With the Help of His Ancestors, Fife Takes On Congress

Governor Symington goes to Washington!

On Thursday of this week, J. Fife Symington III is scheduled to appear before a Congressional committee looking into the fall of Southwest Savings and Loan.

If Symington, a Harvard man, were also a diarist, here is how he might describe the upcoming events:

Dear Diary:
It should be quite a show. There is no forum so effective as a Congressional hearing to justify your point of view.

At the same time, such an open event is fraught with dangers. You can never predict what anyone might say in the heat of battle. And one should never suppose these staged events are anything but battles of the most serious kind.

For that reason, I will have my excellent lawyer, John Dowd, close to my side at every moment. I may even have Jim Vieh, my Phoenix lawyer, on hand, too. After all, Jim went to Harvard Law School. That always counts for something. Or does it?

Jay Smith, my public relations consultant, will be there, too. No sense having any loose ends.

After all, it's Washington, D.C. This is the big time. I must demonstrate from the start to these insiders of the Beltway that they are dealing with a governor of some significance.

I don't intend to be trifled with. I will not have them treat me like some hick from the provinces.

I've watched a lot of these hearings. I understand the drill. No Arizona politician has ever done better at them than John McCain did a year ago when he went before the Senate Ethics Committee.

• McCain went before the committee charged with being bought off by Charlie Keating. He came out of it as a Vietnam war hero and a diligent senator. No one has ever played the Congressional hearing game with more skill.

At his side for those hearings was none other than John Dowd, the same lawyer I'm bringing with me. At Dowd's instructions, McCain went on the attack. He really didn't address the charges against him.

He never mentioned that he had turned himself into not only a Keating lackey but also a close personal friend. McCain took Keating's money with both hands. But he never bothered to explain why he had flown free on Keating's airplanes or vacationed without charge in Keating's home.

McCain never addressed the fact that his wife and father-in-law were in a shopping-center business deal with Keating.

All McCain did was express righteous outrage that he had been called before the committee. Then he sat back as Dowd blustered about the unfairness of the hearing. And while this was going on, Jay Smith, his PR man, was performing in invaluable fashion behind the scenes.

Why is it that I find myself smiling as I mention Dowd and Smith? What a combination they make. It makes me a lot more comfortable knowing they're on my team.

Who is this congressman I will be going up against?

His name is Carroll Hubbard Jr., and he's a Democrat from Kentucky. From what I can learn in the Congressional Quarterly, he's not very impressive. He's been in Congress for 18 years and he's up for reelection.

This Hubbard has no real background. No family worth mentioning. He worked his way through law school at the University of Louisville. For years he was a close friend of Jim Wright's. That's the Texas fellow forced to resign in disgrace.

Hubbard has conducted some hearings into savings-and-loan matters, but they haven't been as successful at getting publicity as those of Henry Gonzalez, the congressman from Texas.

In fact, Hubbard actually defended Senator Dennis DeConcini and McCain for attempting to intervene with M. Danny Wall in the Keating affair.

Hubbard himself had also telephoned Wall, then-chairman of the Federal Home Loan Bank Board, at the same time. Hubbard also asked Wall if it were all right for Keating to sell Lincoln Savings and avoid its seizure by the government.

I wonder where he's coming from now.

He's from a backwater district consisting of small towns, most of them with a Deep South flavor and all with fewer than 50,000 in population. As a matter of fact, this area was the birthplace of Jefferson Davis!

What a surprise Hubbard has coming to him. He probably thinks I'm some Western bumpkin who'll come in wearing cowboy boots. He probably sees me as a pawn he can play with by asking a lot of rude, leading questions. Some chance!

He will find out I have a genuine family history; I'm not some greenhorn just off the banana boat.

McCain was the son and the grandson of Navy admirals. He was also a famous prisoner of war. That was certainly a plus.

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Tom Fitzpatrick