On a lonely September evening, Gordon Whiting stood in the kitchen of his ranch house there, drinking beer, cooking beans and pan-frying elk and mule deer he'd shot himself. The venison was as smooth as fine veal, the elk strong and rangy, "rutty, because I took it during rutting season."
His business partner in the ranch, a twangy-voiced cowboy named Kenny, sat at the kitchen table, legs stretched out, and the two talked about their conservative neighbors.
Whiting was running for sheriff of Graham County in the recent elections, and the fact that he drinks beer had come up in his campaign. Tongues wagged about his not being a practicing Mormon, though that didn't hurt him as badly as his stand on Senate Bill 1053, the private property protection bill devised to hamstring environmental regulations (Give Me That Old-Time Constitution," November 4).
Whiting is chairman of the Arizona Game and Fish Commission, and he spoke out against the bill, concerned that every time his department tried to enforce wildlife regulations against extractive industries, they'd declare it a "taking," and make the agency back down or pay compensation.
"I've got my friends and enemies here," he said casually. To prove it, hanging on the back wall of his campaign office is a poster bearing a photograph of himself looking "real cowboy" in a white ten-gallon hat. Someone had taken a piece out of the photograph with a blast from a .410-gauge shotgun. Where the right eye should have been was a quarter-size gap edged by a perfect aureole of bird-shot holes.
"My boy found it while he was riding his bike," Whiting drawled, and he wasn't sure whether or not it bothered him. He'd circulated a long letter to the voters explaining his position as Game and Fish Commission chairman, but it didn't convince them, and he lost the election for sheriff. Graham Country, after all, is a paradigm of the extractive industries in Arizona--mining, logging, ranching, cotton farming. Folks there don't want to run those businesses any differently than their daddies did.
"The old days aren't here anymore," Whiting said as he dished up the fresh meat. "Sometimes, when you talk about bringing Arizona into the 90s, you're talking about the 1890s."
@body:Last spring, Gordon Whiting and his older brother, Bruce, sat side by side in a House of Representatives hearing room. Gordon wore a Western-cut jacket, boots and bola tie; Bruce, a lawyer, wore a gray business suit. They were opposites right down to their mustaches--Bruce's trim and black in contrast to Gordon's voluminous blond cowboy sniffer. Though both were there to testify on Senate Bill 1053, the private property bill, their intentions were as contrary as their appearances.
Bruce, 43, is president of the timber company Kaibab Industries, and leads ACCORD, a coalition of extractive-industry lobbies. He had lined up a string of witnesses to testify in favor of the bill because they thought it would make it easier for them to conduct business without being held back by costly environmental safeguards imposed by state agencies.
Gordon, 40, as chairman of the Arizona Game and Fish Commission, came to testify against the measure. It's a Whiting family trait not to hold a man's beliefs against him, just so long as he stands up for them himself, and so the brothers remain close friends despite their political differences.
"It makes for some interesting conversations across the Thanksgiving dinner table," says Gordon, and even while sitting in the House hearing room, he and Bruce were able to joke about the serious opposition that brought them there.
The 1053 debate was not the first environmental question the Whiting brothers came down on opposite sides of. In 1990, Kaibab Industries launched a massive freedom-of-information search against the Game and Fish Department, trying to prove that the agency was in collusion with "radical" environmentalists, as most of the extractive industries view such mainstream organizations as the Sierra Club and the Wilderness Society.
Gordon stuck by his department, and if feelings were strained, he was still able to look his family in the eye and keep their respect. There are no clear-cut good guys and bad guys here. Business is business, and truth lies somewhere on a sliding scale of perceptions. Both brothers are good, honest men clinging to strong beliefs. Gordon, however, is the prodigal son, and Bruce the dutiful brother who toiled hard in his father's field. But if Gordon strayed from the family path, those who meet him come away with the impression that he is even-tempered and fair-minded, his father's son despite his politics.