When Dave Sitton made a run at the GOP nomination for the June 2012 special election to fill out the rest of Gabrielle Giffords' term in the House of Representatives, he had the backing of several big-time Republicans in this town. However, when pressed, they all had the same lament when it came to his chances—he was just too nice a guy.
Leading up to the election, Dave had a chance to show his potential at a "debate" put on by the Sabino High School Young Republicans (which may be the saddest youth organization of all time; by comparison, they make the 4-H crowd seem like hipsters). He was on the stage with Jesse Kelly, who had lost to Giffords in 2010; newcomer Martha McSally, fresh out of the Air Force and looking for someone new to fight; and Frank Antenori, whose political career would follow the arc of the fictional Steve Martin book, How I Turned a Million in Real Estate Into $100 Cash.
The moderators that night were radio shouters Emil Franzi and Jon Justice. One of them asked a question of the candidates and Sitton started in with a reasoned response. When he veered off slightly to make a constitutional point, this 125-year-old Tea Party guy sitting in front of me turned to his wife and said, "Why is he lecturing us on the Constitution? We don't care about that." Dave was doomed.
He continued to soldier on through the evening, going out of his way to live up to the Ronald Reagan mantra of not attacking thy fellow Republicans. As he did so, the hole he was digging for himself just kept getting deeper and deeper. I waited until it was all over and I had a chance to talk to him. I said, "Dude, you used to play rugby as though the other team had lined up and each player had taken a turn slapping your mama.
Now you get into politics and you turn out to be about as tough as Giada De Laurentiis?"
He laughed because he actually got the reference and then he invited me to have lunch later in the week. In the primary election, Dave finished fourth. Jesse Kelly, who is tall and white, got the nod from the plurality of the voters, who hoped that he could go to Washington and be tall and white for them.
Dave Sitton died last week at the way-too-young age of 58. He died only a couple of days after I had written my column about Jeff Smith, who had died the week before. I remember having this really grim thought about hoping that local media people aren't like Hollywood stars. In fact, I hope this is the last one of these columns I have to write for a loooong time.
Anyway, some reader got all butt-hurt about my remembrance of Jeff Smith, claiming that I have to make everything about myself. I'm sorry; if you want a dry recitation of someone's life, read the person's obituary. I would just like to share some memories of that person and, since I'm not a character in a Philip K. Dick story, the only memories I have to call upon are my own. The rest of this column includes some memories of my decadeslong friendship with Dave Sitton. If that bothers you, please don't read any further.
I was the sports editor of the Arizona Daily Wildcat and Dave just walked in one day and sat by my desk. He introduced himself and said that he was starting a club rugby team and was wondering if he could get some publicity in the campus paper. I went out to one of the practices and ended up playing. (I really liked that whole thing about rugby being a hooligan's game played by gentlemen.) We became good friends immediately, which was really no big deal, because everybody became good friends with him immediately. Dave was like the flip side of Will Rogers: he never met a person who didn't like him.
He always called me Tommy, a name I've never cared for, but coming from him, it sounded OK. I always felt better after having seen him. He was truly one of the good guys.
In an effort to make it not about me, I spoke to several people about Dave. Every single one said either these exact words or a variation thereof: "He's the nicest person I ever met."
He was incredibly friendly, outgoing, and so full of energy. Even when he was fighting cancer eight years ago, he was still going 200 miles an hour all the time. He would emcee two or three charity events a week, fly all over the world for international rugby stuff, work a full-time job or two, and announce UA football and basketball games.
I guess I'll always wonder if his fight with cancer took something out of him or whether he just used up a century's worth of human energy in about half the time. Whatever the case, Tucson just lost one of its few great ones. He will be sorely missed.