It's way early in the game, but plenty of operators, filled with delusions of adequacy, are hard at work scheming, strategizing and schmoozing.
With the help of the best political minds in the state and phone psychic Mistress Cleo, we're laying out some of the highlights this week, including some of the hotter statewide and local races, as well as some of the trends to watch this year. In the unlikely event that it's not enough for you, don't worry--there'll be more to come as the races unfold.
WITH GOV. JANE Dee Hull forced to step down by Arizona's term-limit law, the governor's race promises to be a fun-filled free-for-all.
The pundits are already looking ahead to a November match-up between Republican Matt Salmon and Democrat Janet Napolitano, who are already clashing over the burning issue of holiday decorations in the public workplace.
When voters were asked about that scenario in a November poll by ASU's KAET TV, Napolitano came out ahead, with 34 percent compared to Salmon's 27 percent.
But that early poll of 581 registered voters statewide also revealed that 34 percent of the voters remain undecided--and the numbers are likely soft anyway, since the campaigns for our hearts and minds are just underway.
Besides, both Napolitano, who is currently serving as attorney general, and Salmon, who retired in 2000 after six years as a congressman, have to survive their party primaries--although the same poll put both in the lead spot.
Salmon, who's conservative enough to oppose last year's repeal of Arizona's cohabitation laws, will have to get through what now promises to be a crowded primary that may include:
· Secretary of State Betsey Bayless, who will seek to capture the moderate wing of the GOP;
· Senate President Randall Gnant, seen as something of John Walker figure among many Republicans because he cut a deal with Democratic senators to land his leadership position in a split Arizona Senate and, more recently, took away a chairmanship from Dean Martin (no, not the suave Martini-downing Rat Packer, but a tubby right-wing wacko from Mesa);
· State Treasurer Carol Springer, another conservative former state lawmaker who could serve another cozy term in her current office, but who has dreams of making it to the top; and
· Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, a relentless publicity hound who makes Evan Mecham look like John Nash from A Beautiful Mind, has made noises about running. Arpaio has built a formidible political machine by feeding prisoners green baloney and deputizing half of the blue-hairs in Maricopa into his posse. In a bid to add dignity to the Ninth Floor, he's also commissioned a bobblehead doll of hinself that has outsold the Randy Johnson doll. Although he's polling better than the other candidates, we doubt he'll pull the trigger, although we're hoping and praying for the sake of late-night talk-show hosts and political cartoonists across the country.
In the KAET poll that didn't include Arpaio, Salmon leads the GOP pack with the support of 23 percent of Republicans, although 60 percent said they were still undecided. Bayless was second with 13 percent, while Springer barely registered at 2 percent.
In the same poll, only 36 percent of the Democrats were undecided, with another 36 percent saying they'd support Napolitano, the only Democrat to currently hold statewide office. Only 8 percent of the Democrats said they were supporting her main opposition, former state Sen. Alfredo Gutierrez, who has worked as a lobbyist around the state Capitol since leaving office.
Two other Democratic longshots are in the race: Mark Osterloh, an optometrist and attorney who has lost two races for the state legislature in Pima County's District 12; and Mike Newcomb, another Democratic do-gooder that nobody's ever heard of.
The wild-card candidate is former Secretary of State Dick Mahoney, who recently left the Democratic Party to run for office as an Independent. In his recent announcement speech, Mahoney declared he had to run because he could see no difference between Napolitano and Salmon, which is kinda like seeing no difference between Nixon and McGovern. Mahoney's early numbers are pretty lousy; the KAET poll showed he had the support of just 5 percent of the voters. But if he can qualify for public matching funds, Mahoney could play a spoiler role in the general. That may be the whole point of the exercise; we hear Mahoney is carrying a grudge from the days when Napolitano supported former Congressman Sam Coppersmith in a U.S. Senate primary back in 1994.
LET'S FACE IT: Other than Attorney General Janet Napolitano, the Democrats don't have much bench in Arizona. And with Napolitano off to seek the governor's office, the Dems are in danger of losing their only statewide office.
The party may turn to the past, with two-time gubernatorial loser Terry Goddard stepping up to run for AG. A former Phoenix mayor, Goddard now works for the Arizona branch of the federal department of Housing and Urban Development. Goddard's potential primary foe is Dennis Burke, chief deputy AG and Napolitano's lackey from the U.S. Attorney's Office.
Republicans interested in becoming the state's top attorney include John Greene, the former Arizona Senate president who's the spitting image of the governor in O Brother, Where Art Thou; and Phoenix attorney Foster Robberson of the politically connected firm Lewis and Roca. A possible wild card is author Andrew Peyton Thomas, a conservative commentator on the country's culture wars.
Secretary of State
LIKE GOV. HULL, Secretary of State Betsey Bayless has hit her term limit, leaving another open seat in state government.
Republican candidates include Sharon Collins, who now serves as an aide to Hull in Southern Arizona; Brenda Burns, the onetime Senate President who regularly served moderate members of her own party their still-beating hearts with fava beans and nice chianti; and Maricopa County Supervisor Jan Brewer, who picked up some press in Phoenix last October when she snatched World Series tickets away from the United Way. We hear Sen. Randall Gnant may bow out of the governor's race and jump into this one.
The main Democratic candidate is state Sen. Chris Cummiskey. His supporters see him as a cunning up-and-coming Democrat who can navigate rough political waters, while his critics say he's a sleazy political opportunist.
State Superintendent of Public Instruction
INCUMBENT STATE Superintendent of Public Instruction Jaime Molera announced his plans to seek election this year, but he has yet to win the office. The 33-year-old Molera was appointed to office by Gov. Jane Dee Hull after Lisa Graham Keegan split halfway through her second term to take a job with a national education think tank.
Molera, a former legislative lobbyist for Hull and Keegan, has his hands full handling controversies over low test scores, failing schools and bilingual education.
Two other Republicans are already gunning for the seat. Former state Sen. Keith Bee, who represented Tucson's east side and Green Valley, is angling for the nomination. After years of being the lickspittle of the teacher unions, Bee was stung by Hull's appointment of Molera and the capricious will of the Arizona Education Assocation, which is now cozying up to Molera for his work on Prop 301. Former state Rep. Tom Horne, a wealthy attorney who is still smarting from losing a state Senate primary to the aforementioned moral crusader Dean Martin (never thought you'd hear "moral crusader" and "Dean Martin" in the same sentence, didja?), also wants the job. His bid for the job got prominent play when he hired--and quickly fired--former House Speaker Jeff Groscost, architect of Arizona's $110 million alt-fuel fiasco.
On the Democratic side, there's state Sen. Jay Blanchard, an ASU professor who unexpectedly defeated Groscost two years ago when the former speaker tried for promotion to the Senate after the alt-fuel scandal broke. In the conservative district he now represents, Blanchard is pretty much toast against anybody with a pulse, so a jump into the statewide race makes sense.
Two other school administrators, Rod Rich and Bob Meko, may also seek the nomination.
If Molera can get past the we-don't-need-no-Mezkins-in-higher-office wing of the GOP, he should draw enough crossover vote to easily win the general.
WITH Carol Springer eyeing the governor's race, there's an opening at the state treasurer's office.
On the Republican side, three candidates are weighing a run: state Sen. David Petersen, an affable Clinton lookalike; Maricopa County Assessor Kevin Ross; and Richard Petrenka, a deputy state treasurer with plenty of experience in the office.
Our own state Sen. Ruth Solomon is the only Democrat talking about the race.
REP. JIM KOLBE came out of Arizona's redistricting process stronger than ever, dumping Democratic precincts into the new District 7 and assuring himself of a ninth term in office.
Democrat Mary Judge Ryan, a chief aide to County Attorney Barbara LaWall, remains determined to take on Kolbe, setting up a race that nearly happened in 2000, until Ryan lost the Democratic primary to George Cunningham, who got crushed in turn by Kolbe.
Then there's Southern Arizona's new District 7, which includes Tucson, Nogales and Yuma. The district has a 2-to-1 edge for Democrats, so it's hardly surprising to see a lot of them lining up:
· Pima County Supervisor Raúl Grijalva can't formally announce his plans without giving up his seat under Arizona's resign-to-run law. We hear Grijalva will step down before the end of the month and get his congressional campaign up and running by February 1.
· State Sen. Elaine Richardson has been laying the groundwork for her run through an exploratory committee. She'll announce her plans sometime around the middle of this month.
· Former state Sen. Jamie Gutierrez, who has been working as a University of Arizona administrator since leaving the Legislature in 1992, has been preparing his run for months.
· Local civil-rights lawyer Jesus Romo was the first to formally announce his bid late last year.
· Former Tucson Mayor Tom Volgy, who lost two congressional bids in the 1990s, may be hoping that the third time will prove to be the charm.
· Former state Sen. Luis Gonzales, who has lost every race he's entered since he foolishly tried to unseat the legendary Mo Udall, is weighing a run.
· Former state chair Mark Fleischer is looking for a house in Tucson so he can carpetbag his way into the race. Fleischer, who was head of the state Democratic Party as the party slid deeper into irrelevance in the late 1990s, has no profile in the new district.
Doctor/deputy Richard Carmona may yet enter the race, but it remains to be seen if he'll run as a Democrat, a Republican or an Independent. Given the nearly 2-to-1 Democratic advantage, he'd have to have an enormous ego to try to win on the GOP ticket. Hmmm....
Only one other Republican, Yuma City Councilman Herb Hieb, is talking about a run.