Tom and Janet's Excellent AG Venture

Janet Napolitano plays it straight.
While her opponent, Republican Tom McGovern, is chasing down the soccer moms and dads with boomer-ready buzz words, the Democratic candidate for attorney general stumps on her legal and managerial experience as a U.S. attorney and a private lawyer, and on her vision for the role of Arizona's AG. She answers questions head on. She minimizes talk about herself.

McGovern employs the traditional abstractions you expect from a candidate. He reminds voters he grew up on the rough streets of Philadelphia, the eighth of nine children. The first to get a college degree. He stresses he's a devoted son, a loving husband, the father of three. He doesn't talk much about his legal and managerial experience.

Janet Napolitano and Tom McGovern share like opinions on almost all of the issues that could come up in the AG's Office. Both promise to focus on prosecuting civil rights cases, to make telemarketing fraud a priority and to find better ways to reduce the backlog of Child Protective Services cases. Both oppose the idea of a Constitutional Defense Council, say they'll improve relations between law-enforcement agencies and follow incumbent Grant Woods' lead on anti-tobacco litigation.

Aside from some quiet, behind-the-scenes grousing, these two are running a shockingly civilized campaign. Unless you vote strictly on abortion--he's pro-life, she's pro-choice--the race between the two boils down to a question of style.

When content becomes moot, style takes the stage. In this case, their styles--her focus on officialdom, his focus on popular symbols--are so highly contrasted that there may be a message in that.

Sensible from her single strand of pearls and low navy pumps to her moderate, pro-choice Republican campaign strategist, Napolitano is all C-SPAN, the essential academic.

With his good hair, Jerry Garcia tie and band of hip, young campaignsters, Tom McGovern is straight off the set of Ally McBeal--the ultimate '90s media populist, a man recruited and groomed for the job by another telegenic fellow, incumbent AG Grant Woods.

If you followed the GOP primary at all, you already know Tom McGovern. His history has been documented in detail in this publication ("The Clash of '98," August 27). Born and raised in Philadelphia, McGovern graduated from Duquesne University and the University of Delaware Law School. He moved to Arizona in 1983 to take a job with the firm Black, Robertshaw and Copple. He focused on insurance defense litigation. In 1989, he started his own firm, winning a number of lucrative cases, including a $16 million judgment in 1993 against Samaritan Health Systems.

Grant Woods was looking to anoint a replacement, someone to run against John Kaites. McGovern, who had schmoozed Woods on the basketball court--acknowledged by many politicos as Woods' golf course--seemed a good fit. But he lacked government and prosecutorial experience, so Woods hired him to be his third in command in 1996. McGovern argued the state's partial-birth-abortion and parental-consent cases--he lost both; they're on appeal--and handled two death-row appeals that resulted in executions.

With 13 months' experience, a handful of high-profile cases under his belt and his third kid on the way, McGovern quit to run for AG.

Janet Napolitano has no problem talking about herself, but you have to ask.
Napolitano (sounds like "piano") was born in New York City while her father was studying at Cornell Medical School. The family--Janet has a younger brother--settled in Albuquerque when Janet was 6. Her father is the dean of the University of New Mexico's medical school.

Albuquerque was a lot like Tucson, she says, a small town with a big university.

"I have no complaints about my childhood at all," Napolitano says. "I had a great time. I had a bike. Took clarinet lessons, played in the band."

There was one failure: baton-twirling lessons. Young Janet was so wobbly, her teacher asked her to retire her baton and instead introduce the other students at recital time.

"Thank goodness they weren't doing the flaming ones," she says, seemingly having accepted her fate.

Napolitano's father had played football at the University of Santa Clara, which she chose over Pennsylvania's Swarthmore College mainly for the California sunshine. She majored in political science, spent a semester studying in London, graduated Phi Beta Kappa and was Santa Clara's first female valedictorian.

Dad knew New Mexico Republican Senator Pete Domenici, so she snagged a postcollege job on Capitol Hill as an analyst for the Senate Budget Committee. After a year of calculating the revenue impact of legislation like the Chrysler bailout, Napolitano entered law school at the University of Virginia (UVA) in Charlottesville.

She says she played a lot of bridge and, in her final year, lived with three guys at the palatial estate of a distant relative of J.P. Morgan. The relative, who summered at the estate, let four lucky UVA students live there each school year in exchange for nominal rent and dog-sitting duties.

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Amy Silverman is a two-time winner of the Arizona Press Club’s Journalist of the Year award. Her work has appeared on the radio show This American Life and in the New York Times, the Washington Post, Lenny Letter, and Brain, Child. She’s the co-curator of the live reading series Bar Flies, and a commentator for KJZZ, the NPR affiliate in Phoenix. Silverman is the author of the book My Heart Can’t Even Believe It: A Story of Science, Love, and Down Syndrome (Woodbine House 2016). Follow her on Instagram (@amysilverman), Twitter (@amysilvermanaz), and at amy-silverman.com.