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THE KING

Attorney General Grant Woods is in the wrong profession.
He'd be the first to tell you how much he envies your job. Whatever it is, if it's something other than being a lawyer, he says he envies it.

He envies people in advertising. That's what he told nearly 200 advertising executives over lunch last week.

"Your work," he said, "is definitely better than the lawyer's life."
Woods tells great lawyer jokes. They guarantee a laugh.
They worked like magic on June 6 when Woods took center stage as the featured luncheon speaker for the Phoenix Advertising Club. The club billed his performance with two teasers in its promotional materials: "To Thine Own A.G. Be True" and "Attorney General High On Ethical Ads."

The ad execs loved his standup routine.
They laughed when he joked about rental cars. Of course people drive rental cars differently than they treat their own, Woods gibed. Grabbing an imaginary steering wheel, Woods admitted to an adoring audience how he'd drive rental cars--unlike the family Ford--"over the curb."

Hence his office's truth-in-advertising lawsuit against World Rental Car Sales. In this pending case, Woods alleges that 25 percent of World's cars aren't really rentals. They laughed when he joked about "the Iraqi guy" who owns Mesa Moving, another of his office's "questionable business practices" targets. Woods actually imitated the way the Iraqi mispronounced the last name of his press secretary.

Woods set up the mimicry by introducing the audience to his press secretary Steve Tseffos, a Democrat, who sat toward the front of the room, nodding obsequiously and laughing along with the other professional communicators. In borscht-belt sequence, Woods first fixed his tie and then paused as he quipped: Now the guys at the AG's office are actually calling Tseffos "Mister Seffs." Woods couldn't keep from grinning at Tseffos, who becomes Paul Shaffer to Woods' David Letterman. Or from laughing at his own joke.

The joke wasn't very funny, but Woods' timing was perfect and the crowd roared.

For the record, Woods' suit against his local Saddam was settled through an "assurance of discontinuance." The way Woods tells Iraqi jokes, Arsenio Hall should run for cover.

Also for the record, the topic of Woods' speech was "deceptive advertising."

The most deceptive part of the affair was how hilarious Woods can be.
Before NBC hands over The Tonight Show to Jay Leno, Woods should seriously consider a run at becoming Johnny Carson's successor.

Weirder things have happened. Carson started out as a magician.
Woods leaves his audience laughing. Several exiting ad execs who loved the show agreed. "He should be in sales," one giggled.

And he is.
Woods is a thirtysomething liberal Republican.
He is selling a political agenda that sounds more like the Great Society than the Grand Old Party.

Woods told the ad folks how he champions civil rights everywhere he goes.
He praises the new Fair Housing Law as "a cornerstone of Woods' civil rights agenda."

This past legislative session Woods even endorsed the Hate Crimes Bill. That proposal would have specifically safeguarded gay rights, another precedent for his office. "I don't care," Woods said, "what the consequences are."

What's more, Woods says his office will be "stepping up" environmental enforcement.

And consumer protection. Recently Woods tapped Democrat Leslie Hall--whom he also introduced to his ad-minded audience with great aplomb--to oversee the attorney general's consumer rights division.

Weaving his devotion to civil rights with his commitment to consumer protection, Woods objected "as a policy matter" to state lottery ads in Spanish on billboards across the street from largely Hispanic housing projects.

When one woman in the audience who identified herself as Hispanic informed the attorney general of her culture's love of gambling, Woods said--in a perfect stage whisper--"I'll have to tell Marlene." That's Marlene Galan, the attorney general's wife, who's a broadcaster and Hispanic.

The whisper wins still more laughs.
So the Grant Woods Show is off to a meteoric start.
He shoots from the hip, drives like Days of Thunder and wins top ratings. Groups across the state love his humor. Unlike his predecessor Bob Corbin, Woods stays in touch with contemporary culture. This guy saw The Godfather, Part III, but now he says he's not rooting for the Corleones.

All of which makes his initial comments on the marijuana bust of Superior Court Judge Philip Marquardt so bizarre, yet telling.

On June 2, Woods expressed indignation over Marquardt's latest brush against the state's drug laws. Before any charges were filed against the judge, Woods urged Marquardt to resign "immediately." Like a political crack addict who can taste his next fix, Woods saw headlines--and grabbed them.

Which is fine for politicians, but improper for the chief legal officer of the state. The attorney general has no authority to pass judgment upon the Marquardt case.

In fact, the law strictly limits what lawyers can say about pending criminal matters, and most prosecutors are especially tightlipped when it comes to commenting about ongoing investigations--particularly when the cases aren't even theirs.

By flouting the law, Woods has cynically manipulated the press and his image as the state's foremost legal adviser for personal political gain.

Along the way, Woods risked Marquardt's right to a fair trial.
By such shameless pandering, Woods abandoned his role as attorney general and stepped into a different, more comfortable part.

He became Woods-the-politician. The same guy who left all the competition in the dust in the state's smarmiest primary and general-election battle last season. Woods dropped nearly four times the money his Democratic challenger spent in packaging himself as the man for all seasons. But the marketing paid off. With the right combination of tough-on-drugs prattle for the conservatives, and I-have-a-dream reveries for the liberals, his ad team and a half million dollars got him elected.

As Woods' speech to the ad club shows, he's busy these days peddling a progressive political agenda.

Now Woods needs to guard his right flank.
That is the only explanation for his self-righteous exploitation of the pathetic case of Phil Marquardt.

Woods' prescription for his own political success in Goldwater country requires him to bang the antidrug drum.

And what better way to bash lawyers and judges and appease his Mecham constituency than to rev up the anti-Marquardt bandwagon? With this kind of an opening, Woods'll drive his rental car over the curb and off the road.

A few minutes after Marquardt revealed his addiction to marijuana and his failure "as a human being," I asked Woods whether he regretted rendering his unsolicited advice to Marquardt publicly the preceding weekend.

Woods pondered the question carefully. When all his mental wheels stopped spinning and the little silver ball finally landed on an answer, he just said "No."

"But I might have couched it differently."
For enough political mileage, the temptation to grind your boot in a guy's stomach is just too great.

Phil Marquardt didn't resign because Grant Woods told him to. Marquardt's personal demons carry more weight.

In 1858 the founder of Woods' political party warned against trying to fool all the people all the time.

Woods' act is very funny. But with all life's heartaches, he could show a little compassion.

And restraint.
After all, he still has four years before he shows us how much he's really learned about truth in advertising.

David Bodney would like all
three pullquotes to run, please.
Thanks, cj

Woods is selling an agenda that sounds more like the Great Society than the Grand Old Party.

Like a political crack addict who can taste his next fix, Woods saw headlines--and grabbed them.

For enough political mileage, the temptation to grind your boot in a guy's stomach is just too great.