Democrats, Forget the Whining About Dark Money and Barack Obama: It's the Economy, Stupid

There's a line from Satan in Milton's Paradise Lost, after Lucifer falls into the pit, that summarizes the predicament of Democrats in Arizona.

"Fall'n Cherub," the Dark Prince tells a cohort, "to be weak is miserable, doing or suffering."

Hard on the heels of Tuesday's Election Day massacre for the Democrats, left-leaners in this state began spouting their familiar, insipid excuses for losing; the ones I've heard following every statewide election in recent memory.

"It was a Republican year," goes one oft-heard refrain.

Sheesh, when has it not been a Republican year in this backward, right-wing cactus patch?

I remember in 2008, as it seemed the entire nation was turning blue, the Arizona Legislature up and turned a darker shade of red.

Not long after that election, Democratic Governor Janet Napolitano abandoned us to a near-illiterate GOP hack as her replacement, while she ran off to Washington, D.C. to become the head of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security under President Obama.

This situation resulted, a couple of years later, in the debacle of anti-immigrant Senate Bill 1070, and Russell Pearce as state Senate President.

You see, in Arizona, even a "Democratic year" often looks like a Republican year.

Next excuse: "All that dark money from the evil Koch brothers killed us."

Yes, this year, millions in outside money, a lot of it cloaked in non-profit, 501(c)4-secrecy, favored the Rs.

But if you cede elections to the party that has the most cash, the Rs always will win.

The final, lame excuse? "Obama's unpopularity sunk us."

That's a massive pant-load and then some. True, Republicans "necklaced" the Dems with President Obama. Heck, they even "necklaced" each other in the GOP primary, portraying their primary opponents as being in lockstep with mean ol' Obama.

Which is nuts. Like the man said, all politics is local. And what does Obama have to do with politics in this ruby-red state? With the Corporation Commission or with the Secretary of State's Office, for instance?

Not a damn thing.

Republicans are past masters at the art of distraction and simplistic messaging. So they ran against Obama and so-called "federal overreach."

They might as well have run against the Loch Ness Monster. But since Dems largely conceded or ignored the point, it worked.

It's kinda like Dems not running candidates for state treasurer or mining inspector. If you don't show up, the other side wins by default.

Democrats are going to try to sell you this line that they fought the good fight, but nothing would have delivered victory to them.

I disagree. In any case, the "good fight" is the one you win.

True, Republicans in this state begin with a registration advantage. They also have an outside money advantage. In Ducey's case, the advantage is about $8 million in outside spending to $1 million in favor of DuVal.

So how should the party of FDR, JFK, and LBJ have motivated its base, Independents and some moderate Rs statewide to buck a built-in Republican advantage and vote Dem?

For the answer, hearken back to D.A. Pennebaker's legendary documentary of Bill Clinton's 1992 presidential win, The War Room, and recall the timeless words of Democratic political strategist, Jim "Ragin' Cajun" Carville:

"It's the economy, stupid."

It's always the economy, stupid. And it always will be.

Let's not mince words, Arizona's economy is like a fat, peg-legged pirate running the New York marathon.

You know, it's lagging waaaaaay behind.

According to local economists, Arizona only has recovered about 60 percent of the jobs it lost during the Great Recession, while the U.S. has regained 99 percent of those lost jobs.

When it comes to unemployment figures, Arizona's unemployment numbers are a full point higher than the nation as a whole.

Additionally, Arizona faces a $1.5 billion budget deficit for the next couple of years. And we're taking in a lot less revenue than anticipated

Poverty and hunger are up. Twenty percent of Arizonans live below the poverty line.

And compared to other states, we're near-last to dead last on per-pupil spending in education.

The local housing market remains sluggish, and our population is not increasing at a fast-enough rate to speed-up the catch-up with the rest of the country.

In fact, Phoenix economist Elliott D. Pollack says it may be 2016 or 2017 till the local economy is back on track.

Meanwhile, the suffering rolls on.

Who's to blame for Arizona's bringing up the rear?

Well, who has been in charge of the state for the last six years? The Republicans. These geniuses have owned the executive and legislative branches of Arizona government during this time.

When the Rs were not passing legislation that made us the laughingstock of the nation, they were cutting taxes, selling off our Capitol buildings, reducing much needed services, and generally, driving the economy right into the ditch.

As I explained at length in a cover commentary before the election, the Republicans' incompetent economic policies are the cause of much woe in this state.

GOPers are hopelessly devoted to the oft-debunked shibboleth of supply-side economics.Though after six years, we have bupkis to show for it.

Regarding the Republicans' disastrous economic legacy, Doug Ducey proffered nothing new on the campaign trail.

He's already made things worse by leading the drive against making the one-cent sales tax permanent, and he's promised to continue fighting a court's order that the state fully fund K-12 education.

Yet, the Democrats failed to make Arizona's sad-sack economy the focus of their general election campaign.

Are state Republicans wholly responsible for the economy's poor performance?

Of course not. But that doesn't matter in politics.

The way this game is played, the party in power shoulders either the blame or the credit for the economy.

The former assumes that the opposition party holds them accountable -- which did not happen in 2014.

Remember, not too long ago, when Jan Brewer was standing in front of banners calling herself: "Champion of the Arizona Comeback"?

Pics of such events should have become as infamous in Arizona as the staged 2003 photo-op for Presidential George W. Bush on the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln, with it's banner pertaining to the Iraq War: "Mission Accomplished."

In fact, the gubernatorial election should have been a referendum on the last six years of failed Republican leadership.

It would have been more than fair to depict Ducey as offering four more years of fruit-loopy supply-side, reverse-Robin Hood policies.

On Tuesday night at the Hyatt downtown, where GOPers were celebrating Ducey's 12-point victory, and an apparent Republican sweep of all statewide offices, I ran this theory by several Republicans -- elected officials and campaign hacks alike -- illustrating how the Democrats at least could have given themselves a fighting chance.

"That's a no-brainer," said one Republican office holder. "But they didn't do that."

To be fair, DuVal did discuss Arizona's weak economy. And he made a slightly more complex argument: that we need to fully fund education, because this would be a boost to the economy, drawing talent and businesses to the state.

Arizona State University's Morrison Institute for Public Policy recently released a report on Arizona's economy, pointing out that when it comes to companies moving here from out of state, a low tax rate was not high on the list of priorities.

The report states:

"In general, the most important factors for [the location of company headquarters and research and development facilities] and for manufacturing/other types of company facilities were labor costs, the availability of a skilled workforce, and educational opportunities and quality."

For the average person, worried about whether they will be able to find a job or keep the job they have now, this may seem like more of a long-range goal.

We're talking about perception and salesmanship. Which is why Ducey pantsed the Democrats on what they have been bad at since I got here 10 years ago: messaging.

Over and over again, we heard Ducey say he wanted "to kick-start our economy."

He presented himself as having the business acumen to achieve success, though the reality is far from that.

And like a good salesman, he was always closing, telling folks that he wanted to steal jobs from California and Texas and be, in effect, the salesman for the state.

See, in spite of all the money, the lies, the skullduggery in this race and others, I firmly believe that politics, at least at the top of the ticket, is the "dialectic" in real time.

That is, it's a battle of ideas, with the strongest message winning.

Focus for a second on these two pitches: Ducey's "I want to kickstart the economy" vs. DuVal's "No more cuts to our children's schools."

In a lackluster economy, which of these sways you?

Democrats believe deeply in the value of public education. And they are correct to so do.

But I'm reminded of German playwright Bertolt Brecht's lyrics to the Kurt Weil tune, "What keeps mankind alive?"

And I quote:

You lot, who preach restraint and watch your waist as well Should learn, for once, the way the world is run

However much you twist, or whatever lies that you tell Food is the first thing, morals follow on

So first make sure that those who are now starving get proper helpings, when we all start carving

I'm not trying to remake the wheel here, people. This is obvious enough stuff. If the Dems were in charge and Arizona's economy sucked eggs, the Republicans would most certainly have blamed the Dems.

So why not vice versa? That's what I asked Arizona Democratic Party executive director D.J. Quinlan before the election.

"I completely agree with the narrative you just laid out," he told me. "We made a strategic decision to really hone in on the education cuts to our schools, because that has so much interplay with the economy, with everything else that is a problem in this state, and will continue to be a problem in this state."

Quinlan told me that DuVal had gotten more aggressive in the last couple of weeks of the campaign.

But it was too little, too late.

DuVal should have been aggressive from jump, ready to kneecap Ducey and paint him as a bloodsucking tool of plutocrats, a fake, a liar, a man who says his goal of cutting taxes to zero is "aspirational" but who, in reality, intends to scuttle the working man's livelihood to deliver tax breaks to fat cats.

Sure, there was an anti-Ducey ad or two along those lines. But recall, if you will, DuVal's opening TV salvo in September: a campaign commercial with former GOP AG Grant Woods shilling for him, calling him a "problem solver who brings Republicans and Democrats together."

Contrast that message with the one from the Ducey side (dark money or no) depicting DuVal as a soulless lobbyist who hiked tuition on college students so he could give "illegals" a break on their school costs. You know, that Democrat guy who likes Obama, Puerto Rican terrorists, and Saddam Hussein.

Christ, some of DuVal's own people told me they think he's too nice for his own good.

But what do you expect from a guy who calls his campaign office "Fredquarters" and has cut-out campaign signs with his smiling mug and the motto, "Get ahead with Fred"?

Also, I really didn't appreciate the opening to history Professor Jack August's article on Arizona bipartisanship, which appears in the recent issue of Phoenix Magazine, and talks about Ducey and DuVal's skiing and palling around together at some fancy resort.

That's OK for after the election, maybe. But before it? No thanks.

If DuVal had started with the line of attack I'm touting here and the other statewide candidates on the D side had followed, the results may have been different.

Dems might not like hearing this, but fear and anger are great motivators. They move people to get off their Barcaloungers and cast ballots.

Fear of not having a job and anger at the stupidity of Republicans?

Well, that's about as good as the Dems in Arizona are gonna get.

Follow Valley Fever on Twitter at @ValleyFeverPHX. Follow Stephen Lemons on Twitter at @StephenLemons.

E­-mail stephen.lemons@newtimes.com.

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