Page 2 of 3

DeGraw smiles again, and speaks like a man who is revealing a dark secret.
"The other group they forgot was registered Republicans who had reregistered as Democrats for the primary. In Maricopa County alone, there were almost 15,000 of them. I know, because we handled them. All of this gave us a hell of a base. "Then we went to work on getting out the vote on the Navajo nation. I've been here 22 years, and this is the first time I remember a candidate covered all 57 chapter houses on the reservation. We even worked every single one of them all through election day."

The last time the vote from the Navajos made such an impact on an election was in the early 1980s, when Bill Schulz almost upset Barry Goldwater in the race for the Senate.

Schulz fell a few votes short of upsetting Goldwater. DeGraw remembers that campaign well. He handled Schulz's campaign to get out the reservation vote.

One who disputes DeGraw's account detailing the ease of getting out the Native American vote is former congressman Sam Steiger. Steiger tells how he went so far as to hold a mutton roast for every chapter house without making a substantial gain in the vote.

But Steiger found a way to win them over. In those days, because of the language barrier, candidates were identified by photos placed next to their names on the ballot. Steiger substituted for his own likeness that of a Navajo tribesman. That sent his share of the vote skyrocketing. Steiger insists, unconvincingly, that the story is apocryphal.

I wondered how DeGraw developed his political expertise. He comes from a long line of coal miners who settled near Reading, Pennsylvania. He tells of his great-grandmother, who was married three times.

"Her first husband was killed in the mines. The second one developed black-lung disease in his 30s and died within two years. Her third husband was blinded in an accident."

DeGraw's grandfather also worked in the mines, and he, too, suffered a disabling injury.

"In those days, one of the things the mine owners did was give an injured miner a free ticket to Philadelphia," DeGraw says. "My grandfather, who was a great influence in my life, moved to Philadelphia and worked as an usher in a theatre.

"My father drove a high-speed interurban train, and never made more than $8,000 in a single year. He died at 59. My mother worked in Woolworth's."

DeGraw and his brother were the first members of his family to go to college. DeGraw attended Princeton on a partial academic scholarship, and worked for the rest of his expenses. He earned a degree in theology, and went on to Rutgers University for his master's degree in sociology.

His first job after being ordained a minister was as pastor of the African-American Presbyterian church in Philadelphia. From there, he went to work as a chaplain in the New Jersey prison system. "Things were so bad in the prisons that I started going down to the state legislature to try to get them straightened out."

Soon, he was working for the senate as an assistant to the president. In that capacity, he met Arizona Democratic politicians Tim Barrow and Bill Jacquin at a convention. They were so impressed by DeGraw that they hired him to come to work for the legislature in Arizona. "I had seen the Grand Canyon once and was impressed," DeGraw says. "So in 1972, I moved my family here."

Since that time, he has worked campaigns tirelessly for Alfredo Gutierrez, Goddard, Johnson and many others. DeGraw first met Basha 13 years ago, when they were founding members of the group Children's Action Alliance, a volunteer organization dedicated to advocating children's issues. The two men are now old friends, comfortable with each other.

"His opponents say Eddie was born with a silver spoon in his mouth," DeGraw says. "What they don't realize is that Eddie went to work in the stores when he was 11. He worked his own way through Stanford. His father actually borrowed money from him. "When his father died, there was $2,000 in the bank, and Eddie had to sell eight of the 16 stores to keep afloat. He now has 70 stores; six of them are on the Navajo Reservation, where he was one of the first businessmen willing to open a store and charge fair prices."

KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Tom Fitzpatrick