The Chubby Grocer Lashes Out

Suddenly, Eddie Basha is mincing no words.
The East Valley grocer lost his 1994 gubernatorial race against Governor J. Fife Symington III without saying much about the incumbent's financial and ethical problems. Many observers believe this Nice Guy approach contributed to Basha's nose dive in the final weeks of that campaign.

Basha's reaction to Symington's 23-count federal indictment is not so nice--to Symington or to some segments of the Arizona business establishment.

In an interview last week, Basha said that Symington is simply a convenient, high-profile target for federal prosecutors who have seemed to ignore plenty of other questionable deals involving the governor and the state's business community.

"This is just a bullshit deal," Basha says.
"Everybody got caught with their pants down, so they are going to blame Fifie."

In Basha's view, Symington's lenders are as much to blame for the real-estate debacle that forced the governor into bankruptcy as is the deceptive behavior Symington allegedly used to obtain and forgo repaying millions of dollars in loans.

The grocery-store-chain operator says lenders seemed to go easy on Symington when reviewing his financial statements. By comparison, Basha says, whenever he seeks a business loan, bankers run him through the ringer.

"They want a goddamned MRI, they want an EKG, they want everything validated," he says.

Basha wonders: Where was the scrutiny? Where were the lawyers, accountants and underwriters at the major banks and the union pension funds that lent Symington partnerships hundreds of millions of dollars in the 1980s and early '90s?

"Where were they when he gave them his financial statements?" Basha asks.
Clearly, Basha has little sympathy for Symington's plight. "I have no love for the son of a bitch," the grocer says. The grocer just believes that there were other hogs feeding at the financial trough along with Symington.

Many of the criminal charges against Symington allege that he submitted financial statements with different values to different lenders, depending on whether he needed a loan or wanted to have a debt forgiven. Basha has harsh words for such behavior.

"It's bizarre, it's wrong, it's unethical and it's immoral," Basha says.
But, in Basha's eyes, the financial statements are the least of Symington's alleged "crimes."

"The high crimes in Arizona are what I have said and what I continue to say. First, is education inequality. The funding inequality of education.

"The dirty air. The smog. The lack of mass transit. The lack of freeways.
"You know, the fact that 150,000 of our children do not have health insurance.

"There is $150 million in the tobacco-tax fund and they [legislators] won't put it to the use that it was designed for.

"We have $200 million invested in our state university system buildings, and we can't get the necessary dollars to maintain them at their current condition.

"These are the high crimes in Arizona," Basha says. "It sure is not any goddamned financial statement."

So does the anti-Symington rhetoric mean that Basha is gearing up for another run?

"I don't know," he replies.
Hardly a pauper, Basha oversees a business worth hundreds of millions of dollars. But he says his personal savings were nearly exhausted by his 1994 campaign.

And money wouldn't be the only obstacle to a second gubernatorial race.
"I think it is damned hard to get a Democrat elected because Democrats are stereotyped, and they deserve it because of their own stupid mentality," Basha says.

Democrats, Basha says, can't shake the tax-and-spend approach to government.
Basha attempted to underscore the importance of government investment in public infrastructure through his "bleeding-heart capitalist" motto. He tried to portray himself as a fiscal conservative with a liberal social agenda.

"It is a difficult proposition," Basha says. "How do you convince the public it's better to build boys into men? They want to build prisons. There is more sex appeal in building prisons or watching some asshole get jolted."

If Basha is unsure whether he will reenter the political fray, he's thoroughly enjoying the political maneuvering of Republicans who hope to inherit Symington's throne.

"The irony of the whole thing is the foreplay of the wanna-bes," Basha says.
Two leading gubernatorial contenders are Speaker of the House Mark Killian and Senate majority leader Tom Patterson, both Republicans who, Basha says, "don't give a shit about Fife Symington."

"They want to be governor, and they want Symington to weather the storm so that he won't run again, and they can run," Basha says.

But if Symington resigns or is convicted before his term expires in 1998, Secretary of State Jane Hull, also a Republican, will become governor.

"She's in the driver's seat," Basha says. "And these bastards are out. And that, to me, is the funniest thing of all.

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John Dougherty
Contact: John Dougherty