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.

She grew up in Avondale in a clapboard house on Dysart Road, the daughter of a man who drove a truck for APS. She is proud of it; she described herself glibly to Stedino as "poor white trash."

She is a high school graduate, the mother of four daughters, a moderate Republican. She worked her way up in the hotel industry until she held a responsible position in promotions at The Pointe, and her husband, Ken, is the head of food and beverages there. She has a chow dog and a house full of leather sofas. She served on the Paradise Valley School Board for a few years. These are the things she knew about before 1988, when she ran for the legislature in District 24 against archconservative incumbent Gary Giordano. She says she ran because of a belief that "politics are like the priesthood. You are called, you serve your time, and you get out."

She learned it wasn't quite that simple. "The first time I ran for office is the first time I understood political cruelty," she says. She recounts an evening in '88 when she and incumbent Chris Herstam, another moderate Republican from District 24, were sharing a podium with Giordano and were all speechifying.

"Chris gave a grandiloquent oration, and the Mechamites booed him out loud," Nagel remembers. "And I thought, `Oh, my God. Here is a guy who has given eight years to the public. He has stomachaches and cholesterol problems, he leaves his family at night. And they've just beat the crap out of him in public!'"

This experience was hardly to be the worst of it. Nagel was a pro-choice candidate, and she says the antiabortionists kept telephone calls streaming into her home that year. When her eight-year-old answered, the child was told: "I'm surprised your mother hasn't put a gun in your mouth because she kills babies." Nagel credits to the antiabortion forces the rocks that whizzed through her front windows during her first term. She remembers seeing another pro-choice candidate introduce himself politely to the wife of prominent antiabortionist John Jakubczyk, only to be told immediately, "You are going to Hell, sir!" She says the scenes and pressures were so intense that she began taking hot baths to calm herself down before attending her party's district meetings.

"I was literally having my guts ripped out," says Nagel. And the ripping didn't end when she won that first election: She then had to deal with the divisions in her party at the State Capitol. Now she was hearing, not from her opponents but from her colleagues, that it was unthinkable that she could be a conscientious mother and still support abortions. "I thought I was a Christian until I went down there and they redefined the word," she says. "I was so shaken. That hate and the way I began to feel toward the right-wing party I think put me into the hospital in the first place."

It is practically a matter of folklore by now that the hospital is where Nagel found herself last summer. It was during her second campaign, a campaign that party insiders say was very heavily targeted by pro-life forces who wanted Giordano back in office, that Nagel contracted pancreatitis and nearly died. It was while she was in the hospital, still hooked up to IVs, that the "sting" quarterback, then-Representative Don Kenney, called upon her. Saying that he knew a fellow who could help her with fund raising, Kenney dialed Joseph Stedino's number from the telephone beside her sickbed.

Two days after she left the hospital, while she was still on a diet of clear liquids, Nagel paid her fateful visit to Stedino. During that visit, when Stedino handed her a list of legislators and asked her to characterize them in terms of their susceptibility to the cause of legalized gambling, she badmouthed the archconservatives who'd tormented her. "When I saw those people's names, it just all came out," she says.

Although ire for the far right wasn't all that came out. Nagel had quite a lot to say about everybody. In fact, it's impossible to overstate the chummy nature of Nagel's chat with Stedino. According to transcripts, she offered up the sort of intimate information to a stranger that most folks share with their spouses, and then only if their marriages are strong. She coached Stedino on how to win over legislators to his issue of legalized gambling, she laid out all she knew about the informal Phoenix power structure, she advised Stedino that in order to increase his credibility he needed to tone down his flashy appearance. When Stedino passed himself off as a fellow Catholic, she even asked him for theological advice about her first marriage, which had never been annulled.

"Chuy is going to want some money," she said of AzScam indictee Jesus "Chuy" Higuera. " . . . Take him to dinner, that's all he wants. He's so stupid." She said of another legislator: "If you can find anybody important enough, uh, and decent-looking enough, she'll marry him. She just got her tits and her nose done, she's got divorce written all over her."

Of Bobby Raymond: "He's disgusting. He's disgusting. . . . He's such a wanna-be. His hair never moves."

Of Kyle Hindman; "He's one of my best friends in the legislature, but he's a wacko . . . I mean, he's a country boy, but he paid cash for his house. I mean, he's a farmer, he has no problem with welfare as long as it's in subsidies."

None of this candor startles anyone who knows Nagel well. She is completely unaffected, a woman who comes out of the bathroom in front of a reporter still fastening her belt and with her slacks unzipped. Her friends say that she blurts everything that is on her mind, all the time--that on her first visit to New York recently, she tried to chat up an ungroomed and unresponsive stranger in the subway, and that she threw her arms around a police officer who was giving her directions. Her nature is unrestrained.

Says her husband, Ken, "As soon as I heard that she had talked for three hours with this man, I knew she was in trouble. I was really relieved that our whole sex life was not discussed."

Close associates say also that Nagel is a sincere and unmalicious woman who took to the legislature a naive belief that politicians exist in order to serve the people. They say that she was honestly trying to help Stedino strategize because she believed in his issue, and because she will rush to anybody's aid.

They point out that she's a witty woman whose clever barbs read as something much worse in the transcripts that were taped and distributed by the police. To the extent that she excuses herself, Nagel also hides behind the rationalizations of humor and a need to help, although what she mainly says is that she could just die. "God knows that all this shit that I spewed out of this mouth is something that I would like to be able to chew up and swallow like a poison pill," she now laments. "I became as bad as the archconservatives are because I painted them with that broad brush of meanness. Hey, I do have a mouth on me."

Another friend, Representative Susan Gerard, believes Nagel's natterings to Stedino were motivated by more than revenge or an unadorned lust for friendship. "She was trying to convince herself and him that she was smart and knew what she was doing," says Gerard of the way Nagel shared her insider knowledge. "Internally, she was not sure she belonged at the legislature."

If Nagel wasn't sure before, the AzScam revelations convinced her. When she considers how she has let her constituents down, tears come into her voice. "The people who know me know my vocabulary and outrageousness, and those are the only people I care about loving me," she says. "But I care about the disappointment of people who had political expectations of me.

"I got to the point where I thought it was going to kill me. I was just sick all the time, I had a low-grade fever. I would go in to the legislature and throw up. What kind of work could I do?

"My husband had never seen me curl up in bed and not be able to get up before. He had never seen that kind of sadness in me."

And so she quit. She worries a little about what it does to the balance at the legislature to lose another moderate voice, but the need to neutralize the far right cannot keep her going anymore. "I know I need not be the champion. Eventually, the wackos are going to lose," she says. "People are going to see them for what they are."

She is through with politics for good. "I was out of my element," she says. "I will support somebody that asks me to help them in their campaign, but I will never again do it as a profession, and you can take that to the bank."

WHEN JIM HARTDEGEN walked off the floor for the last time on March 12, his emotions about finishing with politics were far more ambivalent. This was largely because his departure was marked by wild applause. "I can tell you that it sure made it easier to leave government to leave it that way," he says of the dramatic show of support from his colleagues. "When the `sting' first happened, I thought, why put yourself through this in order to run again, for the kind of money you make? Why expose your family to criticism? I didn't want anything more to do with government.

"But now I think I would still be a productive legislator."
As more and more belief and forgiveness roll in in the form of letters that he and his wife, Vicky, pile up in a basket in the family room, he finds he is toying with the idea of another campaign.

There was a lot of surprise among observers when Hartdegen accepted a plea bargain. At the time of the indictments, onlookers thought that Hartdegen's sins were far milder than the ringleaders'. He had repeatedly turned down offers of large sums from Stedino and had accepted $660 only after much urging. He made it clear from the beginning that the $660 wasn't buying his vote. Although he violated misdemeanor campaign-contribution laws, insiders felt he could beat the felony charges against him if he went to trial.

Hartdegen himself knew almost from the beginning that a trial wasn't in the cards--that he couldn't afford one. He is a guy from Eloy who works in the safety department of a mine; his wife does part-time office work for a Casa Grande businessman. Everything they own is wrapped up in their five acres of desert, for which they paid $15,000, and the house they designed and built that cost another seventy grand. They have managed to set aside a little money for college for their two young kids, although they think most of those funds will be exhausted by the time these new legal debts are settled. But that's all there ever was.

Even that was nearly snatched away: The government threatened Hartdegen with a civil lawsuit and put an immediate lien on his house, land and one car. The lawsuit was dropped as part of the plea bargain.

And if his worldly goods hadn't gone to the government, Hartdegen would have had to offer them to the lawyer who agreed to defend him. The decision to plead was made "on the basis of money, almost entirely," he says.

If he has held onto the life he has built for his family, he has lost the one he built for himself. Hartdegen has had no hobbies beyond politics, and he had planned to be politically involved practically since he was a young boy watching election returns posted at the Eloy fire station.

He became a state Senate page in the early Seventies, right after he returned from Vietnam, and he has been in public service since. Unlike Nagel, who hadn't gained a foothold at the legislature, Hartdegen's resignation has left a hole in the statehouse. He was a major voice in the Republican caucus on water issues and agriculture, and he has long undertaken causes on behalf of veterans that, because they weren't flashy issues, didn't interest many other lawmakers. "Something I have worked so hard for is all of a sudden down the toilet," he says. He has worried about his good name since resigning from the House. "I went through a state of depression," he admits. "I was afraid that people who had really supported me in the past were going to think that I had been at the trough for fourteen years."

He says he hasn't been. That doesn't mean that the kind of infraction that landed him in this mess hasn't occurred before, however, in his campaigns and others'--although he is careful not to use this information as an excuse. "I knew I should not have been doing it, and I did it," he says of his willingness to accept three checks for $220 each from Stedino, all of them signed with different names as a way of sidestepping campaign laws that put a cap on contributions. "I am not going to say everybody does it."

Although, in essence, he does say it. "I would say in my campaign over the years it didn't happen that much, but it's not uncommon, and most of the time you don't even know that it is happening," he explains of the practice. "A man gives you $220, and his wife gives you another $220, and there's another check signed by a secretary. You might suspect that the secretary didn't give that money."

He is probably the first indicted legislator to speak out against the actions of the others, and to satisfactorily explain what made their casual acceptance of Stedino's money so shocking. In the weeks since the videotapes were first released, the attorneys for the accused have been shouting that their clients didn't sell their votes--that they supported legalized gambling anyway--and are guilty only of campaign violations like Hartdegen's. It is an argument that has blunted to some extent the graphic images on videotape of legislators counting out stacks of bills and sometimes stuffing them into gym bags. According to Hartdegen, however, the argument isn't quite compelling enough.

He says that, in the course of doing business at the Arizona State Legislature, lobbyists simply don't push tens of thousands of dollars in cash across a table. No matter what Representative John Kromko has been saying publicly about the similarities between the legislators who succumbed to Stedino and those who accept sizable consulting contracts from special interests, consulting contracts are not fulfilled with suitcases full of money. Any legislators confronted with the spectacle should have known it was dirty, and probably did.

"It's not that unusual for someone to give you $100 in cash, but even $1,000 would have been very unusual," Hartdegen says. "I wish they had flashed money at me, because then I would have smelled a rat."

His disappointment in his colleagues doesn't mean, however, that he thinks County Attorney Richard Romley and Phoenix Police Chief Ruben Ortega were justified in mounting the sting or that, unlike other legislators, he doesn't worry about motivations. He identifies himself as one of a group of legislators--Don Kenney was another one--that had made known its alarm over the way millions of dollars in money confiscated during drug busts pours unrestricted into the police department and County Attorney's Office. "I felt there should be more accountability for that money." He says that last fall he found himself actually shouting about the matter over the telephone to Romley. It has not escaped his attention that, according to transcripts, Joseph Stedino went to unusual lengths to involve Hartdegen in the sting--that Stedino didn't stop trying to bribe him even after Hartdegen had made it clear he wasn't interested. "I feel that once my name entered the picture, that for some reason it stuck," he says. "It's a situation where the sting people could have written me off early on, after that meeting with Ron Tapp where he went back and reported that I couldn't be bought. The police department could have closed the book on Jim Hartdegen."

He thinks that the citizens of Arizona should peer hard at his example. He is widely regarded at the legislature as an honest man, even after he has acknowledged his violation of campaign contribution laws. He says he has cultivated that regard since early in his life, when he knew he would attempt to enter politics. "I've never done anything I was ashamed of," he says. "I never had any big passion to smoke marijuana, but I knew I wanted to get into politics, so I never did even smoke. I wanted to have a clear conscience.

"I think it is kind of scary, the power the state has to ruin someone's life like this. If it can happen to me, it can happen to anybody."

Since it has happened, he's grateful that he can live with himself. Considering the way greedier colleagues have gone down, he knows it's a luxury. He says, "If I was on film taking money like that, I would leave town in the middle of the night."

Hartdegen was characterized by others as a rare blade of honesty that was wielded in public and that cut to the bone.

"You can't say the kinds of things she said and continue to have respect," Representative Stan Barnes says of Nagel.

"I thought I was a Christian until I went down there and they redefined the word," says Nagel.

"The people who know me know my vocabulary and outrageousness, and those are the only people I care about loving me," says Nagel.

If Hartdegen has held onto the life he has built for his family, he has lost the one he built for himself.

"I wish they had flashed money at me because then I would have smelled a rat.

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