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KEEP YOUR EYES ON THE PRICE

Senator Carolyn Walker stuffs $5,600 in cash into her purse. She smiles. She rises from her chair and heads for the door. "Sorry I have to take your money and run," Walker says.

But there is not the slightest note of apology in Walker's tone. Instead, she seems absolutely gleeful. There is the practiced skill of the croupier in the way she reaches for the stack of bills. At this moment, Walker is revealed as just another crooked Arizona legislator, caught on film in the very act of selling her vote for money.

She is now under indictment and presumed innocent until proven guilty. But if a man wanted to take a bet, he would have to say the odds on Walker being able to extricate herself from all this are very long indeed. Of all the film footage showing elected members of our legislature taking payoffs, this scene of Walker, the first black elected to a Senate seat in Arizona history, is the most depressing.

As I sit here writing this, I understand something that I hadn't realized before. For years I never hesitated to pounce upon white politicians when they were caught stealing.

I figured that if they were cynical and brazen enough to sell out for money they had it coming. Until now I have always been reluctant to criticize black politicians when they turned out to be crooked.

I told myself they don't have the same chances in life that white politicians have. Every step of the way is tough for blacks who seek successful political careers.

This case, however, is different. Carolyn Walker was a political success only because she is black, and she uses her race as a club with which to counterattack anytime she is criticized.

It was Walker who set herself up as a leader in the black community. Deliberately, she became the lightning rod in the state Senate who would battle the bigots for a paid holiday to honor the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Now that she has been indicted, her supporters are banding together to raise funds for her legal defense. Some will undoubtedly charge that Walker was targeted by the Phoenix Police Department and the County Attorney's Office.

But that alibi will be a hard sell. Even if she was targeted, that does not provide her with an excuse to take the money.

By now, anyone who watches the news on television has seen the damning footage of Walker reaching out for the packet of money at least once. Probably twice. They have seen Walker, without her bothering to count the money, stuff it into her purse. It is as though she was born to play a part in the introduction of Las Vegas-style casino gambling in Arizona.

"Do you want me to list this?" she asks. "I prefer you don't," the police undercover agent says. "Then I'll just list it under miscellaneous," Walker says.

How many people do you know who can pick up a pile of bills totaling $5,600 and call it "miscellaneous"? How many people do you know who would take bribes totaling in excess of $20,600 and shoot for more? This was Walker's second meeting with the man she believed to be the point man for Las Vegas interests. The first time she had taken $15,000--but not before counting it to see that it was all there. The count was true, and so Walker realized she didn't have to waste her time counting the second payoff.

"What do you expect from me?" she asks when the bundle of money is handed to her.

"I expect your `yes' vote," she is told.
Obviously, Walker is exhilarated by this contact with easy money.
"I am an ambitious woman," she says. "At the least, I want to die rich."

It was at this point that Walker demonstrated how truly ambitious she could be. She expressed her desire to have the casino gift-shop concessions as well as the money necessary to set them up. "We all have our prices," she tells the man.

In light of what has happened since, this all takes on a rather macabre twist.

"What we are talking about here will go with us to our graves," the man from Las Vegas promises. With her generous payoff, Walker was ranked as one of the members of the purported Las Vegas fixers' "A team" of politicians who would vote for legalized casino gambling in Arizona.

By the time the sting had run its course, Walker's ambition was taking wing.

She returned to the fixer for a final visit, during which she requested a loan of $500,000 to $750,000 to start her own recording company.

Remarkable! When men like Bill English, Don Kenney, and Bobby Raymond go down, they sink on their own. They take the dive by themselves. No one else is affected.

But Walker's profile was so much larger than any of the others. When Walker took the money, she wasn't just endangering herself. The act was worse, much worse. She was betraying the entire black constituency she represented as well. Carolyn Walker had become a role model for young black women. Because she was the first of her race to be elected to a seat in the Arizona Senate, every move she made was somehow larger than life.

During Evan Mecham's impeachment trial, fate played one of its weird tricks. It was Senator Walker who cast the crucial vote that sealed Mecham's doom.

For months after, people talked about how fitting it was that Carolyn Walker, the only black member of the Senate, drove the final nail into Mecham's political career.

It was Mecham who canceled the King holiday during his first week in office. And it was a black woman whose vote tossed him out of the governor's office.

Walker was looked upon as a proud black woman blazing new paths.
When she spoke for the underdog, people knew they had better listen.
There were troubling hints, however, that all might not be well.

There was, for example, the time when she cast the deciding vote on a bill that gave U S West a tax break amounting to $6 to $11 million.

The bill did not become law. It was eventually vetoed by the governor.
The problem with Walker's vote was that she was an employee of the telephone company.

Then it was learned that the company had illegally spent company money and the time of other U S West workers in holding a fund raiser for Walker's election campaign.

It did not look good. It was also a clear violation of election laws.
Steve Benson drew a cartoon for the Arizona Republic's editorial page depicting Walker wrapped in chains and answering a telephone with the words: "How may I help you?" Above the cartoon was the message: "Reach out and help someone."

Walker erupted with anger.
On the following day, Walker fired a broadside at the Republic.
She stood up in the Senate and waved a copy of the newspaper in her hand.

"It's amazing," she added, "that the only black member of the Senate is continually maligned by the press. Not one member on this floor has not received financial contributions. Yet it's Carolyn Walker who was singled out as the member being bought and paid for."

Then, for emphasis, she added: "I'd like to make it perfectly clear that I am not a prostitute."

It was early in the game. Only later did people learn that on the same day she was attacking the Republic, Walker was also calling its office to request an original of Benson's cartoon.

I am reminded of the lines from an old song jazz great Louis Armstrong used to sing:

"Then was then, woman. Now is now."

There is the practiced skill of the croupier in the way she reaches for the stack of bills. Even if she was targeted, that does not provide her with an excuse to take the money.

How many people do you know who would take bribes totaling in excess of $20,600 and shoot for more? She was betraying the entire black constituency she represented as well.

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Tom Fitzpatrick