Feathered Bastard

Arizona Dems in Freefall as Paul Eckerstrom Steps Down as State Party Chair

To cop a line from that Don McLean song, somewhere Satan is laughing in delight. And Zona Republicans are laughing right along with him. This, at the news that Arizona state Democratic Party Chair Paul Eckerstrom has resigned his post after scoring an upset victory against former state party chair Don Bivens just two weeks ago.

In an e-mail sent out to his fellow Dems today, Eckerstrom cited time and travel constraints as the two big reasons for his decision. The former chair of the Pima County Democratic Party lives and works in Tucson, and is raising two children there, a boy 15, and a daughter, 12. He was not willing to move to Phoenix, as many thought necessary.

"With my family and work obligations in Tucson," wrote Eckerstrom, "I cannot do the job that is required. I thought I could, but after being on the job for the last two weeks, I realized that I would be only hurting the Arizona Democratic Party that I love if I continued as chair. That is why I am stepping down immediately as chair. First Vice Chair Harriet Young will become the interim chair until a new chair is selected at the next State Committee Meeting."

This will come as an incredible shock and disappointment to those who felt that Eckerstrom's successful, insurgent candidacy against party honcho Bivens signaled the end to party bosses governing by dictate, and a new era where the grassroots would drive the Dems, throwing off the shackles of an organization trained to wait patiently for Janet Napolitano's orders. With Napolitano gone, and Bivens defeated in the wake of a disastrous 2008 for Sand Land Dems, there seemed to be hope that we would now have a Democratic party with a set of huevos for a change.

But alas, not. In a conversation this evening via phone, Eckerstrom stated that Dems will likely be meeting in March to vote on a new chair. He also said he would chair an advisory committee on strategy and planning, to ensure that Dems had a vision and a plan to win in 2010 and beyond. And he denied that he had been pressured to step down by the party's moneymen, such as Democratic rainmaker Jim Pederson, who was rumored to be unhappy at Bivens' loss.

"This was a personal decision," Eckerstrom told me. "I was not pressured or asked to resign. It just became apparent to me that I could not do the job logistically as well as meet my family obligations."

What about rumors that elected party leaders such as House Minority Leader David Lujan and Assistant House Minority Leader Kyrsten Sinema had refused to cooperate with party fundraising events, such as the spring legislative dinner, because they were ticked at Eckerstrom's win? Eckerstrom maintained the rumor was false.

"I had spoken with David Lujan and Kyrsten Sinema [about the rumor]," said Eckerstrom. "But that was not the case. They were going to go forward with [the fundraiser]."

Still, the end result of this is that the majority of those who voted for Eckerstrom have lost, and the minority, led by the party's big kahunas have won. The upstart rebellion Eckerstrom spearheaded has been quashed, at least for the time being.

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Stephen is a former staff writer and columnist at Phoenix New Times.
Contact: Stephen Lemons