Liberal Democrats Tar Republican Jerry Lewis, Borrowing a Page From Extremists They Claim to Loathe

I have a little exercise for those familiar with the Teabagger tribe.

Imagine that you have before you a Republican who supports the DREAM Act, has been vocal in his opposition to Arizona's racist immigration legislation, Senate Bill 1070, and is in favor of the Utah Compact, which calls for humane immigration reform and an end to the separation of families.

In his first year as a state Senator, this particular GOPer voted against two anti-union bills near and dear to Teabaggers' little, black hearts.

He also voted against a controversial proposal by state Representative Debbie Lesko, allowing some employers to opt out of insurance covering contraception.

The bill failed on its first go-round in the Senate, and when it was brought back with some minor tinkering, this Republican voted against it again.

"I'm all for religious freedom," said the tusker, "but we have to be fair in not prescribing rights to one group of individuals at the expense of others."

Much to the chagrin of feminists and Democrats, that bill ultimately passed and was signed into law by Governor Jan Brewer.

The Republican in question was the only R voting against it a second time.

This rogue elephant bucked his party once more when he voted against an insane proposal by Mexican-hating state Senator Sylvia Allen to create an armed, immigrant-hunting militia to patrol Arizona's border with Mexico.

He was the sole Republican to vote against it in Allen's committee and on the floor of the Senate.

Given such evidence, could you call this individual a "Tea Party puppet"?

And yet that's just what three Democrats running for the Arizona Legislature would have the voters of Legislative District 26 believe about state Senator Jerry Lewis.

Yes, that Jerry Lewis. The former Mormon stake president who took a padlock in the 'nads from a hater when he announced his candidacy against state Senate President Russell Pearce during last year's historic recall election.

Lewis also endured death threats, grotesque slander, the antipathy of most in his own party, and a sham candidate meant to siphon votes from him.

Nevertheless, he prevailed by a staggering 12 points, effectively ending the legislative career of perhaps the most powerful bigot in this state's history, a man who led a modern-day campaign of ethnic cleansing against Arizona's Hispanic population.

But neither that nor the profile in courage Lewis often has been in the state Senate matter to liberal Dems desperate to pick up seats and possibly create a 15-15 split in Arizona's upper house.

In a hit-piece mailer sent out by Lewis' general election opponent, state Representative Ed Ableser and Ableser's fellow Ds, House candidates Andrew Sherwood and Juan Mendez, Lewis is depicted as a marionette, along with the Republican LD 26 House candidates Mary Lou Taylor and Ray Speakman.

"Meet your Tea Party puppets," reads the flyer, which I wrote about recently in my Feathered Bastard blog.

"Between funding Sheriff Joe, endorsing Russell Pearce, and taking $100,000 from crooked lobbyists," it continues, "you have to wonder who's pulling their strings?"

Um, "endorsing Russell Pearce"? I mean, I know the public is supposed to have a short memory, but this is like claiming that Governor Jan Brewer is a nuclear physicist.

Also, Lewis hasn't even raised $100,000 in his current campaign. Ableser, who came up with the idea for the flyer and who vigorously defends it, apparently believes all lobbyists are crooked.

Which is an easy enough thing to do when government "Clean Election" money is financing your campaign, as it is Ableser's, thus allowing him to forgo fund-raising for the most part.

Lewis is running a traditional campaign and doesn't have the luxury of what I like to call welfare for politicians.

The "funding Sheriff Joe" line is misleading, as well. Arpaio endorsed Pearce during the recall and campaigned heavily for his onetime chief deputy.

When I dared to criticize this sleazy mailer and call it what it is — a lie — Sand Land's online liberal community collectively freaked out, save for a few cooler heads.

Lewis was practically denounced as the spawn of Satan, and the peasants with pitchforks (you know, like in Young Frankenstein) were ready to burn both of us to a crisp.

Ableser, on the other hand, grew a pair of angel wings, despite a shocking absentee record.

In 2010, Ableser missed 22 percent of House votes, 32 percent in 2011, and nearly 40 percent in 2012.

At that rate, if he serves long enough, he won't even be showing up for the session.

Still, livid, sputtering Ds inveighed in the comments section of my blog and on Facebook against Lewis' votes in the Legislature, insisting that these votes proved beyond all doubt that Lewis was a Tea Party loyalist.

Lewis voted to de-fund Planned Parenthood, these progressive nudniks cried, which is true and kinda makes sense when you realize he's an anti-abortion Republican.

But on the same bill, their hero Ableser is on record as an "NV," meaning "not voting."

Ableser's been asked about his absenteeism in the past by reporters for the Arizona Capitol Times. He's offered various excuses, from tending to a pregnant spouse to working on a post-graduate degree.

But also he's offered the lame argument that because he's in the Democratic minority, his vote doesn't matter.

"When the Republicans were going to ram through their legislation or totally discard what the Democrats voiced, I chose to spend my time working on my dissertation," he told a CapTimes reporter in 2011.

Why are Dems so hot to vote for this guy?

I'll grant you, in the newly drawn LD 26, the Dems have a registration advantage over Rs, and I just assumed Ableser would win this one, because LD 26 includes Tempe, which Ableser has represented for several years.

And Ableser is a hardcore lefty, to be sure.

However, this disgusting attack piece suggests Ableser is in trouble in a district he should win handily, a district where a liberal independent expenditure committee is spending tens of thousands of dollars to get him elected.

Until I saw this skunk of a mailer, I wasn't planning to weigh in on this race.

And if it were any other R, I probably wouldn't care that much. But I know Lewis to be a deeply honest and courageous man, a truly unique individual in politics in this state and one without whom a cretinous monster like Pearce would still be in power.

The dominant Teabagger wing of the state GOP has been merciless in its treatment of Lewis. During the Republican caucus' first 2012 meeting, his colleagues took turns cursing him.

On another occasion, in the courtyard between the House and the Senate, a senior member of the state Senate loudly went off on Lewis as a traitor to the Rs. The incident was soon the talk of the session.

Democratic lawmakers have reached out to him, trying to get him to become a Democrat, but Lewis has refused because he considers himself an R.

The über-conservative Pachyderm Coalition rates him as a "Big Government Republican." The Teabaggers refer to him as a RiNO, a "Republican in Name Only," a vanishing breed that Arizona right-wingers hate more than Democrats.

So he doesn't deserve to be lied about by liberals and smeared as a Tea Partier, because he's not. The Teabaggers won't have him and would love to lynch him should he ever grace one of their meetings.

Of course, I don't agree with most of Lewis' votes. I certainly can understand why a Democrat would not want to vote for him.

But he has more character in his big toe than Ed Ableser has in his entire frame. He refuses to do hit pieces on Ableser because he says he wants to change the way we do politics in this state.

"I have to be able to look myself in the mirror on November 7," he told me when I asked why he hadn't sent out a mailer on Ableser's absenteeism.

And that, my liberal friends, is why I have no qualms about coming to his defense, no matter how much you cry and moan about 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.
Stephen is a former staff writer and columnist at Phoenix New Times.
Contact: Stephen Lemons