Babbitt's Department of Ulterior

Page 12 of 12

First Babbitt said Eckstein was mistaken. He denied ever saying that Ickes wanted a prompt decision.

Then Babbitt told Senator Fred Thompson that he did mention Ickes.
But he insisted that his statement was still operative because it was the modifier, "prompt," that Babbitt objected to.

Finally, he settled upon, yes, okay, he'd mentioned Ickes. But he'd made the whole thing up to get rid of Eckstein, who was getting on his nerves.

Babbitt sat in front of the Senate committee looking like the uncomfortable love child of John Dean and Richard Nixon, swearing under oath that he was telling the truth.

The Fallout
Paul Eckstein was incredulous.
"It's like being in some silly food fight. The Republicans have all these puff pastries, and the Democrats have their own stockpile of jelly doughnuts. All I've got in this mess are a few hard rolls," said Eckstein of the campaign fund-raising scandal ignited by his dispute with Babbitt.

There is more than cynicism at work when Republicans take to their fainting couches at the thought that party donations might influence policy.

Throwing Bruce Babbitt to a special prosecutor makes a mockery of campaign-finance reform, but according to anonymous sources in the Justice Department who spoke to the Washington Post at the beginning of the week, that is Babbitt's fate.

Now Eckstein sees that his few hard rolls were actually bullets, and he is without hope. You see, Eckstein has enormous respect for Babbitt's public career as attorney general, governor and member of the Clinton cabinet.

Citing the emotional toll, Eckstein will no longer discuss his confrontation with Babbitt. His remarks are no longer needed in any case; the die is cast.

Both Ickes, who is already gone from his coveted position in the White House, and Babbitt are victims of the political game both men played with relish.

Babbitt's apologists forget too quickly that he always kept his eye on the smarmy realities of an unseemly craft while in Arizona. His word was not his bond, friends who were liabilities were jettisoned, and political expediency was no stranger to his administrations.

When an old colleague engineered a victory at the polls, the campaign manager proceeded to a raucous election-night party where he had too much to drink, left and approached an undercover vice officer. Babbitt ended the man's career with a finger snap.

At a time when the state's universities languished in mediocrity, vacancies on the Board of Regents were not filled by the best and the brightest. Instead, Babbitt appointed real estate developer Don Pitt and construction mogul Herman Chanin, two men whose primary qualification were their unstinting donations to Bruce Babbitt and the Democratic party.

If Babbitt watchers then are not entirely surprised by his current dilemma, they also remind themselves that effective politics comes with a price. Saints do not win elections. And Bruce Babbitt wielded real power on behalf of progressive policies in a state that routinely chooses the likes of Evan Mecham, J.D. Hayworth, Joe Arpaio and Fife Symington.

The demise of Ickes and Babbitt are unlikely endings for public careers begun with the sort of idealism you might wish upon your children.

As young men, both took separate paths to the Deep South to help put an end to segregation. Ickes lost his kidney when white thugs stomped him during a voter-registration drive for blacks in rural Louisiana.

Babbitt returned to Arizona with indelible memories, memories that framed his decision to create the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday in a state that resisted the celebration with all of its cracker might.

But that was a long time ago.
There are many who argue that Bruce Babbitt is the most enlightened champion of the environment at the Department of the Interior since Stewart Udall.

The Hudson gaming decision, however, had nothing to do with natural resources. High-stakes gambling was the issue on the table.

In the Midwest, each individual of the Shakopee Indian nation received $396,700 last year from gaming revenue. If the Hudson casino had been allowed, the Interior Department's own analysis showed that income--in a worst-case scenario--would have dropped to $363,900, a not insignificant loss but still a legacy of prosperity.

The Chippewas who sought the new gambling parlor subsist on an income of $6,000 per tribal member.

Bruce Babbitt sided with the wrong tribes for the wrong reasons.


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.
Michael Lacey
Contact: Michael Lacey