Legal Briefing

Democrat Napolitano and Republican McGovern Are Running Close In A Cordial Race For Attorney General.

By Amy Silverman

JANET NAPOLITANO plays it straight.

While her opponent, Republican Tom McGovern, is chasing down the soccer moms and dads with boomer-ready buzz words, the Democratic candidate for attorney general stumps on her legal and managerial experience as a U.S. attorney and a private lawyer, and on her vision for the role of Arizona's AG. She answers questions head on. She minimizes talk about herself.

McGovern employs the traditional abstractions you expect from a candidate. He reminds voters he grew up on the rough streets of Philadelphia, the eighth of nine children. The first to get a college degree. He stresses he's a devoted son, a loving husband, the father of three. He doesn't talk much about his legal and managerial experience.

Napolitano and McGovern share like opinions on almost all of the issues that could come up in the AG's Office. Both promise to focus on prosecuting civil-rights cases, to make telemarketing fraud a priority and to find better ways to reduce the backlog of Child Protective Services cases. Both oppose the idea of a Constitutional Defense Council, say they'll improve relations between law-enforcement agencies and follow incumbent Grant Woods' lead on anti-tobacco litigation.

Currents Aside from some quiet, behind-the-scenes grousing, these two are running a shockingly civilized campaign. Unless you vote strictly on abortion--he's pro-life, she's pro-choice--the race between the two boils down to a question of style.

When content becomes moot, style takes the stage. In this case, their styles--her focus on officialdom, his focus on popular symbols--are so highly contrasted that there may be a message in that.

Sensible from her single strand of pearls and low navy pumps to her moderate, pro-choice Republican campaign strategist, Napolitano is all C-SPAN, the essential academic.

With his good hair, Jerry Garcia tie and band of hip, young campaignsters, McGovern is straight off the set of Ally McBeal--the ultimate '90s media populist, a man recruited and groomed for the job by another telegenic fellow, retiring AG Grant Woods.

IF YOU FOLLOWED the GOP primary at all, you already know McGovern. His history already has been documented in detail in this publication ("Juveniles For Justice," September 3). Born and raised in Philadelphia, McGovern graduated from Duquesne University and the University of Delaware Law School. He moved to Arizona in 1983 to take a job with the firm Black, Robertshaw and Copple. He focused on insurance defense litigation. In 1989, he started his own firm, winning a number of lucrative cases, including a $16 million judgment in 1993 against Samaritan Health Systems.

Woods was looking to anoint a replacement, someone to run against John Kaites. McGovern, who had schmoozed Woods on the basketball court--acknowledged by many politicos as Woods' golf course--seemed a good fit. But he lacked government and prosecutorial experience, so Woods hired him to be his third in command in 1996. McGovern argued the state's partial-birth-abortion and parental-consent cases--he lost both; they're on appeal--and handled two death-row appeals that resulted in executions.

With 13 months' experience, a handful of high-profile cases under his belt and his third kid on the way, McGovern quit to run for AG.

NAPOLITANO HAS NO problem talking about herself, but you have to ask.

Napolitano (sounds like "piano") was born in New York City and grew up in Albuquerque, New Mexico. She graduated from the University of Santa Clara. After graduation she snagged a postcollege job on Capitol Hill as an analyst for the Senate Budget Committee. After a year of calculating the revenue impact of legislation like the Chrysler bailout, Napolitano entered law school at the University of Virginia (UVA) in Charlottesville.

Her introduction to Phoenix came in 1983, when she moved here to clerk for Judge Mary Schroeder of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. From there she was recruited by Lewis and Roca, a large local firm that also has offices in Tucson.

During her first year with the firm, Napolitano was given a plum assignment: She worked for John P. Frank, the venerable Supreme Court scholar, who thought so much of her work, he chose her as his co-counsel in representing Oklahoma law-school professor Anita Hill during the Clarence Thomas Supreme Court nomination hearing in 1991.

Days after Bill Clinton's election, then-senator Dennis DeConcini called and asked Napolitano if she'd like to be U.S. attorney for the District of Arizona.

Her nomination process dragged on for nearly a year. When Napolitano's nomination finally reached the Senate, conservative senators like Wyoming's Alan Simpson tried to block it by claiming Napolitano had acted inappropriately during the Hill/Thomas hearings. The conservatives had a field day. But in the end, after lobbying by DeConcini and others, her nomination received unanimous approval by the Senate.

As U.S. attorney, Napolitano supervised a staff of 90 lawyers and managed a $15 million annual budget. She gets rave reviews from numerous former underlings, who say she is hands-on without being bossy and accessible without being overbearing.

The low point of her tenure as U.S. attorney came when Napolitano was accused on national television of being lax on child pornographers. A U.S. postal investigator told ABC's 20/20 that Napolitano refused to issue a search warrant in a kiddie porn case because she believed the probe unfairly targeted homosexual men. Napolitano vehemently denied the charge, claiming the facts of the case didn't provide sufficient grounds for issuing the search warrant.

She emerged from the kiddie-porn scandal virtually unscathed, and by 1997 Napolitano's name was still being floated as a candidate for Congress, governor or whatever position happened to be open at the time. Last November she resigned from the U.S. Attorney's Office, and this spring announced her candidacy for attorney general.

TO PREPARE TO run for elected office, Napolitano traded her gray and blue pinstripes for purple and red silk suits and got some professional tips on TV appearances. And she let a bad perm grow out. Otherwise, what you see is the same Napolitano as last year's model.

Is it really a tactic, just being herself? In any event, the straight-arrow strategy plays nicely against the folksy McGovern campaign. Usually. McGovern, who emerged a victim from the GOP primary, battered by Kaites' ads depicting him as a pot-smoking, gun-toting criminal, literally, in prison togs with a 5 o'clock shadow and bars over his face, has sworn to run a clean campaign. But McGovern occasionally reaches below the belt.

He juxtaposes regular mentions of his kids with odd digs, seemingly at Napolitano's sexual identity. The night of his primary win, McGovern--pledging to keep his campaign clean--repeatedly told reporters, ""Neither she [Napolitano] nor I will put a beard on the other person."

Long before he won the primary, McGovern was taking shots at Napolitano, dubbing her "Napoli-Reno" and telling voters they don't want an attorney general like that liberal, East Coast, Bill Clinton-appointed U.S. Attorney General.

McGovern's hands weren't totally clean in his primary against Kaites--he tried to accuse Kaites of opposing juvenile-justice initiatives the Senator championed--but he emerged the victorious victim after Kaites overplayed his hand.

Napolitano won't likely repeat Kaites' mistake.

THINGS YOU LEARN about Napolitano, during a day on the campaign trail: She likes a good game of poker. She once climbed Mount Kilimanjaro. She occasionally uses the f-word. She drives a four-door, maroon Acura nicknamed "Shep." Her cat peed all over her application to the University of Virginia law school, and it was too late to retype it, so she dried it off with a hair drier and sent it, anyway, and still got in. She's a lifetime member of the Girl Scouts of America. She injured her right pinky finger this summer, shaking too many hands in a Port-o-Potty line at the Fourth of July picnic in Prescott. She hated the movie Slums of Beverly Hills, loved Sliding Doors. Her cold medication of choice is Sudafed, and she's a Pepper, although she'll take a Coca-Cola if that's all you've got. She giggles. TW

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