Tom and Janet's Excellent AG Venture
Janet Napolitano plays it straight.
While her opponent, Republican Tom McGovern, is chasing down the soccer moms and dads with boomer-ready buzz words, the Democratic candidate for attorney general stumps on her legal and managerial experience as a U.S. attorney and a private lawyer, and on her vision for the role of Arizona's AG. She answers questions head on. She minimizes talk about herself.
McGovern employs the traditional abstractions you expect from a candidate. He reminds voters he grew up on the rough streets of Philadelphia, the eighth of nine children. The first to get a college degree. He stresses he's a devoted son, a loving husband, the father of three. He doesn't talk much about his legal and managerial experience.
Janet Napolitano and Tom McGovern share like opinions on almost all of the issues that could come up in the AG's Office. Both promise to focus on prosecuting civil rights cases, to make telemarketing fraud a priority and to find better ways to reduce the backlog of Child Protective Services cases. Both oppose the idea of a Constitutional Defense Council, say they'll improve relations between law-enforcement agencies and follow incumbent Grant Woods' lead on anti-tobacco litigation.
Aside from some quiet, behind-the-scenes grousing, these two are running a shockingly civilized campaign. Unless you vote strictly on abortion--he's pro-life, she's pro-choice--the race between the two boils down to a question of style.
When content becomes moot, style takes the stage. In this case, their styles--her focus on officialdom, his focus on popular symbols--are so highly contrasted that there may be a message in that.
Sensible from her single strand of pearls and low navy pumps to her moderate, pro-choice Republican campaign strategist, Napolitano is all C-SPAN, the essential academic.
With his good hair, Jerry Garcia tie and band of hip, young campaignsters, Tom McGovern is straight off the set of Ally McBeal--the ultimate '90s media populist, a man recruited and groomed for the job by another telegenic fellow, incumbent AG Grant Woods.
If you followed the GOP primary at all, you already know Tom McGovern. His history has been documented in detail in this publication ("The Clash of '98," August 27). Born and raised in Philadelphia, McGovern graduated from Duquesne University and the University of Delaware Law School. He moved to Arizona in 1983 to take a job with the firm Black, Robertshaw and Copple. He focused on insurance defense litigation. In 1989, he started his own firm, winning a number of lucrative cases, including a $16 million judgment in 1993 against Samaritan Health Systems.
Grant Woods was looking to anoint a replacement, someone to run against John Kaites. McGovern, who had schmoozed Woods on the basketball court--acknowledged by many politicos as Woods' golf course--seemed a good fit. But he lacked government and prosecutorial experience, so Woods hired him to be his third in command in 1996. McGovern argued the state's partial-birth-abortion and parental-consent cases--he lost both; they're on appeal--and handled two death-row appeals that resulted in executions.
With 13 months' experience, a handful of high-profile cases under his belt and his third kid on the way, McGovern quit to run for AG.
Janet Napolitano has no problem talking about herself, but you have to ask.
Napolitano (sounds like "piano") was born in New York City while her father was studying at Cornell Medical School. The family--Janet has a younger brother--settled in Albuquerque when Janet was 6. Her father is the dean of the University of New Mexico's medical school.
Albuquerque was a lot like Tucson, she says, a small town with a big university.
"I have no complaints about my childhood at all," Napolitano says. "I had a great time. I had a bike. Took clarinet lessons, played in the band."
There was one failure: baton-twirling lessons. Young Janet was so wobbly, her teacher asked her to retire her baton and instead introduce the other students at recital time.
"Thank goodness they weren't doing the flaming ones," she says, seemingly having accepted her fate.
Napolitano's father had played football at the University of Santa Clara, which she chose over Pennsylvania's Swarthmore College mainly for the California sunshine. She majored in political science, spent a semester studying in London, graduated Phi Beta Kappa and was Santa Clara's first female valedictorian.
Dad knew New Mexico Republican Senator Pete Domenici, so she snagged a postcollege job on Capitol Hill as an analyst for the Senate Budget Committee. After a year of calculating the revenue impact of legislation like the Chrysler bailout, Napolitano entered law school at the University of Virginia (UVA) in Charlottesville.
She says she played a lot of bridge and, in her final year, lived with three guys at the palatial estate of a distant relative of J.P. Morgan. The relative, who summered at the estate, let four lucky UVA students live there each school year in exchange for nominal rent and dog-sitting duties.
Napolitano's introduction to Phoenix came in 1983, when she moved here to clerk for Judge Mary Schroeder of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. She and her fellow clerk, Karen Carter (now Karen Owens, wife of Democratic activist and congressional District 6 candidate Steve Owens), were recruited by Lewis and Roca, a large local law firm.
During her years at Lewis and Roca, Napolitano specialized in appellate and commercial litigation; she was named partner in 1989. Her first year with the firm, Napolitano was given a plum assignment: She worked for John P. Frank, the venerable Supreme Court scholar, who thought so much of her work, he chose her as his co-counsel in representing Oklahoma law-school professor Anita Hill during the Clarence Thomas Supreme Court nomination hearing in 1991.
The Hill/Thomas hearings were a whirlwind, Napolitano recalls. The full Senate was scheduled to vote on the Thomas nomination on Tuesday, October 8, 1991, but couldn't come to an agreement on the floor, so the matter was sent back to the Judiciary Committee for additional inquiry.
That's where Frank and Napolitano entered the picture as members of a legal team representing Hill. Napolitano recalls that she took a redeye flight and arrived in Washington on Wednesday morning, October 9. Frank worked with Hill; Napolitano helped organize the "Sunday witnesses"--including Susan Hoerchner, the principal witness who backed up Hill's claims of sexual harassment against Thomas--so named because they testified on Sunday, October 13.
Napolitano hasn't spoken to Anita Hill since. Looking back, she says she was dismayed by the Senate's lack of organization, and by its collective ignorance regarding sexual harassment.
"I'm a very big believer in process, fair process," she says. "And I thought the process used by the Senate was terrible. It was terrible for everybody involved. It was terrible for Anita Hill, it was terrible for Clarence Thomas, and I thought the Senate looked very, very bad. It was a real eye-opening experience for me."
And one that would haunt her the next time she had to go up against the conservative senators who had vilified Hill.
Days after Bill Clinton's election, then-senator Dennis DeConcini called and asked Napolitano if she'd like to be U.S. attorney for the District of Arizona.
"I really didn't know what a U.S. attorney did," she admits. She took a few former U.S. attorneys to lunch, and decided she'd like the job.
Her nomination process dragged on for nearly a year. The U.S. attorneys couldn't be named until the U.S. AG had been chosen, and Janet Reno's nomination--which followed failed attempts to nominate two other potential AGs, Kimba Woods and Zoe Baird--wasn't confirmed until the spring of 1993.
When Napolitano's nomination reached the Senate later that year, conservative senators like Wyoming's Alan Simpson tried to block it by claiming Napolitano had acted inappropriately during the Hill/Thomas hearings.
Her detractors pointed to Susan Hoerchner's testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, in which she was questioned by Napolitano. Hoerchner, a friend of Hill's, testified that Hill had told her of Thomas' sexual advances. But, initially, in testimony, Hoerchner said the conversation took place in September 1981, which would have been before Hill worked for Thomas. At that point in the testimony, Hoerchner was interrupted, and she and Napolitano had an off-the-record conversation. The senators claimed she had improperly interrupted Hoerchner to influence her testimony. But it was later asserted by the New York Times' Anthony Lewis and other journalists that Napolitano did not interrupt Hoerchner, a Judiciary Committee staff member did, and it was only after a number of exchanges with staff that Napolitano had requested a break.
When asked about the Hoerchner conversations during the U.S. attorney confirmation process, Napolitano invoked her attorney-client privilege. The conservatives had a field day. But in the end, after lobbying by DeConcini and others, her nomination received unanimous approval by the Senate.
Although in place as acting U.S. attorney since July 1993, Napolitano's appointment was not confirmed until November 19 of that year.
As U.S. attorney, Napolitano supervised a staff of 90 lawyers and managed a $15 million annual budget. She gets rave reviews from numerous former underlings, who say she is hands-on without being bossy and accessible without being overbearing.
The lion's share of the U.S. attorney's workload here involves drug cases and Native American issues. One of Napolitano's favorite stump stories is about the morning she woke up to an unusual call from an assistant U.S. attorney general, who told her the Oklahoma City bombing suspect was from Kingman. Within days, Napolitano tells rapt audiences, she'd helped to assemble the 10th-largest FBI office in existence at that time; it was up and running for several months.
The low point of her tenure as U.S. attorney came when Napolitano was accused on national television of being lax on child pornographers. A U.S. postal investigator told ABC's 20/20 that Napolitano refused to issue a search warrant in a kiddie porn case because she believed the probe unfairly targeted homosexual men. Napolitano vehemently denied the charge, claiming the facts of the case didn't provide sufficient grounds for issuing the search warrant.
Justice Department spokesmen praised Napolitano as one of the nation's toughest prosecutors of child abuse and exploitation cases, while conservative senators like Utah's Orrin Hatch and Iowa's Charles Grassley clucked their tongues and talked about holding hearings.
The issue blew over, but not before Napolitano stormed Grassley's office, insisting that he, at least, make his accusations to her face.
More criticism came her way when Napolitano mugged for the media alongside Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, on the occasion of a Justice Department agreement with the sheriff that purportedly protects jail inmates' civil rights. Critics said the agreement was lax, and accused Napolitano of shopping for a future Arpaio endorsement. She says the plan is being used as a model in cases around the country.
Napolitano's four years as U.S. attorney were not without lighter moments. A visit from the U.S. attorney general was always a momentous occasion, and Napolitano recalls the time Janet Reno announced she wanted to see the now-closed tunnels beneath the Arizona/Mexico border that were used for illegal immigration in the early 1990s.
Who was Napolitano to say no? Even though it was pouring rain, muddy and slick, the Janets set out in oversize rubber boots, courtesy of Border Patrol personnel.
The man-size boots fit the tall Reno perfectly. But they hit mid-thigh on Napolitano.
The pair headed down a ladder, Reno first.
"At one point," Napolitano recalls, "her head is right by my foot. And I'm slipping. And I'm thinking, 'I'm going to push the attorney general of the United States into the sewer, in Nogales. This is a bad career move!'"
It certainly was one not worth the risk of imperiling the impressive progress Napolitano already had made. By the early 1990s, her name was often floated as a candidate for Congress or state party chair or whatever position happened to be open at the time. But she resisted, staying behind the scenes but building her role as a player in Arizona Democratic politics, including chairing the state's delegation to the 1992 national party convention.
Although she pals around with party regulars like Steve Owens and Andy Gordon (former U.S. representative Sam Coppersmith's chief of staff and now Napolitano's campaign treasurer), she's stayed on the periphery of Arizona Democratic politics. She has an excuse--as U.S. attorney, she couldn't play politics.
Rumors flew about the possibility of a gubernatorial bid when Napolitano resigned from the U.S. Attorney's Office last November. But in the end, she chose the lower-profile race, and the one without an incumbent.
She's kept a discreet distance from the Arizona Democratic Party ever since.
To prepare to run for elected office, Janet Napolitano traded her gray and blue pinstripes for purple and red silk suits and got some professional tips on TV appearances. And she let a bad perm grow out. Otherwise, what you see is the same Napolitano as last year's model.
Is it really a tactic, just being herself? In any event, it's the best strategy Napolitano could have chosen, because it only underlines McGovern's reliance on wholesome poses.
Napolitano's Phoenix campaign headquarters is located on Central Avenue, in the same building as most of the other statewide office seekers, but she's tucked into a back corner with a separate entrance, which suits her just fine. She's careful not to badmouth other Democrats, but the signals are there. On Primary Night, she held her own soiree at Orbit Cafe instead of joining the rest of the Dems at Encanto Park for their all-party bash.
Whatever the reasoning, the distance serves her well, as Napolitano could likely emerge as the only successful Arizona Democrat seeking statewide office this year. The way to do that, she knows, is to curry favor with potential Republican crossover voters, and her strongest appeal is among women. So it's likely no accident that one of her higher-profile campaign volunteers is a Republican, Martha Fraser Harmon, former staffer to state schools chief Lisa Graham Keegan and former head of Arizona Right to Choose.
Otherwise, the campaign strategy looks pretty guileless: Accept as many speaking engagements as possible, grip and grin and tell people what you've done and what you intend to do. Don't attack the opponent or his friend, the incumbent.
That leaves plenty of room to focus on the issues. Napolitano often remarks that she treats campaigning like a job interview. If she's speaking to lawyers, she tells them what she's like to work for. If she's in front of seniors, she talks about telemarketing fraud and other abuses of that community.
The straight-arrow strategy plays nicely against the folksy McGovern campaign. Usually. McGovern, who emerged a victim from the GOP primary, battered by Kaites' ads depicting him as a pot-smoking, gun-toting criminal, literally, in prison togs with a 5 o'clock shadow and bars over his face, has sworn to run a clean campaign. But McGovern occasionally reaches below the belt.
He juxtaposes regular mentions of his kids with odd digs, seemingly at Napolitano's sexual identity. The night of his primary win, McGovern--pledging to keep his campaign clean--repeatedly told reporters, "Neither she [Napolitano] nor I will put a beard on the other person."
Long before he won the primary, McGovern was taking shots at Napolitano, dubbing her "Napoli-Reno" and telling voters they don't want an attorney general like that liberal, East Coast, Bill Clinton-appointed U.S. attorney general.
He resurrected the notion of Napolitano as Clinton cat's-paw in a recent radio interview. "The attorney general represents the people who live here, not the Democratic Party, not the federal government, not President Clinton, but the individuals who live, work, breathe and die in Arizona," he told KTKT radio listeners on Tucson's John C. Scott show.
McGovern's hands weren't totally clean in his primary against Kaites--he tried to accuse Kaites of opposing juvenile-justice initiatives the senator championed--but he emerged the victorious victim after Kaites overplayed his hand.
Napolitano won't likely repeat Kaites' mistake.
Things you learn about Janet Napolitano, during a day on the campaign trail: She likes a good game of poker. She once climbed Mount Kilimanjaro. She occasionally uses the f-word. She drives a four-door, maroon Acura nicknamed "Shep." Her cat peed all over her application to the University of Virginia law school, and it was too late to retype it, so she dried it off with a hair drier and sent it, anyway, and still got in. She's a lifetime member of the Girl Scouts of America. She injured her right pinky finger this summer, shaking too many hands in a Port-o-Potty line at the Fourth of July picnic in Prescott. She hated the movie Slums of Beverly Hills, loved Sliding Doors. Her cold medication of choice is Sudafed, and she's a Pepper, although she'll take a Coca-Cola if that's all you've got. She giggles.
"Martha, turn on the fucking air!"
Actually, Janet Napolitano and her campaign staffer Martha Fraser Harmon get along much better than that. But it's hot in the back of the Acura and Janet has a cold and Martha's stalling, getting her seat adjusted and the keys out, and everyone's worried about being late to the first campaign stop of the day at the Green Valley Senior Center. That will be followed by a luncheon speech to a group of mentally ill adults in Tucson; editorial-board meetings at the Arizona Daily Star and the Tucson Citizen; a "meet 'n' greet" at a small Tucson law firm; and dinner with a reporter.
Napolitano laughs and covers her mouth, like a guilty kid.
The Green Valley speech goes well. Only a couple of seniors nod off. Waiting for her next appearance, outside a banquet hall at a Tucson Holiday Inn, Napolitano tells war stories from the campaign trail; she's cradling her right pinky, which still gives her trouble after the Prescott Port-o-Potty incident.
She's certainly attended functions and met people she never would have attended or met otherwise, Napolitano says. This summer, she went to "Beat the Heat," the annual fund raiser held by Trends publisher Danny Medina, at which Medina presents his "Fashionalities"--the best-dressed women in Phoenix. One of the Fashionalities, zoning attorney Jordan Rich, invited Napolitano to sit at her table. "What the heck?" Napolitano figured. It was another 1,000 hands to shake.
It's a pretty glitzy affair, held this year at the Camelback Inn. The natural question to pose to an attendee: What did you wear?
"Oh," Napolitano says, sarcastically breezy, "I went with the salmon silk suit."
As though on cue, staffer Fraser Harmon gurgles her approval. What a good color choice, and so on.
Napolitano shoots her a faux dirty look, does her signature eye roll and says, "Whatever."
She continues the day with her talk to the mentally ill adults and visits to the two newspaper editorial boards, and finishes up at the law firm.
She watches the end of the second American League game between the New York Yankees and the Cleveland Indians in the basement of the Hecker law offices in downtown Tucson, then chats for half an hour with a half-dozen lawyers over a Dr Pepper and an ice bucket of popcorn.
She excuses herself, finally, announcing she has to be up the next day for a 6 a.m. television interview.
"I'm really excited, because I'm usually at my best then."
Again, the eyes roll.
Local pundits are celebrating the Napolitano/McGovern race as a serious discourse on the issues of the day. Too bad Janet and Tom agree on just about everything. The differences are only in how they say it.
Take, for example, a question posed to the candidates during an October 5 debate aired on KAET, Phoenix's public television station.
The question: How can your office help us keep gangs out of burgeoning cities like Gilbert?
Napolitano: "I believe the Attorney General's Office can occupy a critical role in Arizona in terms of crime prevention. And that's education. It's bringing people to the table--educators, parents, involved people such as yourself--to talk about not only the problems we have but the problems that could be coming.
"Now, in your area, you've had rapid population growth, your high school is full to the brim with students. It's kind of ripe for maybe a gang or two. We need to work with your local law-enforcement people, we need to work with your teachers and counselors and make sure there's a good gang-prevention strategy in place in Gilbert. There are strategies that work, by the way. They've been working around the country."
McGovern: "I have a bit of a different philosophical approach to questions that are posed to candidates for public office about what we can do about problems of the day. You mentioned a doozy, gangs and youth violence in Arizona. First, I tell the mothers and fathers of Gilbert to love their children. I tell the fathers to stay committed to that marriage and don't run. I tell the mothers to spend more time with your daughters and your sons. Get to know them better. That's the best thing you can do, because anything you offer as attorney general largely winds up with incarceration and punishment."
McGovern goes on to describe some of the tools the AG has, such as racketeering laws, to fight gangs. Bottom line: Napolitano and McGovern both believe gang violence should not be tolerated. Both believe in education and strict enforcement of the law. But their delivery couldn't be more different.
Along with gang prevention, the candidates both agree that adult-only communities are appropriate if laws regulating them are followed; both dislike the Constitutional Defense Council; both say they'll increase the flow of information from the AG's Office to the media; both will pursue anti-tobacco litigation; both vow to improve relations with the Legislature and the Governor's Office.
One sticking point has been in the area of Child Protective Services, where Napolitano says she would work to get the kinks out of CPS' new computer system and to find money in other parts of the AG's Office to devote to child-abuse cases. McGovern says he would hire outside counsel to represent CPS, using the AG's money to represent children solely.
Philosophically, McGovern and Napolitano don't disagree. Both would make it a priority to represent CPS' child charges. But McGovern doesn't make it clear why the children and the agency shouldn't both be represented directly by the AG.
There are two notable exceptions to the issues love fest: abortion and qualifications for holding office.
Abortion is a flash point in many political debates, and it often doesn't belong there at all. In this case, there's some good reason for voters to know that Napolitano is pro-choice and McGovern pro-life, because of two recent cases involving the AG's Office.
McGovern defended both the late-term-abortion ban and parental-consent laws passed in recent years by the Arizona Legislature. Both were declared unconstitutional by federal district judges and are now on appeal.
Napolitano agrees with the courts that both are unconstitutional, and says she would tell the Legislature to rewrite the laws and make them constitutional. She would not pursue an appeal on either.
McGovern disagrees. He believes both are constitutional, and says he would pursue appeals.
The most significant area where the candidates differ is in the realm of experience.
McGovern served in private practice for many years before leaving to work for Grant Woods for one year. In that year, as Woods' third in charge, he handled a number of important cases, mainly civil. He says he got the inside experience he needs to know how to best run that office. Napolitano, too, worked as a private attorney for many years, before her four years as U.S. attorney. She says being in charge is much different than being number three--as McGovern was--and stresses her resulting management experience. McGovern criticizes Napolitano for harping on her criminal experience, since about 70 percent of the AG's work is civil.
Napolitano's response? "That's what the voters are voting on. Criminal."
As you read this, it is already impossible to channel-surf without hitting campaign ad after ad. Short on cash after the GOP primary, McGovern has been forced to wait until now to bombard the airwaves.
The McGovern ads went up last weekend. They're "super feel good," as one McGovern staffer puts it--showing McGovern as protector of seniors, women and families. And, of course, the spots include shots of McGovern playing with his daughter Elizabeth.
McGovern and Co. say they have no intention of going negative, but two weeks is an eternity in a campaign, and anything can happen. With the candidates running side by side in the polls, it's hard to imagine that November 3 will come with no mention of the kiddie-porn case or Anita Hill or Janet Napoli-Reno. But it could happen.
Then again, by the time you read this, the race may already be over. It's been estimated that a third of Arizona voters would vote early this year, and Napolitano was all over TV in early October with a commercial geared specifically to the early voter.
At this point, no one's looking back. Both candidates are still working the phones and pressing the flesh, trying to raise more money for more ads. As of press time, Napolitano has about $150,000 on hand, and that's after a six-figure media buy, her staff says. McGovern raised close to $200,000 at a fund rasier last week, and has called on everyone from former veep Dan Quayle to Joe Arpaio to scrape up cash on his own behalf.
McGovern inched ahead six points in a poll released Friday by the Behavior Research Center; on Sunday, Napolitano picked up the Arizona Republic's endorsement. Tuesday, new figures from a KAET/Arizona State University journalism school poll put Napolitano up 11 points.
In a political season full of foregone conclusions and preoccupation with Bill Clinton's libido, as this story closes, the attorney-general race remains a high-minded contest and a reason to show up at the polls.
Contact Amy Silverman at 229-8443 or her online address: firstname.lastname@example.org
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.