Best Politician(s) 2012 | Team Awesome | People & Places | Phoenix

They're known as Team Awesome: a crew of young people from different walks of life, brought together by a burning motivation to end an ongoing campaign in Arizona to criminalize their existence.

This army of activists pushed Latinos in a West Phoenix community to increase their voter turnout by nearly 500 percent, successfully electing a second Latino to the Phoenix City Council in 2011.

How these kids found each other is almost as amazing as the work they do on a daily basis — registering new voters, inspiring dormant voters, explaining to both why their vote matters, and spreading the word about worthy candidates to potential voters across the Valley. It started with a young, but experienced, organizer named Joseph Larios working with the Maricopa County Democratic Party. During a visit to Grand Canyon University in search of new recruits, he found Viri Hernandez. The pair later showed up at a Maricopa County Community College board meeting during talks of tuition hikes for undocumented students, where they heard Tony Valdovino, a fiery young man speaking boldly in opposition to the inevitable increase. And so it went, each new recruit bringing in more high school, community college, and university students — many undocumented immigrants — who were willing to walk during the blistering summer heat, pack into cars without air-conditioning, and sleep on their members' living room floors when they were short on cars but wanted to get an early start out in the field the following day. Why? To spread a message to the Latino community that casting a ballot for a politician who supports them in their fight for national immigration reform and passage of the DREAM Act, and resists laws that criminalize their mere presence in the United States, is casting a vote for a better future. As they note on their Facebook page, they have a "keen eye for leaders . . . [and] know how [to] mold them into someone more powerful than they ever thought possible." These student volunteers may not all be able to vote, but they are voting vicariously hundreds — make that thousands — of times through their eligible friends, families and neighbors.

Anyone who remembers (and really, how could anyone forget?) Jan Brewer's brain fart heard 'round the world during a live televised debate during the 2010 Arizona gubernatorial race must have been impressed with how surefooted our governor was during a TV interview in August at the Republican National Convention in Tampa. Why, she didn't hesitate for a moment in offering her endorsement to — Barack Obama. Seriously, doesn't that woman have a handler? Or a giant hook, maybe a gong nearby? No, no, there she was, offering a big grin and a complete sentence — all about how confident she is that Obama will secure our borders and do our country proud. Later, Brewer told reporters she had been tired. Um, okay. Let's hope she rests up before she has to make any important decisions. Or speak in public again.

Randy Parraz pulled off what most political pundits in the Valley believed was impossible: leading a successful recall against Arizona Senate President Russell Pearce, one of the most powerful — and feared — politicians in Arizona.

A longtime community organizer, Parraz was raised in Sacramento and got a law degree from the University of California-Berkeley and a master's in public administration from the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. It was the fateful appointment of Pearce as Arizona's Senate president that lit a fire under Parraz and motivated him to launch a recall against the author of SB 1070. As Pearce pushed harder and further to criminalize undocumented immigrants, Parraz and Citizens for a Better Arizona, comprising a bipartisan throng of volunteers, pushed even harder to educate voters in Mesa about the damage Pearce's extreme views were causing Arizona. It led to one of the most talked-about political upsets in the state. In fact, it was the first time in the nation's history that anyone in Pearce's political position had been tossed out of office. Parraz is now trained on making sure that Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio does not get re-elected to office in 2012.

It takes a big man to admit when he's wrong. Suffice it to say that disbarred former Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas is not that man. Or a man at all, unless you wanna call him a "baby-man." After he was stripped of his law license by a three-person disciplinary panel of the Arizona Supreme Court, did Thomas cowboy up, admit his wrongdoing, and ask for forgiveness from the law profession and the public? Hell, no. Instead, he kept right on defending the actions that got him in trouble from jump — the witch hunts, the ginned-up RICO lawsuit, the false criminal charges against public officials, including Superior Court Judge Gary Donahoe. And adding insult to his fraudulent legal machinations, Thomas has gone on to compare himself to the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr., Mahatma Gandhi, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, St. Thomas More, and, of all people, Sheriff Buford Pusser of Walking Tall fame. Gee, care for some Camembert with that whine, Andy? And while you're at it, here's a match to light that Hindenburg-size head you've got on your shoulders. We're lookin' forward to our next visit to Walmart, with Thomas as a greeter telling folks, "You know, I used to be a lawyer."

No matter how old you get, some people still want to treat you like a child for your entire life. Take Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery, for example, who's still preaching the evils of the marihuana. He presses for parents to drug-test their children — especially around the stoner holiday of "4/20" — and asked the county to "opt out" of the state's medical marijuana program, which was approved by the state's voters. On other issues, it's Monty's way or the highway. He issued a warning to anyone filming porno flicks in Arizona that they may be guilty of prostitution. On one occasion, we found him at a religious rally that was billed as a protest against the mandated funding of contraception in employer healthcare plans. Montgomery never actually followed through on trying to get the county out of the state's medical marijuana program, and he hasn't prosecuted porn actors on prostitution charges, but c'mon, man, nobody likes a buzzkill either.

Best Private Practice Lawyer Who Should Be County Attorney

Tom Ryan

Save for when rock-ribbed Republican Rick Romley's been Maricopa County Attorney, those in charge of the county attorney's office have been either political hacks, ideologues, weenies, or all three. In any case, there's one man we'd like to see in the catbird seat, fightin' Irishman Tom Ryan, the Chandler attorney best known for exposing the plot to run Olivia Cortes as a sham candidate in the recall election that removed state Senate President Russell Pearce from office. Like a one-man Irish Republican Army, Ryan takes no prisoners in the courtroom, as was revealed when he put Cortes and many of those involved in this nasty plot on the stand in a complaint he handled pro bono along with Mesa attorney H. Micheal Wright. When Ryan aimed his subpoenas at the ringleaders of the Cortes affair, Cortes suddenly withdrew as a candidate, allowing state Senator Jerry Lewis to prevail over Pearce. Can you imagine what would happen if we had an county attorney with stones like Ryan? Corrupt politicos would be wetting their britches in fear. Which is why likely it won't happen. But we can dream, can't we?

If you're a wackjob surrounded by other wackjobs, are you still a wackjob? The answer is "yes," but in the case of Mesa's Red Mountain Tea Party, there's also strength in collective insanity. Indeed, this noxious collection of geriatric birthers, right-wing extremists, and bigots has become the place in the East Valley for Republican candidates and officeholders to peddle their ideological wares. Congressional candidates, state legislators, U.S. Senators, you name it — if they're from this state and there's an R beside their name, they've probably made a pilgrimage to speak before this collection of hateful grandpas and grannies who think President Obama is a communist from Kenya, racial profiling is a myth, and Sheriff Joe Arpaio walks on water. Yep, there are more nuts here than a Brach's bridge mix, and yet, still, the Republicans come to shuck and jive on the RMTP's stage, because, sadly for us, old crazy white people vote more than the young, the sane, and the brown.

We're gonna miss Sylvia Allen, the state senator from Snowflake who has never been shy about sharing the fact that she's as dumb as a bag of hammers and as bigoted as her disgraced mentor, recalled ex-state Senate President Russell Pearce. Whether it was inviting an anti-Mexican bigot like Glenn Spencer to speak before the Senate Border Security Committee she chaired or famously declaring that the Earth is only 6,000 years old, she always gave us great material, like the way Governor Jan Brewer helps out the writers of The Daily Show. But all good things must come to an end. As of 2012, Allen finds herself in a competitive district and has chickened out of a bid for re-election. Now whose stupid moves will we lambaste? Whose prejudice will we scorn and mock? Thankfully, here in Sand Land, there's always another tinfoil-hat-wearin' politico comin' around the corner, but, sigh, not one who so strongly resembles the cranky bus driver lady character from South Park.

We still don't feel sorry for Olivia Cortes, the hapless Mesa retiree who allowed her name and face to be used in a sinister plot to split the vote in last year's recall in Legislative District 18. That plot was foiled due to the efforts of Chandler attorney Tom Ryan and others who worked tirelessly to expose her as a plant by the campaign of former state Senate President Russell Pearce. Some say she was just being used by pro-Pearce stalwarts, but she let herself be used, just as a shill is used by a card shark. She deserves her infamy and, oddly, a measure of thanks. If she had not been so obviously clueless, the con might have succeeded. But she is and it didn't, and for that, Olivia, we say, gracias for being such a tonta grande ("colossal idiot").

Best Example of a Worthless Federal Agency Operating in Arizona

Tie: The FBI and the DOJ

If you need a reason not to pay your taxes, look no further than the Federal Bureau of Incompetence, um, we mean, Investigation, and its parent agency, the U.S. Department of Justice. The most recent manifestation of federal laziness followed the Gilbert massacre, committed by neo-Nazi J.T. Ready. Ready killed four innocents and himself on May 2, after which the FBI told the media that it had an open investigation on Ready. Um, really? So why no action on the two-ton swastika-licker's holding migrants hostage and zip-tying them in the desert? What were you guys waiting for, an engraved invite?Whether it's the DOJ's ditching the criminal investigation of Sheriff Joe Arpaio or the FBI's supposed probe into a right-wing extremist such as Ready, these law enforcement agencies move with the speed of glaciers. Too bad people sometimes end up six feet under while the feds sit on their hands doing diddly about the wrongdoing taking place under their nostrils.

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