Feathered Bastard

Russell Pearce-Conqueror Jerry Lewis Endorsed by Eddie Basha, Paul Johnson; Democratic Lies Denounced

Democrats-turned-Independents Eddie Basha of the Bashas' grocery chain and former Phoenix Mayor Paul Johnson have endorsed Republican state Senator Jerry Lewis for the Legislative District 26 Senate seat, over Lewis' Democratic foil, state Representative Ed Ableser.

See also: -Liberal Democrats Tar Republican Jerry Lewis, Borrowing a Page From Extremists They Claim to Loathe -Russell Pearce's Vanquisher Jerry Lewis Slimed by Democrats -Democrats Up Sleaze Ante Against Jerry Lewis in LD 26

Johnson and Basha joined Republican businessman Dick Foreman in placing their names on a letter lauding Lewis and denouncing the lies coming from the Democrats in LD 26 and from an independent expenditure committee targeting Lewis for defeat.

"With Lewis' support and leadership," reads the letter, "state lawmakers increased funding to K-12 schools by over $60 million and strengthened state support for ASU...

"In spite of his success in increasing funding for our public schools and ASU, Senator Lewis has been the target of malicious and deceitful attacks by independent groups making false and ridiculous claims about his record. We strongly urge Tempe voters to get the facts and reject these misleading and false attacks against Senator Lewis."

Read the entire letter praising Lewis from Basha, Foreman and Johnson.

In robocalls, mailers, online ads, and in the personal comments of some local Dems, Lewis has been accused of being a "Tea Party puppet," of "endorsing Russell Pearce," of "telling lies" about Ableser, and of having "led the charge" to make massive cuts to education.

Mayor Greg Stanton, a Democrat, praises Lewis as "a bipartisan guy who supports education and is in public service for all the right reasons," even though Stanton went on to endorse Ableser

I've addressed the first three allegations previously, but the last is a particularly devious smear, along the lines of the phony "backpack-gate" that Tea Party types ginned up against Lewis last year, claiming, falsely, that Lewis had swiped money intended for homeless kids.

This was a lie, of course, the sort of shameless prevarication of which supporters of former state Senate President Russell Pearce were guilty throughout the 2011 recall.

This year, Democrats and a union-backed I.E. have targeted Lewis with attacks that are blatantly dishonest, depicting Lewis as Public Enemy Number One when it comes to education.

That should grate on all those who are aware of Lewis' work with Children's First Academy (formerly the Thomas J. Pappas School for the Homeless), where he once served as the school's principal.

As Arizona Republic columnist Laurie Roberts noted recently, state funding for education increased $64 million for 2012-2013 over the year before.

But because Lewis voted against a number of Democratic floor amendments to the budget that would have restored funds cut in previous years, some Dems and the Arizona Accountability Project believe this allows them to broadly paint Lewis as anti-education.

Generally, Dems were opposed to putting $450 million into a rainy day fund, as the Rs did in their budget, instead of using that money to pay for various needed programs.

Lewis tells me that he and other moderate members of the Republican caucus fought to get that $64 million in funding restored, including $40 million for a program called Move On When Reading, that seeks to improve the reading skills of Third Graders.

"We tried," Lewis told me recently. "We got some of that funding moved up. [Other Republicans] wanted to put it way off into 2013. We were like, no, you have to start that now in October of 2012."

Lewis was a yes vote on the budget, and a no vote on the Dems' floor amendments, including one to restore funding to KidsCare, a medical program that covers children.

"Before the budget can be voted on it has to go through all these floor amendments," he explained. "[The Democrats want] to get people like myself on record to say, he voted against this, this and this. Well, I was in those budget negotiation meetings. I know what went on, I'm not going to go against my word."

Following the same line of reasoning, if Dems want to blame Lewis for all of the floor amendments to the budget that failed, then Ableser would have to be held accountable for voting against a budget that included $40 million in funding for the Move on When Reading program.

Would that be fair? Well, if Lewis were playing by the same rules as Ableser, he would fire back on the D with this ammo, and be just as sleazy.

But he's not. Instead Lewis is like some sort of Mormon Gandhi, politically speaking, taking it on the chin and hoping to win people over with a positive campaign.

Now, if someone were to wave a magic wand and make me Lord of Sand Land, sure, I'd take that $450 million in the state's piggy bank and give it to the kids. Heck, I'd probably go all socialist on this state, soak the rich and give it all to the poor. Every man a king, just like Huey Long once sang.

But I'm not the Grand Poohbah of Cactus Country, and this year, once more, the Dems were out of power in the state Legislature. Given that reality, Lewis' efforts to get some funding restored are praiseworthy, even if unsatisfactory from a Democrat's perspective.

I spoke with ex-Mayor Johnson about Lewis, who called Lewis a "voice for independence" and a "breath of fresh air," who is always willing to listen to opposing viewpoints.

"The truth should matter," Johnson said of the efforts to paint Lewis as a Tea Partier, since Lewis, by his very election, served to moderate all politics in Arizona.

"He showed a tremendous amount of courage when he ran against a sitting Senate President," Johnson observed. "I'm looking for people like that, willing to buck their party."

I called Basha for a comment as well, and he noted the sea change that's occurred in politics with Russell Pearce gone from power, something a lot of, let's be honest, non-Latino Democrats seem incapable of comprehending.

"Pearce did irreparable damage to the economic opportunities of our state," Basha told me. "Our prosperity suffered immeasurably under Senator Pearce, with all of the divisiveness and the attacks on the Hispanic community.

"As you probably know, Mexico is our largest trade partner, and I'm a businessman and we depend on that economic growth. This is very serious."

He called Lewis' run against Pearce "bold and courageous," and noted that Lewis "served with distinction" in the Senate where he maintained an amicable relationship with Democrats.

The Ds are targeting moderate Rs this year in a desperate attempt to force a 15-15 tie in the Senate. But in doing so, they risk doing away with GOPers that might work with them in the future.

I'm hoping the Dems' viciousness in LD 26 will backfire tomorrow and Lewis will prevail over Ableser, whose 40 percent absentee rate indicates that he lacks Lewis' seriousness and maturity.

I know I'm not the only citizen who has been turned off by the nastiness of the LD 26 Dems. Many of their fellow progressives don't like it as well. And it's them the LD 26 Ds have to justify it to, not to me.

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