Longform

Stealth Zealot

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Kyl voted against providing federal assistance to states and local jurisdictions to prosecute hate crimes. He voted against expanding the federal Hate Crimes law. And in 2001, he voted in the judiciary committee against expanding the areas covered by hate crimes laws to include gender, sexual orientation and disability.

A committee he heads, the Senate Republican Policy Committee, is urging a constitutional gay-marriage ban.

In 1994, a New Times reporter accompanied Kyl on the campaign trail. In Yuma, at a Republican event, an old woman asked Kyl a loaded question about African-Americans:

"Isn't it true that before he got shot, Lincoln was planning on sending all them blacks back to Africa?" Someone in the crowd then blurted out: "That's what he should have done!" A few people laughed.

Kyl's reaction, you could argue, sums up his career when it comes to dealing with the radical end of his party.

"Well," he said from the podium, "I've read a lot about Lincoln, and I've never heard that."

With the reporter, Kyl later reflected on the moment:

"You just want to grab people like that and shake them, and say, 'Don't you realize how that sounds?' It was an ugly thing to say. But what are you going to do? She was an old lady.

"And we need her, and those like her, to win."


Jon Kyl began that 1994 campaign believing he was running against three-term U.S. Senator Dennis DeConcini.

At the time, DeConcini was struggling to brush off the effects of the Keating Five scandal. He seemed to be bouncing back, but not long into the campaign cycle, he decided not to run for reelection.

Kyl won. And with that win, the makeup of Arizona's Washington delegation changed profoundly.

With DeConcini, Arizona had a moderate political voice, but, more important, it had at least one U.S. senator who made it a priority to bring federal money back to his state.

DeConcini emulated Carl Hayden in that respect. Hayden knew that Arizona would never thrive without massive federal help, particularly for water projects. Hayden knew that in Washington, money doesn't flow to the western states without a fight. Hayden spent more than half a century in the House and Senate fighting for Arizona projects.

DeConcini, with Barry Goldwater, continued that fight. They brought tens of millions of dollars in extra outlays for the Central Arizona Project, while consistently battling for extra funding for Arizona universities, roads and civic projects.

John McCain is not a "homeboy" senator in that mold.

Jon Kyl, with his strong ideological stance against big government, definitely has not been a "bring home the bacon" senator, either.

DeConcini argues that this is Kyl's biggest failing.

"The best thing for Arizona are senators and members of Congress who will bring funds to Arizona whether they are authorized or unauthorized if they believe they are important to Arizona," the former senator turned lobbyist tells New Times. "Most of the Arizona delegation doesn't do that. To be honest, I think they just don't want to do it. It's hard work. You have to cut deals. But in the end, it is the work you have to do for the betterment of the state of Arizona."

DeConcini called Kyl recently to tell him he would be supporting Pederson. Like so many others, DeConcini says he respects Kyl as a person. He just doesn't agree with his politics.

Needless to say, Kyl is in the catbird position in Washington to be a powerful voice for Arizona interests. Indeed, he argues this is one reason he should be reelected.

"I'm part of the leadership now," he says. "I'm in a much better position to help than in the past."

But opponents argue that Kyl has used his leadership only to gain more power in the national Republican Party. And to gain power in the Republican Party, you have to curry favor from the party's right. And you do that by making points about taxation and federal spending. And you make those points by cutting government programs while reducing taxation on the wealthy to "unleash the economy."

For example, Kyl voted against a federal highway funding package that would have brought money to widen I-10. The package, he said, was full of pork (which it was), and also, he argued, did not give enough to Arizona.

He was right. But, opponents say, instead of complaining about the paltry end product, what Kyl should have done -- and consistently has failed to do -- is fight for more money for Arizona from the get-go: when the spending packages are getting hashed out in committees and in back rooms.

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Robert Nelson