One of Arizona's most influential bloggers, Jeff Vath, the man behind the widely-read, GOP-centric Politico Mafioso blog, passed away Tuesday night at John C. Lincoln Hospital in Deer Valley. He was 52.
According to his wife of 24 years, Mary Anne, Vath's death was due to complications from surgery on a perforated ulcer. He never recovered from the operation.
Vath's premature demise leaves a tremendous void on the political scene, one that will not easily be filled. His colorful, take-no-prisoners approach to Republican politics under the guise of "TonyGoprano" earned him many fans among mainstream Republicans, and perhaps just as many detractors on the far right.
Indeed, Vath made no secret of his allegiances, subtitling his blog, "Leader of the McCain Mafia," and offering unequivocal support for politicians such as U.S. Senator Jeff Flake, U.S. Senator John McCain, state Senator Bob Worsley, and others.
I knew him as an ally in the fight against former state Senate President Russell Pearce, and as a moderating influence in the state GOP. A lifelong Arizonan, he was devoted to politics and to his party, and he worked tirelessly to oppose the extremist elements he saw dragging the Arizona GOP and his state down.
One of those he worked to get elected is Robert Graham, chairman of the Arizona Republican Party. Graham was saddened greatly by Vath's passing.
"It's a big loss for friends, family, and Arizona and Arizona Republicans, to lose a guy that was so selflessly committed to the cause," Graham said when I reached him by phone. "Not everybody agreed with him, but...those that he supported loved him, and cared for him as a friend. And we'll all miss him."
His widow Mary Anne told me that Vath died peacefully, with his family around him. She said that since Vath fell ill she'd been receiving messages of support from numerous politicians and movers and shakers in the Republican Party, including Governor Jan Brewer, with whom Vath was friends.
"I feel like he went out at the top of his game," she told me. "His brother said, `Politics was his religion,' and I told him he was right. Jeff had three passions: politics, sports and his family."
In addition to Mary Anne, Vath is survived by two stepchildren, six grandchildren, his mother and a brother. Mary Anne said she was still looking for a venue at which to celebrate Vath's life, and would make an announcement about that in the near future.
I appreciated Vath for his humor, his veracity, and his willingness to slaughter sacred cows. Though he was approached more than once by folks wanting to purchase or finance Politico Mafioso, he always turned them down, believing that it would compromise the blog's voice.
His team of savvy, merciless writers, who go by such handles as "Iron Fist" and "The Only True Conservative," have savaged the likes of former Maricopa County GOP chair Rob Haney, ex-state party chair and Tea Partier Tom Morrissey, and current county chair and certified wacko A.J. "Judas" LaFaro.
Their enemies refer to the "McCain mafia" members as RiNOs, or "Republicans in Name Only."
But considering the source of that insult, Vath and his co-bloggers took the label as a badge of honor.
"Jeff loved attacking the `Darth Vaders,' the bullies who intimidated our current elected officials," one close friend of Vath's explained. "He would scold them repeatedly for `eating their own,' using fear politics. And [he] was not fond of Tea Parties hijacking the state Republican Party or their constant name calling to reasonable Republicans who disagree [with them]."
I should also mention that Vath and his writers were often way out ahead on stories that the mainstream media eventually followed. I always gave Vath credit where credit was due, but I can't say the same for others in the Fourth Estate.
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When I visited Vath in the hospital this past weekend, he was in a medically induced coma in intensive care. Just a couple of weeks ago, he had called to tell me about the wraparound he had made for his vehicle, which bore a title I'd helped give him, "The GOP's Bad Ass Blogger."
Vath's passing is a reminder of the brevity of life and the importance of investing each day with meaning.
No we didn't agree on everything. He was no fan of President Obama, and I have been no fan of Governor Brewer. But we could recognize a common foe and join forces to battle it.
If the GOP had more people like Vath, Arizona would be a better state, and the GOP would be a better party. Rest in Peace, amigo.