Republican Blogger Jeff Vath Fought for Sanity in the AZ GOP

I don't expect a lot of Arizona Democrats to understand why I'm making such a big deal of the untimely passing of Jeff Vath, chief blogger and owner of the pugnacious, GOP-centric Politico Mafioso blog.

After all, Vath was an uncompromising partisan who derided President Barack Obama, lionized U.S. Senator John McCain, and thought Governor Jan Brewer really did eat "scorpions for breakfast."

Moreover, he had an inexplicable affinity for GOP strategist Dick Morris, thought (at one time) that ex-Congressman "Baby Ben" Quayle was great, and expressed a loyalty to Sheriff Joe Arpaio that I always found bewildering.

But not all Republicans are the same shade of red, and living in Arizona has taught me not to look askance at an ally battling common enemies.

That's a lesson that eludes many an Arizona Dem.

Amazingly, there are Democrats who don't understand that there's a difference between recalled former state Senate President Russell Pearce and the man who vanquished him, fellow Republican Jerry Lewis.

These same Ds saw no difference between current state Senator Bob Worsley and Pearce during Pearce's attempted comeback in the 2012 GOP primary in Legislative District 25.

Likewise, Democratic Party hacks were ticked when Citizens for a Better Arizona, the group that forced the recall on Pearce in 2011, urged LD 25 Democrats to become Indies for the sake of voting for Worsley in the LD 25 primary.

Such kvetching aside, opposition to the extreme right in the state GOP continues to be more important than anything any Democratic pol does or doesn't do in local politics.

For example, can the advancement of, say, Democratic Congresswoman Kyrsten Sinema's career compare to crushing Pearce in 2011 and 2012?

No. Toppling Pearce was a game changer in politics here. And moving the state GOP toward the center by eliminating or marginalizing its wingnut faction remains of primary importance as long as Republicans continue to rule this state.

That's why Jeff Vath's death at age 52 — the result of complications from surgery on a perforated ulcer — is a great loss for those who oppose extremism in Arizona politics.

Under his nom de blog "TonyGOPrano," Vath opposed not only Russell Pearce but such Pearce-loving wackos as pink-pistol-pointer and ex-state Senator Lori Klein, GOP sleaze Constantin Querard, walking PayDay Bar and current Maricopa County GOP chair A.J. LaFaro, and LaFaro's predecessor, Mexican-hater Rob Haney.

Vath was virulently opposed to teabagger Tom Morrissey's chairmanship of the state GOP. He also championed state House Speaker Andy Tobin and defended the conservative tusker against attacks from bottom-feeders like state representatives Carl Seel and Steve Smith.

Similarly, Vath was unafraid of referring to Pearce as a "racist" and tying him, as I did for many years, to his onetime pal, baby-murdering neo-Nazi J.T. Ready. Vath would reprint on PoliticoMafioso pieces that I wrote about Pearce and Pearce's ethically challenged brother, Lester, as well as LaFaro, Haney, and other scoundrels of the right.

No other conservative blog would have done likewise, for fear of getting labeled an outlet for RiNOs (Republicans in Name Only). But RiNO was a label he and his fellow bloggers on PM, such as the irrepressible "Iron Fist," wore like a badge of honor.

After all, this was a guy who called himself "leader of the McCain mafia," which is akin to spitting in a wingnut's face, as Arizona teabaggers hate RiNOs and McCain more than they could ever hate a Democrat.

Why? Because, generally, Democrats are no threat to them. RiNOs, however, are their eternal foes.

I appreciated the RiNO love, mainly because it exposed some uncomfortable truths to the correct people. Wingnuts can pretend not to have seen their names ripped to shreds in my Feathered Bastard blog, but they could not make that claim when Vath stuck one of my columns in their faces, as if they were incontinent puppies he was house-training.

Everyone in the Arizona GOP read Vath, and if a politician got a verbal whipping from someone on PM or was the subject of one of the merciless political cartoons PM published, he or she knew they had been pilloried before all of their colleagues.

"Jeff loved attacking the 'Darth Vaders,' the bullies who intimidate our current elected officials," one close friend of Vath's said. "He would scold them repeatedly for 'eating their own,' using fear politics. And [he] was not fond of the Tea Party's hijacking the state Republican Party or their constant name-calling to reasonable Republicans who disagree [with them]."

State Senator Worsley put it another way.

"Jeff was a balanced voice coming from a hard-hitting GOP blogger," he told me. "[That's] rare these days! He called it like he saw it [and] was frustrated at the extreme positions folks were taking that were not consistent with the GOP of Ronald Reagan and Barry Goldwater."

In the context of today's Republican Party, especially our Cactus Country version, both Reagan and Goldwater would be considered RiNOs, at best, flaming liberals at worst.

That's the reality of the Arizona we live in.

Local lefties often fret about hobgoblins of ideological inconsistency. For many of them, Vath's blog was anathema.

But until the Dems obtain significant political power in Arizona — beyond the help afforded them by the state's recent redistricting — such complaints can't help but seem petty.

I considered Vath a friend, even though we never met in person, and only conversed over the phone and via e-mail. Truthfully, he was just an ordinary guy, a political junkie who liked sports and enjoyed breaking stories about bad guys in his blog.

His widow, Mary Anne, told me that he once was a successful salesman and business owner who was sidelined in the past few years by health woes. Ironically, this is what led him to devote himself full time to Politico Mafioso.

A couple of weeks before he went into the hospital, he phoned me and bragged about how he'd gotten a vinyl wrap for his van featuring a title I'd helped give him: "The GOP's Badass Blogger."

Next thing I knew, he was in a medically induced coma, from which he never emerged.

In fact, the first time I saw Jeff in the flesh was while he was in intensive care at John C. Lincoln Hospital in Deer Valley, unconscious and kept alive by medical equipment and the constant attention of hospital staff.

We all come with an expiration date we're unaware of. If you can help move the world in the right direction a bit before that date is up, you've done better than most.

Perhaps U.S. Senator Jeff Flake, whom Vath defended against the far right attacks of Flake's 2012 primary opponent Wil Cardon, put it best:

"Jeff was the epitome of the happy warrior, and I was happy to know him. He never tired in his pursuit to open eyes, hearts, and minds, and to bring people toward his cause."

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Stephen is a former staff writer and columnist at Phoenix New Times.
Contact: Stephen Lemons