NO MERE MR. NICE GUY
It was a glorious October afternoon when Eddie Basha, Democrat for governor, rolled into the tiny mining town of Kearny. He was midway through a five-day campaign tour of rural Arizona.
Basha spoke without notes as he stood below swishing ash trees, addressing two dozen assembled faithful on the patio of the General Kearny Inn. He started, as he almost always does, by recalling that his grandparents, Lebanese emigrants, opened a general store in nearby Ray in 1910. Their home was actually in Sonora, Ray's predominantly Mexican twin town, because that's where people with dark complexions lived.
Basha's speech rambled around the three prongs of his campaign: education, economic development and control of crime. When his talk concluded, someone handed Basha a jar of honey in the hope he'd like it and stock it in his supermarkets. As Basha turned to leave, a kid named Rhett Wilson blocked his path and began peppering him with questions.
"You don't seem like the kind of person who's involved in the Democratic party," the brazen teen said.
Basha was taken aback. Arms folded and face taut, he managed a response: "I don't know what would be an appropriate litmus test for being a real Democrat. The fact that I've been involved with education qualifies me as a Democrat. You don't have to be an ideologue to be a good Democrat."
Then Basha bolted.
Damn the luck. Could this kid have heard the whispers among Democratic traditionalists in the big cities? Was he a plant?
Whatever he was, young Rhett Wilson had scraped the rawest nerve in Eddie Basha's body politic.
Fifty-six-year-old Edward Najeeb Basha Jr. has three clear public identities: heir and dynamic front man of the largest family-owned grocery chain in Arizona; a philanthropist who has founded or supported an array of charitable causes; and unabashed advocate of education. He is also a patron of the arts, a friend to Native Americans and an inveterate practical joker given to assuming fake identities in late-night phone calls to friends.
What he is not known as is a politician. Although he has served as an appointee on the state boards of education and regents, his only elective post has been on the Chandler School Board.
Consequently, he has developed a public persona free of the warts that accrue on professional office seekers. That's changing now. His quest for the Democratic nomination for governor is thrusting him, full-bore, into the limelight.
Basha has a unique perspective on Arizona. Every year, he visits each of the nearly 70 stores in his supermarket empire. In his years of dispensing groceries and corporate largess, Basha has come to know small-town Arizona--Greater Arizona," as he calls it--very well. He never forgets a face, so the locals see him as one of their own. They are fond of patting him on the back and stroking his shoulder. If Greater Arizona could have its own governor, it would surely be Eddie Basha.
Basha is driven by an intense desire to be liked, and much about him is likable. He is, perhaps, Arizona's best-known benefactor, and he can afford his generosity.
His company donates about $1 million per year in cash and goods to charities. He has handed $100 bills to grubby panhandlers. He has served on the board of and single-handedly bailed out countless community-service groups. A Catholic, Basha sits on the regional board of the National Conference of Christians and Jews. He likes to call other males "brother." He carries a card in his wallet that reads: "The hand of help has no color. The face of caring has no shape. The language of love has no accent."
He's a softy who weeps at movies--his favorites include High Society, Sleepless in Seattle, Moonstruck and the Godfather films.
He has a deep and abiding respect for his ancestors, the embodiment of the American dream. He speaks passionately about the plight of children. He wants Arizona to strengthen its families and educate its children, so they can compete in the global marketplace.
The self-professed "bleeding-heart capitalist" has not necessarily gleaned his guiding principles from textbooks or theory. In many cases, he has lived and learned.
One would think that would earn Basha a pedestal in Arizona's uncluttered pantheon of liberalism.
Profits demand expediency, so Basha, who fancies himself a small businessman and trumpets mom-and-pop enterprise as the backbone of the economy, builds shopping centers in concert with Wal-Mart, the bane of small businesses. He recognizes the paradox, but shrugs and says, "In my desire to survive, I sometimes feel it's important to align myself with strength."
He is outspoken for the rights of minorities, yet Bashas' Markets Inc. has ignored United Farm Workers' requests for boycotts of produce grown with dangerous pesticides.
He is an environmentalist who reveres Native Americans and who had an Indian blessing at his campaign kickoff. Yet as a member of the Board of Regents, he has said and done next to nothing about the controversial telescopes the University of Arizona is building on land the Apaches consider sacred, in the habitat of an endangered species.
In his formal announcement speech, Basha accused the state of prostituting itself to entice low-paying companies to locate here. Yet when Bashas' Markets Inc. decided to build a new warehouse in Chandler, it bargained for $200,000 in incentives from the city.
But Eddie Basha's most immediate political concern is that a significant number of Democrats just don't perceive him to be a "true" Democrat. The midtown, high-rise Democrats can't abide a bald guy from Chandler as the party's standard-bearer. He's too East Valley. He's got too many money-grubbing friends. He's too high-volume retail. He's got too much capital.
He's just too Republican.
The fact that Basha actually has been a Republican now and again over the years isn't helping to quell suspicion.
When he first registered to vote in the 1950s, it was as a Republican. His admiration for John F. Kennedy turned him into a Democrat in 1960. For the Goldwater-Johnson race in 1964, he was a Republican. Richard Nixon drove him back into the Democratic ranks in 1968, where he remained until 1990, when he reregistered so he could support a moderate, pro-education Republican legislator who faced "a Mechamite" in his primary.
"Several of us who were Democrats did that," Basha says. "And we were successful in getting our guy elected."
In early 1992, Basha became a Democrat again. But that didn't stop him from endorsing Tom Freestone, an East Valley Republican who came within an eyelash of unseating Democratic Corporation Commissioner Renz Jennings in November 1992. Party faithful still fume about that.
While supporting myriad worthy causes, the Basha family has also given thousands of dollars to the campaigns of Republicans such as U.S. Senator John McCain, Attorney General Grant Woods and former U.S. representative John Rhodes. In 1990 and 1991, the family made nearly 80 contributions--totaling $11,260--to legislative, state and congressional candidates of all stripes.
Basha's prolific campaign-giving dragged his name into the AzScam bribery sting in 1990. Transcripts of conversations taped by undercover agents indicate that when one of Basha's legislator friends, education advocate Candice Nagel, came under preelection attack from Arizona Republic editorialists, Basha phoned her and said he and his sons would give her $1,000 so she could "take out an ad and fight those bastards."
Nagel chose to take Basha's money instead of the cash proffered by undercover gambling advocate Joseph Stedino. Stedino was furious. "Why is Eddie Basha's money better than my money?" he repeatedly railed. Later, as he attempted to coax lawmakers into accepting bribes, he cooed, "I wanna be your Eddie Basha."
"I believe it's our responsibility in a democracy to help people run for political office," Basha says. "It's incumbent on people to help those who want to run for office, whether we agree with them or not."
Is that why he frequently gives to two candidates seeking the same office? "Yes, sir. . . . If only people with means can run for political office, our democracy is in trouble," says Basha, who, as of December 31, a full eight months before the primary election, had already socked more than $200,000 of his own money into his campaign.
Basha's own election bandwagon is laden with Republicans. Former Mesa Tribune publisher Charles Walheim--whom Basha calls "a mentor"--is on the campaign committee. Walheim is a business associate of another Republican Basha backer, Joe Woods, father of Republican Attorney General Grant Woods. Tracy Thomas, founding member of the right-wing Lincoln Caucus, is also pushing Basha.
Conservative Republicans John and Sara Lynn Geraghty took out a full-page ad in a newspaper titled Art-Talk urging Republicans to switch parties and support Basha in the Democratic primary. The Basha campaign promptly refunded $1,000 in campaign donations from the couple, fearing that the unsolicited ad constituted an in-kind contribution that would put the Geraghtys over the $640 limit on individual donations to gubernatorial candidates.
Democratic wags say the ideological stew brewing in the Basha campaign caldron drove Carole Carpenter, a Democrat and former Maricopa County supervisor, to resign as Basha's campaign manager in December. When she quit, Basha paid Carpenter an undisclosed lump sum, conceding there were "strenuous" ideological arguments. Neither Basha nor Carpenter would elaborate.
Basha campaign consultant Bob Grossfeld has a novel spin: The more divergent ideologies under the campaign big top, the merrier. "But I don't think very many people stopped to consider, well, what is that really going to be like?" he says. "Who am I going to have to sit down and work with?"
What some Democrats call questionable leanings, Basha sees as fierce loyalty to his causes and to his friends. It's actually an advantage, he says--the ability to transcend rank partisanship.
Besides, Basha can trot out his own list of Democratic supporters, and there are plenty of heavyweights, including House Minority Leader Art Hamilton; Andrew Hurwitz, former regents president; and Dan Eckstrom, an influential Pima County supervisor.
And now he's got the resurrected Rick DeGraw, a wizard Democratic campaign strategist whose career had been fallow in the wake of his conviction in the AzScam case. (DeGraw, originally charged with nine felonies, pleaded no contest to a single misdemeanor charge of attempting to hinder prosecution.) DeGraw points out that no Democrat gets elected in Arizona without Republican support. Basha's campaign is No. 263 for the veteran campaign consultant.
Basha does not believe DeGraw's role in AzScam is bothersome. "I don't know what he did wrong," Basha says. "Whatever it was, to me, it's insignificant. He's got a lot to offer this state. And he's a friend. I stand by my friends."
Does he ever. Basha's loyalty to his friends can be refreshing or alarming, depending on one's point of view.
"I had a lot of respect for Duke Tully," Basha says of the former Republic and Gazette publisher who resigned in disgrace after fabricating a colorful military career. "Duke Tully is a bright guy."
And of Conley Wolfswinkel, the once-high-flying East Valley financier and developer who was convicted in a check-kiting scheme, Basha gushes: "Conley's a dynamic man . . . I respect him, I admire him. He's making lots of money again. I'm glad."
Eddie Basha is a much better talker than he is a speaker.
It's not that he's a wretched public orator, although he is a bit nasal and wooden, and not likely to inspire the masses. It's just that his speechifying pales in comparison to the warmth he exudes when he is talking with--and not to--people.
When he speaks of his family and its heritage, his business, his commitment to education and children's issues, he does so with urgency and enthusiasm. His oval body becomes graceful, his eyes get a faraway look and his passion--a truly ethnic passion--cascades out.
He becomes Zorba the Candidate, and if he could have five minutes alone with every voter in Arizona, he would be their governor.
Most campaign handlers shudder at the thought of such voluble, transparent body language. But Basha revels in his ethnicity. In everyone's ethnicity.
"I'm proud of my ethnicity. We should all be proud. I have a zest for life and a zest for people," he says. "The other night, I was speaking at the Croatian dinner, gave the welcoming remarks. I felt at home with the Croatians . . . I could be at the LDS church in Gilbert, giving a speech Sunday evening and feel very much at home with the LDS people. Or I could be at the Mariachi Fiesta Saturday night, where I was, singing some of the songs I know in Spanish--not too many--and feel very much at home."
Basha's gift for remembering names and faces is enough to make any politician green with envy.
Former governor Rose Mofford, who parlayed similarly strong personal skills into a 51-year political career, says she is supporting Basha because he knows the state so well.
"And he just cares so much for people," Mofford says. "I've been to many funerals where Eddie was the only other person I knew."
Basha's gentle persuasiveness has allowed him to chalk up an impressive list of victories for his cause, education.
"He's a charmingly disarming fellow," says Bill DeLong, a former Republican state legislator who chaired the Senate Education Committee.
DeLong says while Basha was serving on the state Board of Education, he helped mastermind innovative education programs and then "soft-sold" them to reluctant lawmakers.
"His commitment can be overwhelming," DeLong says. "When he decides that he's going to get behind something, he's ferocious, but in a tactful and diplomatic way. He takes his setbacks in stride, he swallows hard and moves ahead again."
Basha says his dozen years as an unpaid lobbyist at the state legislature would serve him well as governor. "No candidate in the Democratic party has that kind of experience," he says.
The Basha family has called Chandler home since 1919, when Eddie's grandparents, Najeeb and Najeeby Basha, moved there from Sonora. The family, whose children had taken Catholic training in Sonora, was greeted by a flaming cross.
"It wasn't because we were Catholics, because my grandfather was a Mason. It was because we were Semites. We were Semitic people," Basha says. "The Klan was anti-Semitic as well as anti-Catholic and anti-everything else. That left an indelible impression on my family, and that was transmitted to me."
He fondly recalls being part of an extended family, presided over by the matriarch, Najeeby.
Basha says, "My grandmother was a wonderfully generous person. She came over third-class on a boat. She was poor all her life. My grandmother was widowed at age 44. My grandfather had diabetes, and he knew he was dying. . . . He told my dad, 'Take care of my jewel.' So when my grandfather died, my dad continued to live with my grandmother. And when he married my mother, he said, 'If you're going to marry me, you'll have to move in.' So we all lived together in this house. My dad, my mom, my grandmother, and my dad had four sisters and a brother, and they were all unmarried at the time.
"And I remember my grandmother, how frugal she was. She'd feed her family for a week on a leg of lamb. . . . Yet as frugal as she was, she always shared. It was intrinsic. It was something that she inculcated in our minds, my dad's generation and ours."
Najeeb Basha went bankrupt in his dry-goods venture. His sons, Eddie Sr. and Ike, later scraped together enough money to start their own retail business in 1932. It was to blossom into Bashas' Markets Inc.
Eddie Jr. worked for the family business as a youngster. He played in a garage band and enjoyed being a big man on campus. One junior high instructor remembers him as a bright student and a ringleader, "someone who wanted to be important."
He encountered racism in high school, when he was a lineman for the Chandler High football team. According to local tradition, the player who scored the first touchdown of the year won a steak dinner at the local diner. Obediah Jackson scored the first two touchdowns, and Obediah Jackson was Chandler's first black football star.
"I didn't go down there, because they weren't serving blacks," recalls Jackson, who now owns a realty office in Phoenix. "Eddie Basha and another guy went down and talked to the owner of the restaurant, who said I could eat in the kitchen. Those guys organized a boycott, and then the owner came to the football field and told me, 'You've got to come down there and get your steak, because the whole school is boycotting the restaurant.'"
Jackson remembers Basha as an undersize but aggressive lineman with a gimpy back that required him to wear a cumbersome brace. "He'd never beat a guy when he was down, but he'd fight like hell to get him there," Jackson says.
That faulty back kept Basha from realizing his dream of becoming a Marine officer. At Stanford University, where he earned a degree in history, he belonged to a Marine fraternity, Phi Kappa Sigma, and entered a platoon leader's class. He failed his physical because of his back. Basha graduated from Stanford in 1959, and if he had made a career of the Marines, he probably would have seen combat.
Despite his unrequited devotion to the Marines, Basha says he developed misgivings about the Vietnam War early on. "I always thought that if there had been more women in Congress, there would probably have been less of a commitment" to the war, he says. Basha says a forum never presented itself to oppose the war. And he never sought one out.
However, it was during this period, shortly after he left college, that Basha smoked marijuana--and inhaled.
Did he enjoy it? "I don't recall, really," he says. "I've done some things in my life I'm not proud of. I made a few parties in my life and tossed a few down in my younger days.
"It [dope smoking] probably happened over the course of a week. I regret that I broke the law. I did it, and that was it. I don't think there's any more to say about it. I just did it. I have a curious mind. I did it."
Basha and his second wife, Nadine Mathis-Basha, and their two sons--Joshua, 6, and Jeremy, 4--live in a 5,000-square-foot home in Chandler. His next-door neighbor is Phoenix Suns player Jerrod Mustaf.
Basha's home is spacious and tasteful, but hardly palatial. There is domestic help. Western art, of which Basha is a renowned collector, dominates the walls.
Nadine Mathis-Basha is younger than her husband. She's attractive, articulate, fun-loving, a doting mother. She's owns a company, Summa & Associates, which consults with business on childcare issues.
Basha had the sprawling home built because he wanted more privacy and security in the wake of his first wife's kidnaping. It happened in 1972, while Basha was at a school-board meeting. A man came to the door of his rented Chandler home.
"He was looking for me; he had a gun," Basha recalls. "He was going to take me and ransom me, because supposedly the story was his father was dying of cancer. Sherri escaped that same night from him--he was very inept--but still and all, it was very traumatic for all of us."
After 24 years of marriage, Eddie and Sherri Basha divorced in 1985. "We just grew apart," he says. Sherri, who is also remarried, declined to be interviewed.
A lifelong Catholic, Eddie Basha attends St. Andrew the Apostle in Chandler, but he doesn't always hew to church doctrine.
"The fundamental determiner of my belief or my theology is my individual conscience, and, at times, my individual conscience is in conflict with church teachings. I don't think that makes me any less of a Catholic in my eyes or in my relationship with God," Basha says. "I believe that Catholics should have the right to practice birth control. I believe that priests should be able to marry. I believe that women should have the right to be priests, and to conduct Mass. I believe women have the right to choose [to have an abortion] without government interference."
Gloria Feldt, director of Planned Parenthood of Arizona, believes Basha is a relatively recent convert to the pro-choice camp.
"My own personal, informal conversations with him in years past clearly led me to believe he was not pro-choice," Feldt says. "However, the point is, he's clearly pro-choice now, and that's good."
Not in the eyes of the St. Vincent de Paul Society. The organization had planned to roast Basha this month in a major fund raiser to benefit a clinic it wants to open in South Phoenix. Furor about Basha's pro-choice stance prompted organizers to ask Basha to withdraw from the event. Basha was unperturbed.
"I made a generous personal contribution to help build the clinic, and I will continue to serve on their fund-raising committee," Basha says.
"Am I a self-made man? Absolutely not," Eddie Basha says. "I'm part of a family. I was very fortunate. I always knew what I wanted to be. I always wanted to do what my dad did. My dad was my hero. He was my idol. I'm very fortunate to have had something to go into that I really like."
The corporate office of Bashas' Markets Inc. is located in south Chandler, in a grove of trees marking the community of Ocotillo. The Compadre Stadium sports complex is a long home run away. Ocotillo was the site of the first store opened by Eddie Basha Sr. and his brother, Ike. Their first customers were Native Americans from the nearby Gila River reservation. The Bashas learned to speak the dialect so they could trade.
Today, the corporate headquarters is a cluster of buildings. The main administrative office is relatively new but outwardly unremarkable. The hallways leading to the office of the board chairman are lined with Western paintings and plaques of appreciation. Basha's office has no windows. It is a dim, cluttered place.
A 7,000-square-foot wing of the building houses the stunning corporate art collection.
"I have a very strong belief in the importance of art in society," Basha says. "Every business has a responsibility to be patrons of the arts."
According to state Corporation Commission records, Bashas' Markets Inc. declared $200 million in assets in 1992. Because the company is privately held, it's difficult to glean many details about its inner workings. What is evident is that the empire has burgeoned since 1968, when Eddie Basha Sr. died and Eddie Jr. took the reins. (Ike Basha preceded his brother in death.)
When he took over as president, Basha Jr. says, the company was in dire straits. He says that his decisive actions to shore it up are indicative of what he's made of, what he could do as governor.
"We were far-flung, with 16 stores and a dairy and ranch and all that," he says. "I took the bull by the horns and salvaged our company, and today we're a sizable operation. I've had to make these hard decisions. I make hard decisions every day. In a fight, yes, I'm tough. Damn right, I'm tough. I talk tough and I act tough and I am tough."
Bashas' now has 68 stores, and owns more than 35 of the shopping centers that house them. The company adds an average of two to three new stores per year. There is little doubt that Bashas' has flourished in the face of withering competition from high-powered chains such as Safeway. Industry observers say the Phoenix-area market is a grocery free-for-all. There is little room for error. Last year, industry officials say, the average profit margin for Arizona's food retailers was less than 1 percent.
As president and then chairman of the board, Basha can take the credit for Bashas' success, even if he has simply had the good sense to stand aside and let his corporate officers do their jobs. Company insiders say when it comes to day-to-day operations, that's what he does. But when a problem or customer complaint comes to his attention, he investigates thoroughly before recommending a solution.
"Bashas' is not a dictatorship," Basha says, adding that the key to the company's success is the productivity and loyalty of its employees. Bashas' is nonunion, he says, because the "members" are treated well.
Bill DeLong, the former state senator from Tucson, has had an opportunity to see Basha in his element. During his annual store tours, Basha invited DeLong--then the Education Committee chairman--to fly with him on the company plane to outlying communities, where the senator would huddle with local educators and inspect their facilities.
"I also had an opportunity to see Eddie Basha, the businessman, when he visited his stores," DeLong says. "I have probably visited 20 to 25 of the stores in this state, and I have never entered a store with Eddie but what everyone didn't brighten up and smile. He knew every employee by name and something about their family. It was phenomenal."
Eddie Basha's side of the family controls the majority of the stock, with three seats on the board of directors represented by Basha and two Phoenix attorneys, Dan Cracchiolo and Lupe Iniguez. Basha's sister, Karen Rishwain, and her husband, Robert, of Stockton, California, hold the remaining two seats, and represent what Basha describes as the extended family's minority shareholders, including three aunts.
Basha says his first commitment has always been to continued growth and prosperity for the company. He doesn't take much out of the company, he insists. But not every member of the extended Basha family shares that view. A few years ago, his aunts decided to cash out.
"The issue basically at stake was the golden goose," Basha says. "The goose lays an egg every day, and sometimes people want to get that goose and open it up and get all the eggs. . . . For older people, the concept of the leveraged buyout is more appealing. But for us and my family and everybody else, sustaining your operation is what's important, building for the future."
Basha says his single-minded desire for long-term growth kept him out of the risky ventures that throttled a few of his friends during the Eighties. Still, there have been some other business ventures--and misadventures.
Basha's company bought into a partnership with holdings in western Pinal County that became controversial in 1988 and 1989, when some of the principals lobbied the state to spend $50 million to widen Maricopa Road, which bisects the property. Some partners were later involved in a campaign for development of a $500 million regional airport in the vicinity.
Basha says, "It was a syndicate. It was speculation. As a rule, we [Bashas' Markets Inc.] don't do that, but this was a small venture. It was a group of people. It was kind of like a fraternity."
When critics of the Maricopa Road and regional-airport projects began leveling accusations of self-dealing, Basha says, he let his property go back to its prior owner. He had also been appointed to the Governor's Regional Airport Advisory Committee, but says he did not attend any of the task-force meetings until the property had been disposed of. However, he did vote by proxy to recommend that the airport be constructed.
"I had no conflict of interest when that vote was cast," Basha says. "I would never vote where there was a conflict of interest. We're clean. Bashas' and I personally were clean on that issue. . . . And I have never gleaned a nickel in my public service to any commission or appointed office I have served."
Basha also started an art business for his sons, Western American Prints, which produces limited-edition prints. He's part owner of a ranch near Prescott, and he owns some gold mines that failed to develop when his partner in that venture passed away.
Then there's Robert S. Jacobs, better known as Crazy Jake, a Superstition Mountains prospector who bilked numerous well-heeled investors after convincing them he had found the Peralta treasure. Basha was one of those investors, although he denies losing any money to Jacobs.
Still, Basha says with a laugh, "I'm not lily-white. I've made some bad investments in my day."
Everywhere Eddie Basha goes on the campaign trail, he hearkens to his Chandler roots. The town has always been the center of his universe; he its favorite son.
But despite 12 years of distinguished service on the Chandler School Board--and his appropriation of the maxim that "all politics is local"--Basha in recent years has not been a big player in local government affairs.
"I've never seen him at a city council meeting," says one Chandler politico who describes Basha as "a wonderful friend." "He doesn't deal in the local public arena."
Nearly everyone in Chandler says nice things about Eddie Basha, and intends to support him in his gubernatorial bid, but there is a tinge of sadness that Basha seems to have outgrown Chandler.
"Eddie never gets excited about a local issue. Everything is very remote," another friend says. "That kind of ticks off many of us who have been fighting in the trenches."
Two years ago, Basha agreed to chair a city committee studying the issue of firefighters' compensation. However, Basha only attended a couple of committee meetings, one participant says, adding, "About all he contributed were the doughnuts."
Then there's the porn shop. Last year, Bashas' Markets Inc. sold a prime storefront in the heart of Chandler's resurgent shopping district to Carl Tamuty, who opened a shop called Naughty but Nice--a lingerie and accessory shop offering a wide assortment of X-rated films.
Neighborhood merchants came unhinged. The city council rushed to adopt an ordinance restricting the locations of such businesses.
"Eddie's really done a lot for the community and the Valley, but I really think this is a thorn in his side. He had to have known," says art-gallery owner Joel Hamilton, one of the few Chandler residents willing to speak on the record about Basha.
Basha, who was not involved in the negotiations, says he didn't know. He says Tamuty misrepresented his intentions for the building. Tamuty, who for two years has owned a similar East Valley store called New Sensations, denies this.
Basha says if he or his company had known Tamuty's plans, they would not have sold the building.
@body:Terry Goddard, former Phoenix mayor and the unsuccessful Democratic nominee for governor in 1990, is in the race again. Paul Johnson, the sitting mayor of Phoenix, is expected to get into the race soon.
Basha's political consultant, Bob Grossfeld, sums up a Goddard-Johnson-Basha primary succinctly: "It'll be two ex-mayors of Phoenix against a guy who cares about kids."
Education is Basha's political and personal touchstone. His opponents will paint him as a single-issue candidate, a label Basha alternately eschews and embraces.
The Basha camp was to have issued its detailed plan for education reform by now, but it's been delayed. Basha says he believes most of the money to finance his school programs can be gleaned from other areas in the state budget through "reprioritization" and the narrowing of tax loopholes.
"I've said that after we did all that, if we weren't where we wanted to be, that I would not be intimidated to go before the public and say, 'We need targeted dollars.' I wouldn't shy from that, and I resent that about the present [Symington] administration, because each year is another generation lost."
And how will that message sell in Sun City?
"Probably not as well as it's gonna sell in other places," Basha says. "But the Sun City people have to remember that if we don't have a healthy, prosperous economy, you can throw Social Security down the drain, in my opinion. We need productive citizens, and the only way to get productive citizens is through the classrooms of this nation."
Basha says he will also "tie the crime issue" to his quest for better schools. "In most cases, crime's a manifestation of poverty, of illiteracy, of uneducated or undereducated citizenry," he says.
Basha also wants to create "small business investment banks" to provide new sources of capital through private banks and state Department of Commerce appropriations.
Campaign prognosticators see Basha as an underdog, but a force to be reckoned with in the primary.
If, for example, Goddard and Johnson split the vote in Phoenix, where they have high name recognition, Basha's support in the Tucson area, rural counties and on the Indian reservations--where Bashas' Markets Inc. is the only major grocer that has been willing to do business--could put him over the top.
And nearly all Democrats--and not a few Republicans--believe that if Basha wins the primary and faces incumbent Governor Fife Symington in the general, he'll win.
It would be a fascinating contest, pitting Symington, a failed businessman who talks about nothing but business and who sends his kids to private schools, against Basha, a successful businessman who talks about almost nothing but education, whose family built a Catholic school in Chandler but whose own children have attended public schools.
A glorious October sunrise broke over the Chiricahua Mountains as the Basha for Governor campaign bus rumbled to life with a belch of blue smoke.
All day, as the bus wended across the undulating highways from Douglas to Willcox to Globe and Superior, its transmission protested loudly, groaning and revving crazily. Cresting a high pass on State Route 177 between Superior and Kearny, the bus had had enough. Its gearbox exploded with a startling racket. The bus driver eased his wounded machine into a convenient gravel turnout. The dozen or so occupants--relieved that the brakes had outlasted the transmission--tumbled out.
The sky was a perfect, cloudless blue. The autumn sun gave a warm burnish to pinnacles and scarps that dot the topography. The air, save for an acrid waft of pulverized machinery, was moteless and pure. It was a wonderful spot to be marooned. Someone broke out soft drinks.
But soon, the realization sunk in that down the road in Kearny, people were gathered on a patio, awaiting an audience with the candidate. The Basha for Governor brain trust babbled and gesticulated into its first exercise in crisis management.
Basha observed for a few moments before his chairman-of-the-board instincts kicked in. He waded into the thicket of advisers, sweeping his beefy arm and brandishing a cellular phone. "All right, here's what we're going to do!" Basha announced. The haggling stopped.
The entourage had the good fortune of two trailing sedans, which had come alongside the disabled bus. Basha decreed that essential personnel would commandeer these vehicles to keep the appointment in Kearny. In the meantime, a cellular summons to Bashas' corporate headquarters in Chandler would mobilize a fleet of Chevy Suburbans to collect the remainder of the crew.
As the two sedans darted back onto the highway, a discreet aide was taking the "Basha for Governor" banners off the crippled bus. Eddie Basha's campaign was on the road again, headed for Kearny, where a wispy youth named Rhett Wilson was waiting to talk with him.
A BOY OF STRUMMER RICK TREVINO PLAYS THE... v1-20-94
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss Phoenix New Times' biggest stories.