Princess of Darkness

Once upon a time, in a land of citrus trees and money and neighborhoods with names like Paradise Valley, there lived a fairy princess and an ogre.

The young princess--Robin Shaw--was so beautiful that the people chose her to lead them after seeing her pretty picture on signs posted across the land.

Robin Shaw often spoke up on controversial issues. She championed smaller class sizes in the schools and funding for the arts. She helped pass a law that increased punishment for murderers convicted of hate crimes against minority groups like blacks or homosexuals or Jews.

Tom Smith, the ogre, was pushing 70 and old-fashioned, having been a Marine for 24 years and then a school principal who struck fear in the hearts of juvenile delinquents throughout the land.

Tom Smith spoke up, too. But he did not fight for arts funding. He did not vote for the princess's hate-crimes law. He did vote to eliminate AIDS education in schools, thought doctors should be able to test people for AIDS behind their backs and once told a constituent that sodomy is the very worst thing that can happen to your body.

Many of his constituents agreed with everything he said and did. Even Smith's enemies admired him, because he always said what he believed and never told a lie.

And so it went, until the princess and the ogre got into a race against each other.

And then the princess got ugly.

Robin Shaw and Tom Smith, Legislative District 26 seatmates in the state House of Representatives, are vying for the district's lone Senate seat being vacated by Tom Patterson. Although Shaw and Smith ran against one another in 1994 and 1996, they were the two leading candidates for two seats--so they never really went head to head. In the past, Shaw and Smith have run polite campaigns. But now the stakes are high. The Senate is much more prestigious than the House, and this time, only one will win. The winner of the September 8 GOP primary is headed for the Senate; no one can remember the last time a Democrat won in District 26, although Democrat Bodo Diehn is running.

And boy, oh, boy, does Robin Shaw want that Senate seat. She wants it so much that she's dented her tiara in her mad dash to cast herself as the most desirable candidate.

Shaw's problem is that she's a moderate in a conservative world. Legislative District 26 is home to right-wing stalwarts like Dan Quayle, Fife Symington and U.S. Senator Jon Kyl--and Tom Smith, who is considered one of the most conservative legislators in the state.

So what was Robin Shaw to do? Well, she could have stood proudly by her record on issues like the arts, education, hate crimes and abortion, policy areas where she differs from Tom Smith. She could have told her constituents that she's like the late Barry Goldwater, another former District 26 resident: a social libertarian, pro-choice and pro-privacy where gays are concerned.

Instead, Shaw has tried to out-conservative the conservative. She has resorted to mailing out hit pieces, taking a handful of Smith's votes and positions, and morphing the meaning until Tom Smith looks like Al Gore and Robin Shaw like Margaret Thatcher.

Last month, Shaw mailed two outsize postcards to GOP voters in District 26, proclaiming herself the more conservative Senate candidate.

In the world according to Robin Shaw, Tom Smith is a big spender, soft on crime and Hillary-esque when it comes to health care.

Technically, Shaw sticks to the facts. But her misrepresentation of Smith's positions is so blatant, so unfair, so downright mean that her pragmatism is showing--and it's not pretty.

At the top of her list of Smith's liberal votes, Shaw proclaims that her opponent was rated a "SPENDER" by the Arizona Federation of Taxpayers' sixth annual rating.

Shaw fails to mention that that rating reflected Smith's performance during a single legislative season, his first, way back in 1991.

The Arizona Federation of Taxpayers is so over the edge of the right wing that few take it seriously. Shaw's really scrambling if she has to turn to this group for fodder. Almost every legislator in the state has been rated a "Big Spender," rendering the title meaningless. The Arizona Republic only rarely reports the group's annual ratings, which contributed to a blind spot in Shaw's strategy. When asked, she explains that she found the 1991 nugget in an old newspaper clip.

Gary Giordano, the group's president, says Shaw's really the pot calling the kettle black. Robin Shaw and Tom Smith have both been rated "Big Spenders" by the Arizona Federation of Taxpayers for the past three years, 1996, '97 and '98.