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VICTIMS' RITES

They haven't got much in common on the surface.
Candice Nagel, a second-term legislator before she resigned last month, drives home along the Dreamy Draw in a white Mazda convertible and parks in the driveway of a Paradise Valley house that is massive, uninteresting and crammed onto a lot so small that there's barely room for a pool on the patio. She wears sleek, ladylike clothes--fine wool slacks, a crisp blouse with a lacy collar, spectator flats in patent leather. She flashes a diamond the size of a grape.

Jim Hartdegen, who served in the Arizona State Legislature for fourteen years before he was indicted in the AzScam sting, drives a car that's built like an El Camino and that has seen better days, bouncing along to his modest home outside Casa Grande on an unpaved road that is riotous with desert marigolds. The house, much of which he built himself ten years ago, sits on five acres of undeveloped desert, nearly at the foot of Signal Peak. He climbs out of his car dressed in jeans and cowboy boots.

Nagel talks more like a sailor than a sailor, a lively contrast to her prim appearance. During an expansive, three-hour conversation she held last summer with AzScam undercover agent Joseph Stedino, she announced that Margaret Updike, a legislator in District 25, would "fuck her mother." Called Representative John Wettaw "the smartest son of a bitch in the world." Said Representative Lela Steffey was the legislature's "worst Mormon" and "stupid," and added, "I'd rather deal with an asshole than somebody stupid." Denounced the legislature's archconservatives again and again as "wackos" and said of them: "There are a couple that I hate their fucking guts, I hope they die, you know." Hartdegen was known in the legislature for a different kind of colorful talk, characterized by others as a rare blade of honesty that was wielded in public and that cut to the bone. "He stood up in the legislature and told the truth that made people uncomfortable," remembers Corporation Commissioner Renz Jennings, who served in the legislature with Hartdegen. It was Hartdegen, a Republican, who wryly chided archconservatives interested in government regulation of contraceptives and abortions, as though that would keep a lid on the incidence of sexual sin. "I don't want to surprise any of you, but apparently I am the only person in the legislature who screwed around before I got married," he said to his colleagues from the floor.

It was Hartdegen who evaluated every new issue according to its merits, in an unpartisan way, so that as early as '85 he was one of very few legislators speaking out against ENSCO, despite his own history of favoring business interests over environment.

It was this same blunt-spokenness that showed up in contacts with Joseph Stedino and his stooge, a bail-bondsman named Ron Tapp, when Hartdegen told them he supported the issue of legalized gambling but could not be bought.

Nagel quit the legislature, citing poor health, after her pithy characterizations of her fellow legislators were made public in police-distributed transcripts. She had refused Stedino's bribes and was unindictable, and yet many of her colleagues weren't saddened to see her go.

"If she would have remained here and tried to exercise influence, I'm sure those comments would have come back to haunt her," says Representative Stan Barnes. "You can't say the kinds of things she said and continue to have respect."

Hartdegen was required to leave the legislature as part of the plea bargain he accepted. He quit eloquently, confessing on the floor of the House that he had violated campaign laws when he allowed Stedino to contribute $660 to his campaign--$440 beyond the legal limit. He strode off the floor to a standing ovation from his peers and the spectators in the gallery. Many onlookers, including male legislators, wept openly. There doesn't seem to be much that's similar about the ways that Nagel and Hartdegen have gotten through their lives and their public disgraces, but there is. There is the fact that they are victims of AzScam.

Legislators Bobby Raymond and Sue Laybe pocketed many thousands of dollars in cash as coolly as though they were receiving change from a Circle K cashier. Hartdegen is guilty of very little, and Nagel of nothing but gossip. Yet as the red-handed defendants are agreeing to plea bargains and news of AzScam is fading from front pages, these two near-innocents stand away from the limelight with their lives in shards, felled by the mortal police department "sting" that murdered careers as it rattled through the statehouse like machine-gun fire.

IN THE CASE of Candice Nagel, downfall was hastened not only by her amazing way with words, but by the ugly nature of politics. By her own account and the accounts of those who've observed her, she is a woman who could never adjust to the realities of discourtesy and harsh judgments that are part of holding public office. Her sharp comments to Stedino regarding her colleagues were, at least in part, the result of years of frustration over the treatment she'd received from the far right.

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Deborah Laake