Sam Steiger pulled off his coat and grinned as he collapsed onto the bench under the big tree. He was wearing broad red suspenders that matched his broad red tie.
It was certain now. Steiger was in the race for governor. He would make a formal announcement in the next few days. So we were all about to witness Steiger's last ride.
Maybe somebody will write a country-western song about this final roundup. There's a lot to get in. Steiger's been a war hero, a cowboy, a legislator, a congressman and a part-time scoundrel.
The song could fill in the details of his past. There have been good times and bad, triumphs and losses. Steiger is a man who's snatched defeat from the jaws of victory on more than one occasion. Only one thing about his song is certain. It would not be a sad one nor a dull one.
Steiger jammed his pipe into the corner of his mouth. When he crossed his legs, you saw that his ten-year-old black dress cowboy boots had been given a military shine. Here it was only noon and he'd already made two campaign appearances and drunk all the coffee he could swallow for the day.
Steiger was running for governor all right. And this time he was dead serious.
At sixty, this will be his last hurrah and Steiger knows it. But the tantalizing thing about it is that just by announcing his candidacy, Sam Steiger has already qualified as a definite long shot to win the job.
"I think it will be fun," he says. "And I won't need as much money as the other guys. People know me around the state by now." Steiger once thought Terry Goddard would be hurt because he had promised to serve out his term as mayor and then leaped at the chance to run for governor in a rather unseemly manner.
"I don't think that breaking his public promise will bother him at all," Steiger says. "For a politician, opportunity takes precedence over commitment or anything else. But more importantly, I now perceive it won't bother the voters much, either." Steiger's also convinced Goddard isn't gay, merely too politically ambitious to be interested in the opposite sex.
What about Fife Symington, the current Republican front-runner? Can he be stopped?
Steiger is matter-of-fact about that. He thinks Symington has no chance to be elected governor.
"Symington just won't sell. Not just because he's a developer. His manner will not sell. He is patrician. He is aloof and he will come across as that, and that doesn't fly." Steiger regards Evan Mecham as a candidate with a hard core but who can't win a statewide race.
"You're not going to dilute Mecham's core. You could run him against Barry Goldwater and he'd still get the same amount of votes. But if Mecham makes it to the general election, they'd just drive a stake through his heart. His whole agenda now is vengeance and you can't operate that way." Steiger is behind the Republican party's front-runners, but that shouldn't make much difference. The others have been running for months without making a significant impression on the voters.
Now, the real Republican campaign gets under way. All the horses are finally at the gate. And Steiger's biggest challenge will be to prove he's more than just the most-quotable candidate for the job.
Steiger's genuine attributes are that he knows the state of Arizona and understands its needs. He is genuine. What you see is what you get. He is a man who isn't a zealot. He can live with both extremes of the political spectrum. He talked about that now.
"I'm pro-choice about abortion and I know that's going to cost me. I want the Martin Luther King Day. I want us to put that behind us. Let's quit the nonsense. Let's do it." Steiger is certain he could get along with the legislature, which he regards as being a hard core of incompetent ideologues. But he once was one of them and realizes you can't beat them by picking fights with them.
Steiger shakes his head.
"The governor of this state has the power to use a line-item veto, and I would be most anxious to exercise that power when needed."
Steiger expresses plainly ideas that politicians instinctively shy away from. For example, he thinks Arizona State University has grown too large.
"The university population has not only to be capped, it's got to be reduced. We have proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that there is no compatibility between quality and volume." He is convinced he can run well in most parts of the state. He is not certain, however, how he will run in Tucson, a place he calls "the Venice Beach of Arizona." Most politicians want to save the state by bringing a professional baseball team and building a multimillion-dollar stadium.
"I think we could live a rich, full life if we never had professional baseball," Steiger says. "My personal view is that I would rather watch flies consummate the sexual act than baseball.
"We already have professional football here. In fact, we have two pro football teams. We have Arizona State and the Cardinals. And we've shown we can support them both." The road Steiger will travel now is a long one. He knows the pitfalls.
"I like the life," he said. "The only thing I don't like is the insincerity of it all." "Do you really think you can win?" I asked.
Steiger grinned and leaned forward.
"Damn right I do," he said.
"We could live a rich, full life if we never had professional baseball. I would rather watch flies consummate the sexual act than baseball."
"Mecham's whole agenda now is vengeance and you can't operate that way."