Burt Kruglick is a good learner.
During the 1986 gubernatorial primary, the state GOP chief blasted Evan Mecham for negative campaigning in the primary against Burton Barr. But Mecham won handily with his mudslinging campaign that attacked special interests and portrayed him as a man of the people.
Now Kruglick wants to take on Terry Goddard for mayor. And he's found that, like Mecham, it's easier to be a faux populist than to come up with real positions on real issues.
Kruglick's announcement for mayor last week was an example of Mecham at his best.
For example, in listing the shortcomings of the Goddard administration Kruglick complained, "Pollution is affecting us all and is a major deterrent to people and businesses considering moving to this area." Having taken the safe position of opposing pollution, Kruglick never could explain exactly how the mayor is responsible for the problem.
But Kruglick did blast the one Goddard stance that might have made a difference in air quality: his support of ValTrans. When reminded that a lot of Republican bigwigs backed the $10.4 billion program, all he could respond was: "It was voted down two-to-one. That's what's important." Although he never once commented on the issue before the vote three months ago, apparently he now feels safe in speaking his mind.
Kruglick also promised more police officers and a crackdown on crime. But he could not say exactly where he intends to get the money for these programs. Instead he retreated to the standard response about how his opponent is a "free-spending liberal" and how a good Republican like himself can do better. "I think we have to look at our priorities," he said.
But Kruglick does not feel at all compelled to spout GOP rhetoric when a simple slam at the incumbent will do.
"The recent collapse of the real estate market and the downturn in the Phoenix economy should tell us that we cannot have a mayor who is a tool of the large developers," he pronounced. Never mind that many of the Republicans whom Kruglick has helped elect to the legislature have become the lap dogs of these same developers.
"I've always had an interest," he protested when questioned about his newfound concern for neighborhoods in their battles with developers. "In the position I held I felt I should not inject myself. People in some of those issues knew where I stood."
He gave the same answer to explain his sudden interest in the plight of the homeless, even as the just-adjourned legislature--filled with candidates he helped elect--killed every effort to actually do anything for these people. The mayoral candidate did not see a conflict.
"My job at one time was to elect people," he responded. "My job when I become mayor will be to work for all of the people in the City of Phoenix and the things that we require here. I will work with the legislature because I believe I have the ability and negotiating skills to do that."
Kruglick, out shopping for votes, also has discovered South Phoenix, much in the way Christopher Columbus "discovered" America long after the Indians called it home. "I have a great concern for all people, and I've come to realize that South Phoenix has been very neglected," he said. And when did he realize that? "I've known it for a long time."
On each and every issue, however, Kruglick provided no plan, no specifics on what he would do. Instead he promised to issue position papers "at a later time."
Kruglick made a big point of promising to refuse money from special interests or political action committees, a vow that drew applause from the party faithful who had gathered for his announcement. But Kruglick wouldn't rule out taking money from the individuals who control those special interests, like Charles Keating or Fife Symington.
That's different, he said, pointing out that contributions from individuals are limited to $220. "Do you think I can be bought for $220?" he asked.
If the issue is how much money it takes to "buy" Kruglick, refusing PAC donations isn't the answer.
While the same $220 limit on individual contributions also applies to most PACs, the special interests have figured a way around the law: They now tell members to write out individual personal checks to favored candidates--the kind of checks Kruglick will accept. So it isn't a question of being bought for a single $220 check but for a whole bunch of them.
Kruglick learned one more lesson from mentor Mecham. When the Glendale car dealer was running for governor, he lashed out not only at his opponents and even lame-duck Governor Bruce Babbitt but also at the state legislature. This enabled him to campaign as an outsider, as a man of the "good people."
So it wasn't surprising when Kruglick, in his announcement, blasted not only Goddard but the entire city council, including the three Republicans who serve on it. "We have a mayor and city council that is out of control," he complained.
And what does he know about running the city that the three Republicans who supposedly share his GOP philosophy do not? Kruglick gave the same tired answer he has given to every other query. "I would state my position throughout the campaign and at that time you'll see what I intend to do."
The trio, meanwhile, is less than enthusiastic over the candidacy of their Republican colleague.
"He's got little city experience," noted councilmember Bill Parks. "I don't know how someone with so little experience can step into such a position."
The best John Nelson could muster was: "I suppose from a public standpoint it's good for there to be a choice."
It may simply be that, despite public dissatisfaction with Goddard, voters just aren't ready to trade in the devil that they know for someone who can't provide a better alternative. Even Howard Adams realized this in deciding this wasn't the year to go head-to-head with Goddard.
"When the window of opportunity is open, you jump through it," he said. "If you jump through it when it's closed, you get all cut up."
"I don't know how someone with so little experience can step in to such a position."