Compared to the verbal fisticuffs former Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas and Arizona schools Superintendent Tom Horne laid on each other in their recent Horizon debate over the GOP primary nod for Arizona Attorney General, the Democratic AG debate Wednesday on Horizon was rather tame, save for a burst of sparring toward the end.
A little more than half-way through, my ears pricked up when host Ted Simons asked Democratic state House Minority Leader David Lujan why he missed the House's April 13 vote on SB 1070, a gaffe over which Lujan is still smarting, a gaffe I exposed in this blog shortly after SB 1070 passed the House 35 to 21.
(From there the bill went back to the state Senate, was approved, and ultimately went on to be signed into law by Governor Jan Brewer.)
Lujan told Simons that he'd worked to kill the bill in the past, but that when it came up for a vote on April 13, he was away from Phoenix.
"I was already out of town," said Lujan. "I had been out of town on a previously scheduled trip that has been scheduled for four months. [SB 1070] wasn't scheduled for a vote until the night before..."
But Lujan was in town. He was at a House caucus meeting at the Capitol that morning. And I caught up with him early that evening at a small Democratic party function, specifically to ask him why he missed the most important vote of his career, and one of the most important votes in the history of the state.
At that time, Lujan told me he wanted to be present for the vote, but that he couldn't make it because it was his parents' 60th wedding anniversary, and he had to attend a party for them that afternoon.
I thought that was a pretty lame excuse at the time, particularly coming from the leader of the House Democratic caucus. Still, here he was on TV offering a slightly less lame one, that also happened to be untrue.
I called Lujan, confronted him, and asked for an explanation of the inconsistency. He told me that he messed up when responding to Simons' inquiry.
"I just misspoke," he said. "I don't know why it came out of my mouth that I was out of town. I was in town."
He admitted that he'd been at the Capitol that morning, but was absent for the rest of the day.
And what was he doing while the vote was going on?
"My parents' anniversary was coming up, so planning those events and other activities I was doing, [for] the nonprofit that I worked at, just a lot of things that were going on," he stated.
Even this answer is a little different from the one he gave me on April 13, where he said that he had to make his parents' party that afternoon.
The reality is, Lujan shrugged off the vote two months ago. It was only after he realized that people were ticked about it that he turned contrite. At a Democratic AG debate at ASU the next day, he apologized every chance he got when the matter was raised. By then, he realized what a mistake he'd made in shirking his duty as leader of the Dems in the House.
Lujan should have been on the House floor throwing everything including the kitchen sink into the fight. There were people there working their rears off trying to turn Republican votes, doing everything possible to stop that freight train of hate legislation from passing through. But the Dems' leader had already abandoned his post.
This is why I agree with the comments of one of Lujan's rivals for the Democratic nod, Vince Rabago.
"It's a failure of leadership, in my view," Rabago told Simons of Lujan's absence. "If you're elected to be the leader of an organization in the Democratic Party, in the House of Representatives, you cannot miss a vote like that. Whether you're against it or for it, that's your job. And as Attorney General, you cannot take a walk on things. You make life or death decisions, in death penalty cases, that you cannot avoid."
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to Phoenix New Times's mission. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Phoenix's stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
Other than Rabago's criticism of Lujan, some other sparks did fly in the latter part of the debate, particularly between Rabago and AG contender Felecia Rotellini.
Rotellini charged that a payday loan suit Rabago had pursued as an assistant AG had never gotten out of the gate. Rabago countered that he'd gotten an injunction from the judge in the case. Rotellini characterized this as a "lie." On Rabago's Web site, what's said to be the judge's minute entry concerning that injunction and the injunction itself have been posted.
Rabago charged that Rotellini was part of a revolving door, going to work for the banking industry after serving as the state's banking regulator under Governor Janet Napolitano. Rotellini contended she had regulated "small community banks," not the big banking interests that have received bailouts from the federal government
The Rabago-Rotellini exchange was welcome, particularly after the dull opening of the half-hour. I would only advise them to turn some of the vitriol on Lujan, who has more name recognition than either of them, and is less deserving of the win that same name recognition might presage.