his elephantine foes.
It's a pattern that the president and the Dems copy and paste on just about every issue of worth to their base. When it came to healthcare reform, they abandoned the public option. And about the historic gains they nevertheless made on the issue, Dems act ashamed, quivering in their penny loafers every time some Tea Party idiot like Sarah Palin rolls through town.
Grok this, dunderheads: In September, an AP poll found that those who want the government to do more on healthcare reform outnumber those who want government out of it altogether by a margin of 2-to-1. Nearly 40 percent of Americans believe Obama's healthcare plan didn't go far enough. This is why I can't help concurring with comedian/commentator Bill Maher when he argues that Democrats are incompetent salesmen of their own political product.
Here's another example — the Obama administration continues to defend "don't ask, don't tell" in federal court, despite polls consistently demonstrating that three-fifths of the American public think gays should be able to openly serve in the military. Obama has committed to ending DADT. The U.S. military is in lockstep with this view. So why are government lawyers arguing otherwise?
Is the administration so lily-livered, so worried about the views of far right kvetchers, whom it'll never win over, that it'll chuck yet another part of the coalition that brought it to power? The answer, of course, is: yes!
The lesson I want Dems to learn, locally and nationally, is that if you stand and fight for what you believe in — and you do so shrewdly and toughly — you will be rewarded. Cave to your opposition and you'll be rightly deemed weak and hypocritical. The losses you suffer will be richly deserved.
Sadly, the Dems' lack of backbone affects us all. So we don't have the luxury of writing them off. There are too many dark plots getting hatched by the far right — like the rape of the 14th Amendment and its guarantee of birthright citizenship — which must be foiled by left-leaning patriots.
FIGHT OR FLIGHT
With the dismal vista of this off-year election before us in this way too red state, there seems little from which to draw courage.
The New York Times recently declared Congressional Democrats in Cactus Country an endangered species. And though I'm hopeful that some of the Democratic congressional seats under attack by far-right extremists will withstand the siege, I'm prepared for a long, bourbon-infused night at the Wyndham Hotel in downtown Phoenix, where many area Dems will await returns.
Barring an act of God, this state will be stuck for four long years with a dumb-as-a-bag-of-bricks governor who is the near-lifeless puppet of High Ground Public Affairs' Chuck Coughlin, otherwise known as Jan Brewer's Karl Rove.
The Legislature will remain solidly Republi-nut, and the state Senate is in real danger of falling under the complete sway of Russell Pearce, the meanest bulldog racist lawmaker in Arizona, if not the nation. Pearce is a man who lusts after the position of Senate president so he may further his one-note agenda of whipping Hispanics with the fury of a plantation overseer.
Yet as this Mordor-like darkness envelops us, I spy three Democratic candidates who might at least offer Dems an inkling of how to fight. Two of them are in very close statewide races. The third is a novice and faces an overwhelming challenge, and yet, his message rings truer than just about any Dem I've seen lately.
The first two are Democratic stars who are unafraid of giving their opponents hell: state treasurer candidate Andrei Cherny and state attorney general hopeful Felecia Rotellini.
I've been watching Rotellini throw elbows since the Democratic primary began. The woman has more steel in her than the Golden Gate Bridge.
A former assistant attorney general under Republican Grant Woods (who's endorsed her) and Goddard and, later, the state's banking regulator under Governor Napolitano, Rotellini brings her attack-dog skills as a prosecutor to the table — and she's honed the art of putting her opponents on the defensive from jump. I wish we could clone her and run her for every office in the state.
Take, for example, her performance in the Channel 8 Horizon debate with Republican AG contender Tom Horne, state schools superintendent and no slouch himself in sparring with rivals. After all, he's the guy who sent former Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas into early retirement, a feat for which Arizonans should be grateful.
Rotellini blasted Horne in her opening statement, drawing the distinction between herself and Horne with this ice pick to the jugular: "I've prosecuted securities fraud. [Horne's] committed it . . . I've cracked down on border crimes. He just talks about it."
Essentially, Rotellini borrowed heavily from Andrew Thomas' playbook by highlighting the Securities and Exchange Commission's 40-year-old trading ban against Horne. She hit Horne hard and kept coming after him, Terminator-style, with lines like: "If you'll lie to your regulator . . . you'll lie to anyone."
Horne was on the ropes from that point on, and though he's attempted to hang Rotellini's early criticism of SB 1070 in the primaries around her neck, she's swatted aside Horne's cavils.
"Senate Bill 1070 doesn't go far enough," she said at one point, noting that it does nothing to achieve the GOP mantra to "secure the border," though she would be obligated to defend it as attorney general.
Now, would I rather Rotellini not have made that statement regarding 1070? Yes. In many ways, it was a missed opportunity, a chance to point out that 1070 was a bad idea, will be tied up in the courts indefinitely, and effectively scapegoats Latinos for Republicans' economic failures. But I must admit that she thereby avoided debate over 1070 in the short time allotted, giving her more time to slice Horne on ethical issues.
"I've received a lot of feedback from . . . Democrats, in general," Rotellini told me recently, "that they like to see a candidate who will call out the opponent on the negatives."
State treasurer candidate Andrei Cherny has been blessed by a uniquely flawed opponent in ex-Cold Stone Creamery exec Doug Ducey and by a race that generally has not had to concern itself with the subject of immigration. What's at stake in the treasurer's race is Arizona's $10 billion investment portfolio, which the Treasurer's Office oversees.
Cherny also didn't have to worry about his primary, as the former Clinton adviser and Arizona assistant attorney general was the only Dem up for the post. So Cherny began attacking his probable Republican rival early on. And with Ducey, he had plenty to work with.
Multimillionaire Ducey never has fully disclosed his financial assets, was late on paying taxes on his opulent Paradise Valley home, has been a consistent traffic scofflaw, and wasn't able to file Cold Stone's annual reports on time with the Arizona Corporation Commission.
Worse than all that, as I've detailed before ("Ducey Disaster," August 12), numerous former Cold Stone franchisees allege that what they call Ducey's unfair business practices and broken business model drove them into bankruptcy. Cherny never has given Ducey a quiet moment on the issue, even using some ex-Cold Stone franchisees in his campaign commercials.
Cherny credited his experience as a former prosecutor in helping him go after Ducey.
"I've gone into a courtroom and looked somebody in the eye, whether they're a corporate crook or a gang thug, and been confident that [I'm] on the side of justice. [You can't] back down from that kind of fight."
In what everyone acknowledges is a bleak year for the Dems, Rotellini and Cherny are in the running because of that prosecutor-like willingness to char their opponents.
The third prospect that Dems should look hard at is state Senator Russell Pearce's challenger in Legislative District 18, newcomer Andrew Sherwood. He has an uphill battle against the goliath Mexican-hater Pearce, but the demographics in LD18 are ripe for exploitation by the Dems, if they're willing to target the architect of so much that's wrong with this state.
Dems are under-represented in Mesa, but there's a large independent bloc of voters, a growing Hispanic population, and many old-time Mesa residents who are sick of Pearce taking them for granted so he can play Lord of Immigration.
Pearce's last general election rival in 2008 — newcomer Judah Nativio — was bested by Pearce by a little more than 5,000 votes. And that was in a presidential election year. Thus, Pearce could be vulnerable in an off-year election, where voter turnout will be far more crucial.
Drive around Mesa and you'll find that Pearce's signs are few and far between, whereas Sherwood's signs are ubiquitous. Also, Pearce doesn't campaign, whereas the youthful, articulate Sherwood is walking neighborhoods and knocking on doors.
Wishful thinking on my part that Sherwood has a chance? Perhaps. But you have to venture into the enemy's territory to defeat him. And even if you don't defeat him, fielding a strident opponent keeps the monster looking over his shoulder.
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Sherwood talks up what he calls Pearce's "record of failure," noting that the senator has done nothing to alleviate the economic downturn's effect on Mesa — that, indeed, Pearce has made it worse by casting votes to increase property taxes and make higher education more expensive.
As for immigration, Sherwood has attacked 1070 head-on, pointing out that it has done nothing to stop the flow of people and drugs into the state. He backs an Arizona Employers for Immigration Reform plan that would create Ellis Island-like centers at the border, have immigrants pay the government what they would pay coyotes, run background and health checks on them, and pair them with employers who need workers.
"Russell Pearce is a bully, and all bullies are cowards," Sherwood told me recently. "And I don't think highly of bullies."
Nor should any Democrat. Arizona Dems have been running, cowering, and dodging ogres like Pearce for too long. Get up on your hind legs and fight the bastard, as Sherwood's doing now. Because Pearce and his ilk are not going away without a battle to the death.