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The Bird Claws at State Democrats and Likens the GOP's SCA-gate to the Granddaddy of Political Scandals

Danny Hellman

LOCAL LOSERS

A bucket of warm spit. That's the phrase Franklin D. Roosevelt's veep, John Nance "Cactus Jack" Garner once famously coined to describe the institution of the vice presidency. He actually called it "a bucket of warm piss," but the G-rated version is more familiar to most.

The phrase applies equally, in The Bird's mind, to the Arizona Democratic Party, which proved itself on Election Day to be just as worthless a saliva bucket as the office of the vice presidency, albeit on a local level.

This mockingbird spews this insult not at the candidates who busted their hind ends to challenge local GOPers for races statewide, but rather the Arizona Democratic Party, run by chairman Don Bivens and executive director Maria Weeg.

Because in a year when Democrats elected an African-American to the presidency and change broke out in unlikely places like North Carolina — where Democrat Kay Hagan trounced U.S. Senator Elizabeth Dole, or New Hampshire, where Dem Jeanne Shaheen did likewise to Republican lizard-man and U.S. Senator John Sununu — Sand Land Dems blew it, big-time.

Yeah, sure, Dems held onto the congressional seats won in 2006 by Harry Mitchell and Gabby Giffords, and picked up one with Democrat Ann Kirkpatrick's win over Republican Sydney Hay for indicted Congressman "Slick" Rick Renzi's vacated seat.

But until about 8:30 on election night at the Wyndham Hotel in downtown Phoenix, where Dems traditionally watch the returns, Bivens and his fellow Donkey Kongs were talking up a dust storm about how Dems had a million registered voters and were probably gonna take the state House, maybe even the state Senate. Hell, it's the same line they'd been feeding their followers since the beginning of the year, touting their fat, million-dollar fundraising advantage over an impoverished state GOP.

Yet, even Barack Obama's victory speech that night couldn't obscure the obvious to this avian, who was on hand at the Wyndham to observe the debacle. Local Dems were big losers. They didn't pick up seats in the Legislature, they lost seats, and both state House and Senate remain firmly in GOP control. Worse even, as Governor Janet Napolitano will likely be skipping off to D.C. to somehow serve the Obama administration, Republican Secretary of State Jan Brewer would then become guv.

Granted, Nappy has been a sheepish chief executive during her tenure, but occasionally, she's vetoed some of the more deranged bills that right-wing wackjobs like Russell Pearce (formerly a state rep, now a state senator) have tried to turn into law. Once the doorknob smacks her fanny on the way out, the stopgap of her under-used veto will no longer be in place.

In Maricopa County, the situation is darker. On par with the Black Hole of Calcutta. Or the Fourth Avenue Jail. Take your pick.

The Bird refers to the fact that Mr. Civil Rights Abuse himself, Joe Arpaio, was re-elected to a fifth term. Joe's unctuous, Harvard-educated ally, County Attorney Andrew Thomas, has likewise been returned to power. And with a Republican super-majority retained on the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors, where sole Dem Mary Rose Wilcox struggles on as the loyal opposition, the state's most populous county remains firmly in the grip of reactionary forces.

To go geek on ya, it's as if, during the initial Star Wars flick, the rebels never destroyed the Death Star, and Darth Vader never went careening off into space. In Maricopa County, Republican rule is absolute, and your rights as a U.S. citizen are not worth much more than a drop in the aforementioned saliva bucket.

Just don't tell that to Emily DeRose, the state party flack whom executive director Weeg had answer this talon-bearer's questions rather than answer them her own damn self. The Bird can't blame Weeg for hiding behind her lieutenant. After all, Weeg's got a job to save. Her own.

"We did win big, statewide," the Pollyanna-ish DeRose informed this avian. "We took a majority of the statewide races that were on the ballot. And we took a majority of the congressional races. So it's certainly — while not a night of all good things — was really a night for us to celebrate."

Yep, you heard her right, Bird-lovers. DeRose said "celebrate." As for the "majority of the statewide races," she means two out of the three seats on the Arizona Corporation Commission on the line.

The third's still in play, as this wren writes, between Dem Sam George and Republican Bob Stump. As for the congressional spots, the Dems have five to the GOP's three. But our U.S. Senate seats remain Republican, as neither was up for grabs.

"I think we did a really phenomenal job," enthused DeRose. Um, but what about not taking the state House, or the losses here in Maricopa County?

 

"Our ground game was absolutely tremendously powerful," DeRose said of the Dems strategy, adding, "But at the end of the day, we were just not able to overcome the registration gap."

DeRose was referring to the gap between registered Republicans and Dems. Statewide, it's considerable but not insurmountable: about 1 million Dems to 1.18 million GOPers. Considering that there are more than 800,000 Independents statewide, the Dems' failures at the polls are even more severe, despite all the Prozac-laced Kool-Aid DeRose seems to have been guzzling.

STRATEGY ZERO

Defeated Democratic state Senate candidate Jim Larson offered a colorful analogy to this feathered fiend concerning the local party's state of denial.

"It's sort of like someone admiring the fireworks going on above them while their house is on fire," said Larson, who lost big in Legislative District 6 to Republican Pamela Gorman.

Like a lot of Democratic legislative candidates this election cycle, he feels the state party forgot that old adage from legendary Speaker of the U.S. House Tip O'Neill: "All politics is local."

Larson and numerous other Dems to whom this plumed serpent spoke after the election feel the Dems' local strategy stunk on ice. Instead of backing all Dems in all races, statewide, the Arizona Democratic Party "targeted" certain races to assist and placed a lot of its emphasis on the Obama-McCain race, instead of getting Dems elected.

"We were left out in the cold," Larson complained, referring to himself and his fellow, non-targeted Dems. "That was obvious early on, when all the resources were diverted to get out the vote for the national campaign."

The state party can assist so-called "down-ticket" candidates in several ways, by calling voters through phone banks, coordinating volunteers, and distributing certain types of literature. For local candidates with limited resources, this can make a huge difference. But locals were not feelin' the love during this election. And some of them are so ticked off they may not run again.

One of those who doubts she'll run again because of the way the state party treated her is Sue Dolphin, who, along with fellow Democratic candidate Paula Forster, failed to snag one of the two open state House seats in Legislative District 4. Both slots fell to Republicans.

"We got no help," Dolphin kvetched. "We were told we were not a targeted district, so we would not be getting any support at all."

Dolphin thinks the cash-rich state Dems should have targeted all races where Dems were vying for votes and should have done a much better job of getting out the vote. She and other Dems believe such a strategy might have lifted all boats and strengthened the Democratic brand in the state. Instead, the state party played favorites, writing off some seats, defending others.

For Todd Landfried, host of the liberal talk-radio show Desert Politics on KPHX 1480 and, until the beginning of September, executive director of the Maricopa County Democratic Party, this targeting strategy was a loser from jump.

"It's more like they targeted candidates instead of districts," explained Landfried, who left his party post to consult for sheriff hopeful Dan Saban and other Democratic candidates for county posts. "You're building name recognition that way. But building name recognition for a candidate is not the same in the mind of the voter as the motivation to vote."

Lanfried insists the party should have had a statewide effort mirroring that of Democratic National Committee Chair Howard Dean, whose 50-state strategy (that is, running a presidential campaign to some degree in every state in the union) is widely credited with helping Barack Obama win the White House.

"You compete everywhere," said Landfried. "Whether you win or lose, you still compete."

Such a warrior spirit might have had a direct impact on various local races, not all of them legislative. In Maricopa County, the state party made no bones about targeting Tim Nelson's race for county attorney against incumbent Andrew Thomas and ignoring Dan Saban's battle against Joe Arpaio. Nelson got the endorsement of Governor Napolitano, who stumped for him and helped him raise a buttload of money, and the party followed her lead. All while Saban was essentially persona non grata with the state muck-a-mucks.

"Folks in the state party wouldn't have walked across the street to piss on Dan if he was on fire," sputtered Saban's campaign manager, Bill Perry.

One Democratic volunteer told The Bird that Saban's name wasn't even on the script they used when calling county Dems to remind them to vote, even though every other Dem of note was mentioned. State Dems put all of their eggs in the Nelson basket. Yet, at the end of the day, Saban ended up receiving slightly more votes than Nelson — 502,130 to Nelson's 496,309, at last count. And, of course, Nelson still lost.

 

The state party failed miserably in its GOTV (get out the vote) effort, which, combined with its strategy of targeting races, doomed many local candidacies. For example, though County Recorder (and Republican) Helen Purcell had predicted upward of an 85 percent turnout, at last count, the turnout in the county was running about 71 percent. Statewide, it was about the same.

A better GOTV effort and a little aid from the state party might have helped Democrat Leigh Strickman, who came out of nowhere to run a tough campaign against Republican County Supervisor Max Wilson. Despite never having run for office before, Strickman received a whopping 119,429 votes to Wilson's 157,199.

"Most people who know me are saying, 'Wow, look at all the votes you did get,'" said Strickman. "But you know, I could've won with a little more help."

Strickman pointed out that several different legislative districts converge in Supervisor District 4, where she was running. A better GOTV campaign combined with the targeting of all Democratic races would have boosted her chances. As it was, Strickman said, there was no one even coordinating the activities of all the different campaigns.

"If we had played like a team, I think we could have had a different result," Strickman said.

State Dem flack De­Rose argued that the party did all it could in a red state with a GOP homeboy running for prez and an Obama campaign with only a couple of offices statewide. Then there was the Dems' historic registration disadvantage. She's probably right about John McCain bringing out GOPers to the polls, but what happened to all those new voters the Dems have been boasting about and all that enthusiasm for Obama?

"We'll be doing detailed postmortems in the coming weeks," chirped the effervescent DeRose. Meanwhile, she had no answer for why the Dems' GOTV effort was a bust. She couldn't say what the party had done to help non-targeted races. Nor could she even cough up the names of the people at the state party responsible for strategy.

Landfried, Larson, and many others noted a problem with the Dems' message, or lack thereof. Republicans have a simple answer to the immigration problem: arrest, prosecute, and deport all illegal immigrants. But Dems refused to engage on the issue.

Similarly, the far right had a hunk of red meat in Prop 102, the anti-gay-marriage amendment, and it drew GOP voters to the polls like jackals to a carcass. The state Dems response? Ignore the 800-pound GOP pachyderm in the room.

In The Bird's view, the party's pusillanimity and strategic stupidity drips from the top down. And though Dems will miss her veto power, the likelihood of Janet amscraying to D.C. might be a blessing in disguise. Like with a losing sports franchise, sometimes the best thing is to oust the entire coaching staff. Now if the party could make sure Bivens and Weeg take a powder as well . . .

ARPAIO'S WATERGATE

Maria Weeg's been gloating in recent weeks over the fact that state GOP chairman Randy Pullen's had to give back $105K in donations from the shadowy Sheriff's Command Association, which has a P.O. box in Mesa and MCSO Captain Joel Fox writing checks.

In one recent state Democratic Party statement on the GOP funny money, the press release began with one line: "Republicans have only $73,000 cash on hand."

Of course, the GOP still kicked donkey ass, and that's where the parallels to Watergate begin but don't end, because if you'll recall, President Richard Nixon didn't really need a secret team of "plumbers" to break into the Dems' HQ in the Watergate complex in D.C. back in 1972, or to undermine their Democratic opponents as such GOP dirty tricksters did back then.

As anyone who's seen All the President's Men knows, Nixon was barreling toward a landslide re-election. Nixon's ultimate rival, Democrat George McGovern, would have lost, even without all the political subterfuge on the part of Nixon's CREEP, the Committee to Re-elect the President.

Similarly, Arpaio far out-raised Dan Saban. Until Arpaio ran the scummy anti-Saban TV ads in September, Arpaio and his operatives were successfully ignoring Saban's scramble for votes. And the electorate was generally following their lead. The anti-Saban ads were as unnecessary for Arpaio as Nixon's shenanigans were for him in 1972.

But it's almost as if, like Nixon, Arpaio, et al. couldn't help themselves.

Captain Fox, fronting for the SCA, donated $105K to the state GOP. Chairman Pullen funneled $78K of that into an independent expenditure group called Arizonans for Public Safety, which targeted (in a bad way) the campaigns of Saban and Tim Nelson. Such earmarking of funds is illegal. And groups like the SCA have to disclose the names of donors, so the party in turn can hand over that info to the Arizona Secretary of State.

 

According to an October 31 letter from Pullen to the Secretary of State's Office in response to the state Dems' complaint that the GOP had violated several state laws, Pullen asserts that he asked "Mr." Joel Fox for the names of those in the SCA, but received no reply. So he finally, grudgingly had to return the dolo. Of course, by then, the nasty anti-Saban ads had already been paid for.

Pullen claims, "No one at the party ever had a direct or indirect conversation with anyone . . . associated with SCA regarding the use of the funds."

The whole affair smells like a loaded diaper, and Joel Fox bears a too-close resemblance to infamous Nixon operative G. Gordon Liddy, mastermind of the Watergate break-in. Attorney General Terry Goddard confirmed that his office received a complaint concerning SCA-gate and that it was looking into the matter. Mysteriously, he said he could say no more.

What Goddard should do is call in Fox for questioning and interrogate Mr. Mustache under a hot light. Who knows? Maybe SCA-gate could do what Saban was unable to: remove Joe from office. But this heron would settle for whatever top member of Joe's command staff pulled the strings.


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