Children don't dream of growing up to be Arizona Secretary of State.
In fact, you expect those who seek the job to be the kind who, as kids, were beaten up by the schoolyard bully for their lunch money: low-key, studious types who can find happiness in bureaucratic tasks that induce catatonic stupor in the population at large.

To voters, the job remains one of those elected offices, like county recorder or mine inspector, where the sound of coin-flipping is audible in the voting booth. So no one should be shocked to notice that while the high-profile races for governor and attorney general steam on toward the September 11 primary, the race for secretary of state has been all but ignored by Valley newspapers and political prognosticators. The action is elsewhere, and so is the public eye.

That's not suprising.
What is suprising is that two apparently rational men, incumbent Jim Shumway and challenger Richard Mahoney, actually are fighting a bitter primary battle for the job, each saying he's the Democrat to face off against Republican Ray Rottas in the November general election. It's easy to see why Shumway fits the mold for chief paper shuffler. Mature, friendly, respected clerk, a college dropout and lifelong professional bureaucrat--he actually enjoys discussing computer software and information retrieval.

But Dick Mahoney? A spit-polished, young, upwardly mobile Democrat and son of privilege, who has published a respected book on John F. Kennedy's African foreign policy, written speeches for presidential candidates and engaged in a highly publicized marriage--and an equally public divorce--with local TV news starlet Mary Jo West? That Dick Mahoney desperately desires to be the king of mundane tasks? What's the attraction?

His detractors--and a considerable number of Democrats fall into that category--sum it up in two words: Governor Mahoney.

Because as obscure as the job may be to voters, it's still the job that's just "one heartbeat away" from the governor's chair. Twice in the last fifteen years, Arizona has inherited a new governor because of this line of succession, including the woman now sitting in the chief executive's office. While Mahoney is busy trying to convince people that's the farthest thing from his mind, Shumway is studiously reminding everyone that Arizona needs someone to take care of business, not build a cozy political nest.

"The candidates are thought to have very different images," concluded a recent poll by O'Neil Associates that showed Shumway leading Mahoney two to one--albeit with 52 percent undecided.

"Shumway's strength is likely to be an image as a competent administrator, someone with great experience in the Secretary of State's Office, but who might be seen as out of his depth should he be required to assume the office of governor," the poll noted.

"Mahoney, on the other hand, may have difficulty convincing the voters that he is interested in this position apart from its value as a stepping stone to higher office."

It boils down to this: Do we want a secretary of state who wants to be a clerk or one who secretly desires to be governor?

Do we really want either?

JIM SHUMWAY IS an imposing presence sitting behind his desk in the Secretary of State's Office. He is a stocky, hulking man, a former Brigham Young tackle whose face is naturally locked in dour expression. But when he extends his big hand in greeting, a huge smile cracks his threatening exterior, revealing a gentle, soft-spoken nature that belies appearances.

Although viewed by some as introverted and colorless, Shumway, 51, will chat amiably about his family's past--he was born and raised in Tempe--and seems comfortable in the office that he inherited from Mofford in 1988. It is here the man who has been called the state's consummate clerk wonders at the notion that his job is considered unexciting.

"I think what we do is important, and while our duties may not be the most thrilling in the world, I don't think they're exactly boring, either," Shumway says. "If this is boring, then I guess I would have to say I like being boring."

By all accounts, he's good at the job. Even Republicans seem to have nothing but nice things to say about the incumbent Democrat. Senate President Bob Usdane, a Rottas supporter, says Shumway has done a "good job" since taking over for Mofford. "I would definitely say he is respected in the legislature."

Senator Jeff Hill, another Republican, agrees. "You have to admit that the guy has done pretty well at his tasks," he says, adding that Shumway's only apparent weakness is his political inexperience. "The thing about him putting out a campaign letter linked to the Secretary of State's Office wasn't devious," Hill says, "it was just that he isn't overly political."

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Darrin Hostetler