Princess of Darkness

Once upon a time, in a land of citrus trees and money and neighborhoods with names like Paradise Valley, there lived a fairy princess and an ogre.

The young princess--Robin Shaw--was so beautiful that the people chose her to lead them after seeing her pretty picture on signs posted across the land.

Robin Shaw often spoke up on controversial issues. She championed smaller class sizes in the schools and funding for the arts. She helped pass a law that increased punishment for murderers convicted of hate crimes against minority groups like blacks or homosexuals or Jews.

Tom Smith, the ogre, was pushing 70 and old-fashioned, having been a Marine for 24 years and then a school principal who struck fear in the hearts of juvenile delinquents throughout the land.

Tom Smith spoke up, too. But he did not fight for arts funding. He did not vote for the princess's hate-crimes law. He did vote to eliminate AIDS education in schools, thought doctors should be able to test people for AIDS behind their backs and once told a constituent that sodomy is the very worst thing that can happen to your body.

Many of his constituents agreed with everything he said and did. Even Smith's enemies admired him, because he always said what he believed and never told a lie.

And so it went, until the princess and the ogre got into a race against each other.

And then the princess got ugly.

Robin Shaw and Tom Smith, Legislative District 26 seatmates in the state House of Representatives, are vying for the district's lone Senate seat being vacated by Tom Patterson. Although Shaw and Smith ran against one another in 1994 and 1996, they were the two leading candidates for two seats--so they never really went head to head. In the past, Shaw and Smith have run polite campaigns. But now the stakes are high. The Senate is much more prestigious than the House, and this time, only one will win. The winner of the September 8 GOP primary is headed for the Senate; no one can remember the last time a Democrat won in District 26, although Democrat Bodo Diehn is running.

And boy, oh, boy, does Robin Shaw want that Senate seat. She wants it so much that she's dented her tiara in her mad dash to cast herself as the most desirable candidate.

Shaw's problem is that she's a moderate in a conservative world. Legislative District 26 is home to right-wing stalwarts like Dan Quayle, Fife Symington and U.S. Senator Jon Kyl--and Tom Smith, who is considered one of the most conservative legislators in the state.

So what was Robin Shaw to do? Well, she could have stood proudly by her record on issues like the arts, education, hate crimes and abortion, policy areas where she differs from Tom Smith. She could have told her constituents that she's like the late Barry Goldwater, another former District 26 resident: a social libertarian, pro-choice and pro-privacy where gays are concerned.

Instead, Shaw has tried to out-conservative the conservative. She has resorted to mailing out hit pieces, taking a handful of Smith's votes and positions, and morphing the meaning until Tom Smith looks like Al Gore and Robin Shaw like Margaret Thatcher.

Last month, Shaw mailed two outsize postcards to GOP voters in District 26, proclaiming herself the more conservative Senate candidate.

In the world according to Robin Shaw, Tom Smith is a big spender, soft on crime and Hillary-esque when it comes to health care.

Technically, Shaw sticks to the facts. But her misrepresentation of Smith's positions is so blatant, so unfair, so downright mean that her pragmatism is showing--and it's not pretty.

At the top of her list of Smith's liberal votes, Shaw proclaims that her opponent was rated a "SPENDER" by the Arizona Federation of Taxpayers' sixth annual rating.

Shaw fails to mention that that rating reflected Smith's performance during a single legislative season, his first, way back in 1991.

The Arizona Federation of Taxpayers is so over the edge of the right wing that few take it seriously. Shaw's really scrambling if she has to turn to this group for fodder. Almost every legislator in the state has been rated a "Big Spender," rendering the title meaningless. The Arizona Republic only rarely reports the group's annual ratings, which contributed to a blind spot in Shaw's strategy. When asked, she explains that she found the 1991 nugget in an old newspaper clip.

Gary Giordano, the group's president, says Shaw's really the pot calling the kettle black. Robin Shaw and Tom Smith have both been rated "Big Spenders" by the Arizona Federation of Taxpayers for the past three years, 1996, '97 and '98.

Shaw also has accused Smith of voting for "BIG GOVERNMENT" programs. His offense? A bill, passed this year, that streamlined fingerprinting by giving the Department of Public Safety state-of-the-art equipment and the responsibility of handling the task. Big brother? Big deal.

This was one of Smith's pet projects, and it passed into law in two pieces. Shaw voted for the bill that created the department in DPS to do the fingerprinting, but voted against the bill authorizing the money to do so.

What about Smith's bent toward socialized medicine? Shaw tells the voters Smith supports government's taking away freedom of choice in health coverage; she points to Smith's vote for a bill that would have required all HMOs to cover chiropractic care. That hardly makes him Hillary Clinton.

And Smith's opposition to Proposition 102 hardly makes the guy an ACLU flunkie, although you wouldn't know it from Shaw's hit piece, which reads: "Opposed locking up violent juveniles and trying them as adults for violent crimes like murder and rape."

For the record, Smith does not oppose locking up violent juveniles and trying them as adults; like many people, he simply disagreed with the methodology offered by Proposition 102, which mandates trying juveniles under 15 accused of murder, rape or armed robbery as adults. Smith wanted discretion left to judges.

Shaw's antics have engendered a predictable response from Smith, who now calls her the most dishonorable person he's ever met. "This is, without question," he says, "the most unenjoyable campaign I've ever been in."

Shaw sees nothing wrong with her charges. She's just campaigning, she says.
"Is there a political spin on it? Yes, of course," she says. "But it is a campaign, and I think that as long as you're sticking to issues and you're accurate, that's what counts. And to me, I went to great lengths to try to be as accurate as I could."

Evidently, not far enough.

Actually, says Robin Shaw, Tom Smith started it.
Smith supported Shaw's first bid for the House in 1994, but the relationship has been degenerating nearly ever since.

During Shaw's second year in the Legislature, war broke out.
Smith and Shaw had offices next door to one another. Shaw says she overheard a phone conversation between Smith and one of their constituents.

"He started ripping me personally because I supported this small-class-size bill. When that happened, I mean, the blood just ran out of my face and I couldn't believe what I was hearing."

She says Smith was telling the constituent that Shaw was an "idiot" and didn't understand the issues. But Shaw was more upset by what followed.

"Then he went on to criticize the way that I dress. And he used some adjectives that I won't repeat."

Shaw says she walked into Smith's office, sat down and waited for him to hang up the phone. When he did, she slammed the door and let him have it.

Smith barely recalls the incident. He says he never called Shaw an idiot and denies commenting on the way she dresses.

He says he apologized to Shaw and told her she shouldn't have been eavesdropping. "If I hear two people talking, if I hear my name, I turn around and walk away. I don't sit there and listen," Smith says. "But I don't think it was a big deal, quite frankly. I don't think that started the animosity."

When they both announced they were running for the Senate, that old black magic started working again.

The 1998 feud according to Shaw: She insists Smith started the nastiness by distributing copies of an article from the newspaper Heatstroke, detailing an Arizona Human Rights Fund campaign event that netted Shaw $6,000 and making her out to be a friend of gay rights.

Shaw contends that she was misquoted in the article, and cites a letter from the story's author as proof. She sent Smith a copy of the letter, asking him to stop distributing the clipping, and even sicced Republican state party Chairman Mike Hellon on Smith.

Smith admits he distributed seven copies of the article--with Shaw's quotes underlined--before receiving her "cease and desist" missive, but says he hasn't sent any out since.

Another brouhaha began after a District 26 debate, when Shaw mentioned that Smith had voted against a bill that gave counties the authority to enforce ordinances against adult-oriented businesses. Smith responded with a letter setting the record straight. "That is a lie," he said.

Shaw looked up the vote and found that although Smith had opposed the legislation earlier in the session, he voted for the final bill.

Instead of admitting she made a mistake, apologizing and moving on, Shaw launched a new crusade against Smith, now accusing him of calling her a liar.

And that makes the ogre a fairly sympathetic character.
Win or lose, Smith intends to live happily ever after.
"You know," he says, "I had a life before I went into public office and I'm going to have a life after I leave. The sun's gonna come up and the sun's gonna go down, the ninth of September, the day after the election. I think she's so caught up in getting elected that she's lost her value system. I don't think anything's that important to sacrifice your values."

Contact Amy Silverman at her online address: [email protected]

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Amy Silverman is a two-time winner of the Arizona Press Club’s Journalist of the Year award. Her work has appeared on the radio show This American Life and in the New York Times, the Washington Post, Lenny Letter, and Brain, Child. She’s the co-curator of the live reading series Bar Flies, and a commentator for KJZZ, the NPR affiliate in Phoenix. Silverman is the author of the book My Heart Can’t Even Believe It: A Story of Science, Love, and Down Syndrome (Woodbine House 2016). Follow her on Instagram (@amysilverman), Twitter (@amysilvermanaz), and at