Arizona Republicans

McCain was transparently nervous being on the same platform with Evan Mecham, the governor he helped to scuttle.

Koory bellowed out a speech he'd obviously shouted into his bathroom mirror 78 times that morning to get it just right.

It was amazing. Walking into the Republican party convention last weekend at the Phoenix Civic Plaza was like stepping onto the set of a low-grade television sitcom.

Sonny Bono, that vacuous clown and former second-rate entertainer, was the featured speaker.

Seated at the speaker's platform were all the regular players. We have seen them undertake so many roles--many ludicrous and some even dishonorable.

In a prominent place, of course, was Senator John McCain of the Keating Five. Also, Congressmen Jon Kyl, Jay Rhodes, and Jim Kolbe were there.

Burt Kruglick, the aging hyena of Arizona politics, circled about the microphone, running the show.

The Republicans are always so obvious. They have so few black members in the party that every time they find one they set him on display like a crown jewel.

On Saturday, Howard Parker, elected sergeant at arms, was stationed at the entrance to the hall so he could greet everyone who arrived. But rest assured Parker's appearance signified no great shift to the Republicans by black voters. Among the 800 delegates present, I counted only two other black faces.

You remember Senator McCain, of course. He's the one who grabbed $112,000 of Charlie Keating's money and became Keating's vacation guest year after year. When embarrassed in the savings-and-loan scandal, McCain blatantly dismissed his wife's investment in a shopping center deal with Keating. He claimed her money had nothing to do with his fortune.

And then just a week ago, we all learned that McCain, who married into the Hensley beer-distributing empire with barely a handful of sovereigns in his jeans, has amassed a bank account fat enough to rank him among the richest men in the United States Senate.

Obviously, a politician willing to do favors can't help becoming a rich man.

McCain was transparently nervous. The prospect of being on the same platform with Evan Mecham, the governor he helped to scuttle, must have been extremely unnerving.

Congressmen Kyl, Kolbe, and Rhodes, who also turned on Mecham, appeared equally ill at ease.

Interestingly enough, all four of the Washington contingent found a way to skulk from the speaker's platform before Mecham climbed aboard to tell the delegates of his grand plans for retaking the governor's office.

Mecham is still the Republican party's biggest problem. He remains impaled in the party apparatus like a stake. And no one knows how to deal with the fact that the last elected Republican governor was driven out of office by the Republican party itself.

Not once during the most important party meeting of the year was the disgrace of Mecham and the party ever mentioned.

Mecham was the third of four candidates for the nomination to address the convention. He received by far the most friendly reception.

First to speak to the convention was Bob Barnes, in some ways the most interesting character in the race. Barnes, an Annapolis graduate, holds a doctorate and managed to get the 5,000 signatures he needed by wearing out his own shoe leather.

"I'm not rich," Barnes told the delegates, "but I can make a difference."

Barnes promised that if elected, he would share part of his governor's salary with the poor.

Barnes' reception might be described as subdued. To them, a man who talks like a combination Don Quixote-St. Francis of Assisi is a dangerous radical.

Following Barnes to the microphone was Fred Koory, former master butcher and Maricopa County supervisor.

Koory bellowed out a speech he'd obviously shouted into his bathroom mirror 78 times that morning to get it just right.

"I'm tired of hearing how divided this party is," Koory told the delegates. At the conclusion of Koory's speech, a corporal's guard of his followers, wearing straw hats a la Richard Nixon era, clomped into the hall behind a six-piece band.

They marched about the entire hall playing "I'm a Yankee Doodle Dandy" and "It's a Grand Old Flag."

It was as excruciatingly boring as the singing of the "Star Spangled Banner" at the Super Bowl.

Koory left and was followed immediately by Mecham, who bounded onto the platform like a man who had never had a bad day in public. His ability to bounce back is remarkable.

Mecham grinned about Koory's pathetic band.

"I heard some people saying they wished they could vote for the band," Mecham said.

Mecham quickly got down to the subject at hand.
"I'm ready to hit the ninth floor running," Mecham said, displaying his customary Cheshire cat's grin. "Rest assured, I won't need any on-the-job training."

Mecham's ouster has changed neither his style nor his outlook.

"Who is going to govern?" he asked. "Will it be the people or the Phoenix backroom power brokers?"

Bob Corbin, the attorney general who set Mecham's impeachment in motion, was not present. But he was on Mecham's mind.

"We're gonna have an honest attorney general this time," Mecham predicted.

J. Fife Symington III, the man who gave us the traffic jam at 24th and Camelback, was the final candidate to speak.

Symington stressed the need for new people who can bring the party together. He promised a clean primary fight and then after it was over, he would be ready to take on Terry Goddard.

At a normal gathering, that would have ended things. But the Republicans are not normal.

Following the announced candidates, Jack Londen, the perrenial candidate, was invited to take the mike to speak about contributions to the Salvation Army.

In the midst of his report, Londen got so carried away by his thoughts of another campaign that he promised to run for governor himself if he could get his business affairs in order.

"I would relish debating Goddard," Londen said. "I still remember how much he loved Dukakis." Londen stood there looking pleased with himself.

In my notes, I find a reference to the fact that either Koory, Mecham or Londen announced that "the Republicans were the party of compassion in Arizona."

That's both an interesting and an incredibly inaccurate observation. I wish I could remember who dared to claim it.

KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Tom Fitzpatrick

Latest Stories