WHO KILLED KING?
A great deal has already been said about Arizona's failure to pass a Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, and most of it has taken the form of pronouncements. On some days since the election, the Arizona Republic has contained little but the wallowing and finger-pointing of every self-impressed columnist from Phoenix to Washington. All of them believe that the defeat of the holiday is a disgrace, and most of them blame it on the National Football League. And now for something completely different.
The thing that has gotten lost in the chest-beating is the story of the spleen-venting struggle to mount a pro-Martin Luther King Jr. Day campaign that went on behind the scenes.
It was a struggle that has left some insiders enraged, and wondering why a political, staunchly Republican public relations firm--the same firm that in 1988 successfully campaigned for Proposition 106, the patently racist "English Only" measure--was assigned to design the strategy in favor of Proposition 302.
It was a struggle that has left some Phoenix minority leaders shaking their heads, and wanting to know why their communities of voters weren't better reached and educated by the business people who saw MLK Day as the key to the Super Bowl.
It was a struggle that erupted into at least one of the more interesting exchanges in recent Arizona political history, a moment when one frustrated strategist screamed at another, "You're nothing but an aerobics instructor!"
Most of all, the feud-that-nobody-saw pitted the passionate reasons for an MLK Day against the dispassionate ones. It resulted in a public campaign that many onlookers felt emphasized greed, as a coalition of downtown business people pontificated that economic betterment for the Valley was the reason an MLK holiday was important.
The residue from the feud was a key reason that an entirely new pro-Martin Luther King Jr. Day coalition has formed in the weeks since the election--a coalition that emphasizes grassroots involvement and stresses the importance of ethical, not economic, messages going out to the public. As the fight for an MLK Day continues, the powerful business people who ran the last campaign will participate with the coalition, but they will not be the spearheads. The minority communities that claim King as their hero will play a much larger part than before.
The new approach is a relief to some insiders--insiders who are asking angrily why the same stodgy pollsters and community leaders are allowed to continue dictating strategy on important Valley issues such as ValTrans, Rio Salado, and Proposition 302, when they do not succeed. The insiders are pointing out that 302 failed by only 1 percent, or 8,500 votes, and that it is too easy to lay those votes entirely at the feet of the NFL. When you're dealing with tiny numbers, couldn't anything have made the difference, including a campaign blueprint that was faulty? "These people have a consistent history of failure," says Arnie Zaler, the entrepreneur and former left-wing radical who, as the head of the grassroots group Unity, became one of the holiday's most outspoken proponents. He is referring to business leaders like political consultant Bob Robb and CEO Mark DeMichele, who have worked on behalf of many community projects and were members of the Martin Luther King Better America Committee (MLK-BAC), the group of largely Establishment leaders that pushed the holiday. He's also referring to Earl de Berge of Behavior Research Center, one of the Valley's most prominent pollsters, whose projections were used by strategists supporting ValTrans, Rio Salado, and Proposition 302--all of which failed.
"It is an incestuous relationship," Zaler continues. "These guys pay each other fees to regurgitate the same old-fashioned style, to get the same wrong information.
"When you only do things in the old way, you are missing the raw energy. And that is what all those issues were about! There are two sides: People who want change and those who don't."
There is no doubt which side Zaler is on. There's no doubt, either, that his rabble-rousing rush toward change was at the heart of the split in the pro-MLK holiday campaign.
His form of support for civil rights was the form of an obnoxious, seasoned reformer whose dreams and anger are still with him. Throughout the campaign, he wanted to speechify about the moral evils of racism. He wanted to poke his audiences with reminders that the absence of a holiday in this state is the work of that often reviled character and bigot, former Governor Evan Mecham. He proselytized for human rights in gay bars on the weekends, accompanied by his wife. His idealism ran smack up against the tendency of the members of the Better America Committee to feel awfully alarmed by any expression of extreme emotion on behalf of Martin Luther King Jr.
The MLK-BAC is personified by Terry Hudgins, the co-chair and a lobbyist for Arizona Public Service Company, and Bob Robb, a partner in the public relations firm of Nelson Ralston Robb Communications.
Hudgins is an agreeable conservative who is an amateur at thinking in terms of human rights. He embraced the ideals of true equality as clumsily as Gerald Ford coming down an airplane ramp.
Robb is a staunch Republican and politico who since his college days at Occidental College has affected a deep attachment to the intellectual and merciless form of conservatism that's best associated with William F. Buckley Jr. Before going into the public relations biz four years ago, he was a lobbyist for the Arizona and Phoenix Chambers of Commerce. He and his firm were Proposition 302's principal strategists.
According to insiders, Robb and Hudgins and other members of the MLK-BAC were made very nervous by Zaler's idealism, and they devoted much time and energy to trying to muzzle him. They were fearful that his no-nonsense rhetoric would alienate Republican voters with talk of women's rights and homosexuals; they dreaded the divisive effects of his passion for human equality. Finally, they launched an all-out effort to keep Zaler out of the newspapers and off the air.
They tried to bully news directors into canceling Zaler's appearances on their programs. They outlawed any public debate on the MLK Day issue, because debate would result in emotional statements they couldn't control.
And they tried in other ways to soft-pedal the matter of civil rights. For instance, they produced a series of mailers that most often reduced Dr. King's face to a stylized drawing that was practically a logo, as though a photograph of a radical was too shocking and immediate. When the mailers were directed to Republican voters, the text emphasized lost convention trade and the Super Bowl and sometimes barely mentioned the black leader, except in terms of the name of the proposed holiday.
Robb and the MLK-BAC say they did all this so that Proposition 302 could win. Their marketing studies, performed by de Berge, demonstrated that accusations about racism would alienate older, Republican voters. The studies showed that positive spokespeople and subtle, positive images arriving in the mail or flitting across TV screens wouldn't offend anyone.
Robb and the MLK-BAC imply that Zaler, with whom they were forced to work, was in the way of success and refused to get out of the way. "Arnie Zaler's sole purpose was self-promoting, preparing himself to run for the city council," says one MLK-BAC member who asked not to be identified. "I don't even give him the credit of being well meaning. He did harm the campaign absolutely. I would guess that we spent thirty to forty thousand dollars' worth of time trying to deal with Arnie."
Says another: "He pissed me off so bad I really wanted to grab him by the neck and throttle him. He was saying that this campaign should have left the pragmatic, economic issues out of it. He started giving shit to the business community.
"Fine. Let him go and run a campaign on the moral and ethical arguments of a Martin Luther King Day holiday and I will watch him lose 60-40.
"I will never speak to him again. Ever."
Some onlookers, including Zaler, say that all this fear and loathing were not generated solely out of concern for an MLK Day. They say that Nelson Ralston Robb was hamstrung by a conflict of interests: If Robb and his minions designed a strategy that sent liberals scurrying for the polls, they ran the risk of defeating Republican candidates. (Robb was the principal strategist for Congressman Jon Kyl and is a personal friend and informal adviser to Attorney General-elect Grant Woods, another prominent Republican.) They say that Robb stood to damage the future of his business if he bought into Zaler's vigorous tactics.
"Robb's firm was not the firm I would have selected to run a Martin Luther King Day," says Pat Cantelme, president of the Phoenix Firefighters Association and one of the Valley's leading liberal activists who was busy behind the scenes throughout the MLK campaign. "It was difficult for him to motivate those liberal voters in a way that he did not lose the people that he ordinarily does business with."
Cantelme isn't alone as he makes these observations, but he's not part of a unanimous group, either. There are numerous observers who believe absolutely that Robb and Chuck Coughlin, the senior account executive at Nelson Ralston Robb who oversaw the campaign's daily operations, ran the most effective, selfless campaign possible. Some of these observers even are Democrats.
One of them, Representative Art Hamilton, who is a black community leader and member of the MLK-BAC strategy committee, says he was leery in the beginning about the selection of Nelson Ralston Robb. "Through the years, Bob Robb and I have had disagreements on every issue of controversy," he says. "But I am in an opposite place today. I came away believing that the folks at Nelson Ralston Robb gave it their best shot."
Robb himself also denies that he did less than his best job for Proposition 302. He says that he and his staff kept partisan politics out of the campaign--that when they were working the phones to identify pro-MLK Day voters, they never even asked whether the parties on the line were Republicans or Democrats, because they didn't want to know. He points out that political campaigning results in less than 4 percent of his company's revenues in Arizona.
Then he adds something that's a little peculiar, coming from the man whose business is knowing how to flush out voters and who accepted the final responsibility for 302's success. Referring to Zaler's charge that more should have been done to encourage the voting of minorities, Robb's voice takes on a condescending tone. "I find it somewhat amusing that the suggestion is that I was the one who could have caused those voting constituencies to vote in higher numbers," Robb says. "I don't know what I could have done to make this an important issue in those communities."
Which raises, then, a troubling question: Were the minorities--the most natural constituency for a Martin Luther King holiday--shortchanged because of an outreach campaign overseen by a conservative firm that doesn't understand them?
With more effort, could those 8,500 votes come out of South Phoenix?
Who was the MLK Day campaign aimed at, anyway? FOR ALL BOB ROBB'S conservatism, his admiration of King is real. It began two years ago, on the twentieth anniversary of King's death, when Robb saw on television a videotape of King delivering the "I Have a Dream" speech for the first time. "I was simultaneously mesmerized and transported by it," he says. Long a student of public policy, Robb embarked on a plan to read King's writings and biography, and emerged at the end believing that "King was one of the greatest Americans who ever lived."
Although he volunteers readily that he has never advocated civil rights legislation, his commitment to equality in principle seems clear enough even to some liberals. Bill Jamieson, who drafted Robb into the MLK Day campaign and is a public affairs consultant with the liberal firm of Jamieson and Gutierrez, says that it may be the only political issue on which the two men agree: "Robb and I would probably come out close on a litmus test for racial justice."
What is probably true is that the conservatives who worked for the passage of an MLK Day had not openly objected to discrimination for the greater part of their lives, to the point that the issue had begun to ache in their bones. Some of them speak of civil rights with the same broad, blank, cheerful enthusiasm they would bring to the discussion of a team sport.
In fact, MLK-BAC co-chair Terry Hudgins thinks that civil rights and sports may be the same thing. "The football field is the equalizer of all races," he says heartily, when asked to share his civil rights philosophy. "On the football field, it comes down to raw talent and what we desire to achieve. The equalizer is the contest."
He is a slow-moving, slow-speaking man who attended Northern Arizona University on a football scholarship. He is 43, but was not an activist during the age of campus activism. Transplanted to Arizona from conservative Orange County, California, he studied faithfully and went to ball practice. Now he works for Arizona Public Service Company with an eight-by-ten of President George Bush propped up in his office, near the larger portraits of his wife and young daughter. His associates credit him with an unsuspecting niceness that sometimes plays like naivete. He is born-again. He became involved with the MLK holiday when drafted into it by CEO Mark DeMichele.
"Everyone should start on that level playing field, whether it is women or men or Hispanics," he elaborates about civil rights. "In terms of our constitution, it says that all men are created equal, and we should go from there.
"Not everybody can be the quarterback or wide receiver. But there are particular talents that are possessed by certain of our minorities, by certain Anglos, that when used in relationship to the team, you can move the ball down the field and achieve success.
"As we create the opportunity for minorities to succeed and play a role on the team, then think of the medical cures that could be discovered if we have the talents of a black or Hispanic! What if they discover the cure for AIDS?"
When the MLK-BAC formed early this year to push the holiday, its members brought sentiments such as these into the arena that was already dominated by Unity and Arnie Zaler. Such sentiments had very little in common with Zaler, whom the MLK-BAC soon asked to be a member of its strategy committee.
Zaler, 41, became a ringleader of grassroots efforts for the MLK holiday more than two years ago, when he was a delegate of the Black-Jewish Coalition of the Jewish Federation of Greater Phoenix. It was hardly, however, his first brush with civil rights activism. At ages fifteen and sixteen, he actually traveled from his hometown of Denver, Colorado, to Georgia and Alabama to march with King.
In college in Boulder, he was a campus organizer who demonstrated on behalf of civil rights and other causes at colleges from Kent State to Berkeley. Not just any organizer, either--the sort of high-profile leader who became well known to the local police. He claims that officers twice responded to his tendency to shout "pigs" at the top of his lungs by taking him aside and beating the hell out of him.
It is easy to believe that the police officers enjoyed these occasions enormously. Zaler can be very irritating.
He has perfected an oily, obsequious manner. He will solicit an opinion feverishly and then agree with nearly everything that is said to him. Afterward, observers say, he usually does whatever he had been planning to do originally, as though his advisers had never spoken.
If all this bowing and boneheadedness alienated some members of the Better America Committee, Zaler's approach played much better to the masses. Even his slick emotionalism couldn't disguise his personal commitment to the cause of civil rights.
Although sometimes his enthusiasm, heartfelt as it was, was very goofy. "Peace is everywhere but in Jerusalem and Phoenix!" Zaler expounded to Evan Mecham during a television debate, in the days before Saddam Hussein was a problem. He went on to challenge Mecham to cultivate the peacemaking abilities of Richard Nixon when the former president had made diplomatic inroads into China. "I am asking you to have that same bold vision of leadership [in relationship to Martin Luther King Day]! Let the Middle East be the only place left with problems!"
At other times, Zaler was far more inspiring. These were the occasions when he surfaced as the only pro-MLK Day leader who was willing to cut to the ugly heart of Arizona's racism.
"Evan Mecham has forced people from different backgrounds, different cultures, different colors to work together," he told a group of students at NAU. "He made people think about quiet racism when he would shrug his shoulders and say, `I didn't think that was a bad term to use, be it "pickaninny" or "wetback." I didn't think there was anything wrong with attacking Ed Buck because he is a homosexual. I don't think anything was wrong, Arnie, when I told you before our debate last year, "Gee, you are a lot nicer than any other Jew I have ever met."'
"It is that kind of quiet racism that Mecham has brought back to the front burner of Arizona politics. And it is important. Because too many of us went on to the Seventies and Eighties and forgot what it was all about. We forgot the message. We gave up."
Arnie Zaler made it clear that he would never give up about the Martin Luther King holiday. Says Ida Steele, an organizer in the black community, "When a lot of people would get discouraged, he still had a lot of energy. Arnie motivated you."
Perhaps it was because he was so motivated himself--not only by his personal history, but by the public relations firm he had hired privately to promote his company Softie. Francine Hardaway and her husband Wayne Zink, of Hardaway Connections, always seemed to be at Zaler's elbow during his MLK Day dealings. This state of affairs did not endear him to the MLK-BAC. Already some members were perceiving him as a gentleman who loved the limelight, and now he was accompanied by his own promoter to meetings! Already he was admitting openly that he hoped to run for political office in the future!
Hardaway and Zink say they never appeared on the scene to get Zaler elected to anything. Instead, their interest in the MLK holiday reaches back more than three years to the time when they began working for free on its behalf. At that time, the MLK effort primarily amounted to an intention by the black community to persuade the state legislature to declare a holiday, and the matter had stalled, hung up by an inability to agree on a way to address the issue. Later, Hardaway and Zink had picked up Zaler and Softie as a client because of a mutual interest in the holiday.
Even Hardaway admits that it's difficult for Zaler to avoid the appearance of self-promotion. She says, "Arnie is on an ego trip. But he is also committed to the issue of civil rights and he has spent thousands and thousands of dollars of his own money. People are a lot of things at the same time."
After its years of volunteer work, Hardaway Connections hoped to be hired by the MLK-BAC to take the campaign forward. It didn't happen.
Last August, Mecham and his minions collected 71,000 signatures; the signatures forced a voter referendum on the paid MLK Day that the state legislature, after fifteen years of hedging, had finally established in May. To Hardaway's surprise, the business of selling a Martin Luther King Day to the public by November went to Nelson Ralston Robb, for the fee of $50,000 plus commissions from TV sales, which forced the total much higher. (Robb says this fee is about half what he usually charges for statewide campaigns.)
Hardaway and Zink continued to work with Zaler, however, and to regard the passage of Proposition 302 with such a proprietary interest that they still refer to it as "their" campaign. They admit they are not objective about the strategy Robb chose. "It would have been nice to get paid for the work we'd been doing for free," Hardaway admits. For his part, Robb had also worked for free for the MLK-BAC during its early months of lobbying for the holiday at the legislature. He and Hudgins both say Robb asked not to be considered for the job when it became clear that a campaign was needed. But in the end, Nelson Ralston Robb seemed the most geared up to design a campaign in a hurry, Hudgins says.
It didn't seem the best solution to everyone. Ex-Babbitt aide Tommy Espinoza remembers objecting strongly to the move at one of the earliest, coalition-building meetings with Nelson Ralston Robb. He says he was horrified that the firm that only two years before had shoved the English Only bill down the Hispanic community's throat was now trying to be believable as a proponent of equal rights. "I said, `It's going to be really hard for me to get excited about this,'" he remembers. Other coalition members echoed his views. In short order, Democratic consultant Rick DeGraw was hired to supplement Robb's efforts with a grassroots campaign for liberals. It was DeGraw's assignment to go into the minority neighborhoods whose needs he understood better than Robb, and whose sensibilities he would not offend.
The campaign was off and running. Sort of.
Robb says it quickly became apparent that Zaler's inciting approach to Proposition 302 could hurt it. Pollster de Berge's numbers were showing that, when you wagged the finger at Arizona and accused it of being racist, "an important voting segment fled from you," primarily Republicans over the age of 55 and some younger Republicans. The same thing was true if voters were warned of dire economic consequences unless the MLK Day passed. When threatened, the voters simply dug their heels in and resisted.
In keeping with the campaign's strategy, Robb and Coughlin decided that Zaler should not make any polarizing statements during his appearances--that he shouldn't publicly announce a voter-registration drive aimed at gays, for instance, or duel with Mecham. They decided, in fact, that no supporter of Proposition 302 should publicly debate anyone. They felt it would be difficult to share a stage with the likes of communist-baiting Julian Sanders, the outspoken MLK Day opponent, without taking a few swings at him, and thus alienating some Republicans.
It was difficult for Zaler to refute this part of the strategy, or any other part. Robb and Coughlin were always able to justify themselves with numbers. Nonetheless, the bloodless plan that was personified by the vague slogan, "Honor Civil Rights, Help Arizona," just didn't sit well with Zaler and Hardaway.
"The campaign totally lacked vision," Hardaway says now. "`Vote yes on 302' is not a vision. `Honor Civil Rights, Help Arizona' is not even a vision.
"You can say that it was positioned poorly on the ballot--which it was--and that having two propositions on the ballot was confusing--which it was--and that the NFL statement hurt us, which it did. But I still believe that if there had been any vision in the campaign, anything that meant something to people emotionally, that we would have won. Because we only lost by 1 percent with all those factors."
Union leader Cantelme also felt that Robb's approach would make it just too easy for racists to hide, since they would never be confronted. "I am not so sure you don't have to challenge racists, to say, `If you're not bigoted, you need to demonstrate that you aren't,'" he says. "Because there aren't any racists in the world! They will always blame it on something else if you don't challenge them."
De Berge's studies coughed up other important numbers and conclusions.
Fewer than 10 percent of the voters were undecided about the holiday. Everyone who had decided was unlikely to change. More than 50 percent supported the holiday and close to 40 percent opposed it, but the opposers were far more likely to vote.
Robb's strategy became four-pronged: He aimed to keep the voters who already supported the holiday; to increase the turnout among young, liberal voters who were most likely to support it; to persuade more young Republicans to support it; and to try to make some inroads with senior Republicans and rural voters. He knew the last groups would be by far the most difficult to convince.
Robb lists the conversion of staid, older Republicans as the lowest priority, and it is true that fewer senior Republicans were targeted with Robb's mailings than any other group. Yet Zaler and Hardaway contend that the campaign shaped up in other ways into one that had the protection of senior Republicans as its first concern.
In particular, they cite Coughlin's mania to keep Zaler out of the public eye.
According to numerous local news directors, Coughlin pressured them to drop Zaler from news appearances. Three news directors say that Coughlin tried to strong-arm them by citing the station's demographics and saying that Zaler wasn't a good match, or by trying to wave dollar signs in front of them. ("My client, the MLK-BAC, has spent $750,000 on this issue. Don't you think we're entitled to the spokesman we want?") Producer Beth Shapiro at Channel 8 says that Coughlin even tried to imply that, if she wouldn't replace Zaler, she was advancing a political agenda of her own.
Coughlin admits it all, but says he was only trying to protect the campaign. He also admits to losing his head altogether. Upon learning one day that Hardaway Connections' Wayne Zink had scheduled yet another interview for Zaler, Coughlin phoned him in a rage, and included in his heated comments a reference to Zink's former career.
"Get the fuck out of my campaign! You are nothing but an aerobics instructor!" he yelled. "You're a joke! Why don't you go do another grand opening?"
Coughlin says he is a little ashamed of his performance now, but he also claims that his was a nearly unavoidable crime of passion. He is a young Republican, a former finance director for John McCain's campaign for the Senate who only began studying the life of King when he was assigned to work on the 302 campaign. (Prior to that, he successfully ran the pro-English Only campaign for Nelson Ralston Robb.) Despite this late start, Coughlin says his conversion is complete. "I should not have said it, but I care," he says. "Obviously, this was not a traditional political campaign, an insurance ballot or even a candidate. We are talking about traditional American values, things that are in the constitution. You can get real close to the bone."
You can, indeed. A few days after the Martin Luther King Day defeat, the Zaler contingent will not be comforted. Seated at a conference table at the Hardaway Connections offices, Zaler himself is still second-guessing the campaign as though he can reverse the outcome. He says mournfully, "If we had gone to women and said, `This is your holiday, too!' If we had made the linkage with human rights, it wouldn't have mattered what happened on Sunday with [CBS sportscaster] Greg Gumbel."
Seated beside him, Hardaway has become teary eyed. She explains, her voice breaking, that her father was a manager for black musicians, among them Pearl Bailey and Lionel Hampton. Although a bigoted man in some ways, he was responsible for "opening up" Las Vegas casino owners to the idea of allowing his clients to sleep and eat in the same hotels where they were performing. She says, "This is a very long-term, emotional commitment for me."
She has just accused Robb and Coughlin of a lack of vision that caused Proposition 302 to fail, but it becomes suddenly clear where she believes the heaviest blame lies. "If I had been younger, and less afraid to make waves, I would have made so much noise at those early meetings with the Better America Committee!" she says. "I lost my vision!"
IF ROBB AND COUGHLIN SUCCEEDED in coddling the emotions of senior Republican voters, did they mobilize the minorities, who some observers feared would be ignored by a Republican firm? The answer is, not overwhelmingly. Despite Democrat Rick DeGraw's grassroots efforts, his numbers show that in the minority voting districts in Maricopa County, turnout approximately equaled that of the 1988 election. In one way, that's good: 1988 was a presidential election year, and everyone voted in higher numbers than usual. In another way, it's not good: Proposition 302 was the issue that could have resulted in truly extraordinary turnout among minorities. But it didn't happen.
"The truth is that we just didn't have time to put together an effective grassroots campaign," Robb admits. By the time the campaign got organized in late August, it was too late for an extensive voter-registration drive before the registration deadline of September 17, he explains. And after that, the efforts directed at existing minority voters by DeGraw's group were apparently not an unqualified success.
Zaler and Zink disagree with half of this rationale. They say they were trying to gear up to register young and liberal voters throughout the summer, in case Mecham's petitions succeeded in putting 302 on the ballot. They also say they were discouraged from doing it by members of the MLK-BAC, particularly Steve Roman of Valley National Bank. They were told that "the numbers" might show older Republicans were the swing vote. If it turned out to be true, why risk alienating Republicans with a highly publicized campaign to register liberals, minorities and gays?
By the time "the numbers" were in--numbers proving that young voters were the crucial ones--the opportunity for widespread registration had slipped by.
"They said, `We don't know if we need your people to be registered,'" recalls Zink. "That term `your people' really got to me."
Roman vehemently denies the "your people" comment, and says Zaler and Zink were asked to keep a low profile over the summer, as was everyone else working with the MLK-BAC committee. He says he feared that visible, pro-MLK Day activity would only irritate Mecham's soldiers and strengthen their resolve to obtain enough signatures. Within the Hispanic community, Tommy Espinoza has some ideas about why DeGraw's outreach didn't work better. Long an organizer among Hispanics, who account for 18 percent of the state's population, he says that the mindset of his community was never understood, despite DeGraw's liberal ties. To understand so divisive an issue as the MLK holiday, organizers should have been willing to "go beyond the norm of politics"--the phoning, signs, commercials on Spanish-speaking radio--and strive to perceive the real obstacles.
Some young Hispanics are attached to the ideals of the Sixties, says Espinoza, but his community in large part is composed of older, conservative Hispanics and others who don't identify with King. These folks aren't wealthy, and they believed their taxes would increase if they gave state employees another paid holiday.
And although economics was the problem, Espinoza suspects that economic arguments would not have been the answer, in the way Robb and his group perceived them as the answer for senior Republicans. What was needed, he says, was the recruitment of admired Hispanic leaders to carry the message of civil rights to their own people. "If they would have put forth some individuals in our community who had succeeded because of Dr. King's efforts, you would have had people between thirty and forty saying, `I never would have gotten this far without King,'" says Espinoza. "People would have said, `He didn't just do this for blacks.'" What happened instead is that Espinoza attended one pro-MLK Day press conference after another where not a single brown face was seated on the platform.
As for the black community, Art Hamilton laments that his constituency didn't come to the polls the way they could have, but he doesn't fault the strategies of the BAC or Nelson Ralston Robb. The problem lies with the members of the small black community itself and with the way they perceive themselves as powerless, he says.
The black community is not well organized, according to Hamilton. There are no Kiwanis or Rotary clubs, no chamber of commerce, nothing beside the churches to rally black voters. The one organization that is best suited to serve as a spearhead, the NAACP, is not well utilized.
Insiders add that even the power of black churches sagged where the MLK Day was concerned, after the Reverend Warren Stewart removed himself from the front lines in order to turn his attention to other things. Stewart is a charismatic leader whom the troops rally behind; the Reverend Henry Barnwell, who took his place, is not.
According to Hamilton, blacks knew that if they wanted their hero to be honored, they had to deliver him into white hands. They were reluctant enough to do so, according to other observers, that the MLK Day issue had stalemated in the black community in the pre-BAC years, and became vital only when resuscitated by the self-interests of Phoenix business people.
"If we had the ability to run the issue, I think we could turn out the vote in large numbers," says Hamilton. "But we know that no matter how hard we work, we are absolutely dependent on the larger community. That does cause some disaffection.
"I think the minority community has come to believe that they cannot affect the course of where things are going in the state, that their vote doesn't really count. And some of us have become forgetful of the price we paid to achieve the franchise."
If minorities in urban Arizona voted on November 6 in about the same percentages that they cast their votes for president two years ago, it wasn't true in the rural areas: In out-counties that are heavily Native American or Hispanic, turnout dipped from 4 to 11 percent, according to DeGraw's postelection numbers. And that was only one of the telling indicators that the message of civil rights never reached beyond Maricopa and Pima County lines. (See related story, page 22.)
The dismal numbers demonstrate a main weakness in the Nelson Ralston Robb campaign: Rural Arizona was virtually ignored. Beyond a single mailer that targeted rural areas, few efforts were aimed there, and no grassroots efforts at all. Robb says he simply never found a "hook" that would make Proposition 302 relevant to the out-county masses, who apparently perceived it as a business boon for Phoenix and Tucson. Coughlin adds he felt confident of winning if 302 carried in the urban counties.
As for the Republican voters who caused all the friction between campaign organizers and Zaler, did they come through? After all the pains that were taken not to offend them, was it worth it?
No and no. All of Arizona watched as, in the wee hours of November 7, the votes came in from Mesa and Sun City--the votes of the oldster conservatives that turned the gubernatorial election in Fife Symington's favor. At the exact time, Proposition 302 plunged to its death. In the end, the favored electorate of the Nelson Ralston Robb bunch hadn't cared. Coughlin, Robb, and de Berge laid it at the feet of the NFL and the threat to withdraw the Super Bowl from Phoenix that aired on CBS the Sunday afternoon before the election. They say the football league cost Proposition 302 about 60,000 votes when it gave closet racists an excuse that camouflaged their "no" votes.
Even Valley pollster Bruce Merrill, who wasn't a campaign strategist and has nothing to justify, estimates that the NFL changed 30,000 minds.
Maybe all these people are right. The NFL could have done it.
As the movement for a Martin Luther King holiday staggers to its feet again, however, its expanded leadership isn't safeguarding itself against football honchos, as though that were the most important thing. As it considers the alternatives that are left--a special election, inclusion of a vote on the holiday on the gubernatorial run-off ballot--it is trying to move in a new direction that won't repeat the problems of the Nelson Ralston Robb strategy.
At a meeting with MLK Day coalition leaders held at the First Institutional Baptist Church last Wednesday, November 28, Reverend Stewart made it clear he is re-entering the fray, that the holiday is being reclaimed by a broader community than the MLK-BAC has ever represented. The campaign is returning to its grassroots. New ideas for victory were thick in the air: Involve Hispanic leaders. Deluge the out-counties with information. Heal the state.
Old ideas, such as an initiative controlled by white business people, were out the window. It is doubtful that the new, more dispersed form of power will be able to come up with anything like the $750,000 that the MLK-BAC wrung out of its members and powerful friends in order to run its campaign. Doubtful that any public relations firm will commandeer anything close to $50,000 for its role, although Robb says he will be happy to volunteer his time without charge if he is asked. So far, he hasn't been.
It was a marvelous meeting for Arnie Zaler. As he drove away from it, he was positively raving. In this new campaign, there will be room for emotions! he said. There will be open debates! Every attempt will be made to reach the voters to whom the MLK Day makes the most difference!
He said it all delightedly, with his car phone pressed to his ear. Already he was talking to a reporter. end part 3 of 3
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One frustrated strategist screamed at another, "You're nothing but an aerobics instructor!"
Insiders are asking angrily why the same stodgy pollsters and community leaders are allowed to continue dictating strategy on important Valley issues.
MLK committee members were made very nervous by Zaler's idealism, and they devoted much time and energy to trying to muzzle him.
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Who was the MLK Day campaign aimed at, anyway?
Some of them speak of civil rights with the same broad, blank, cheerful enthusiasm they would bring to the discussion of a team sport.
Even Zaler's slick emotionalism couldn't disguise his personal commitment.
"Peace is everywhere but in Jerusalem and Phoenix!" Zaler expounded to Evan Mecham.
When threatened, the voters simply dug their heels in and resisted.
"[Racists] will always blame it on something else if you don't challenge them."
"If we had made the linkage with human rights, it wouldn't have mattered what happened on Sunday with Greg Gumbel."
Why risk alienating Republicans with a highly publicized campaign to register liberals, minorities and gays?
Espinoza attended one pro-MLK Day press conference after another where not a single brown face was seated on the platform.
Blacks knew that if they wanted their hero to be honored, they had to deliver him into white hands.
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