Will The GOP Finish Off The Democrats This Year?
By Jim Nintzel
ARIZONA IS LOSING one of its finest, brightest elected officials this year. Renz Jennings, a victim of term limits, is stepping down after 12 years on the state's Corporation Commission.
Jennings, as it happens, is also the sole Democrat holding a statewide office in Arizona. The GOP swept all the other offices in 1994 for the first time in state history.
But the Democrats hope to make a comeback this year--and the party has managed to assemble a slate of candidates while avoiding any divisive primaries.
The Republicans, on the other hand, have a bunch of primaries, ranging from the juicy attorney general's race to the absurd governor's race).
A brief sketch of the upcoming contests:
TAKING OFFICE following J. Fife Symington III's disgraced resignation, Gov. Jane Dee Hull seemed close to a triple-digit approval rating. Those numbers scared off potential GOP challengers one-by-one. The last to surrender hope was Republican Congressman Matt Salmon, who was briefly recruited by Fife's government-in-exile, which had a beef about Hull's lack of conservative convictions. (And there's one thing you can say about Fife: He's a man of conviction.) But Salmon quickly realized it was too late to raise money for a splintering primary, and Hull embraced conservative principles by vetoing a bill which made it illegal to transport minors like potato sacks in the backs of pickup trucks.
For all the complaints from the hard right, Hull enjoys a high approval rating among voters, according a June poll conducted by Phoenix TV station KAET, which showed 76 percent of Democrats and 73 percent of Republicans approve of her job performance. Those numbers mean Hull probably doesn't have much to worry about from her two challengers in the GOP primary, Mesa resident Charles Brown and Phoenician Jim Howl, a former TV weatherman who lost his job over some allegations about sexual harassment. It's a safe bet Hull will clobber both opponents to face Democrat Paul Johnson, the former Phoenix mayor who lost a three-way Demo primary in the 1994 governor's race.
Hull enjoys a considerable financial advantage in that race, having raised almost $1.1 million compared to Johnson's $359,000.
An early KAET-TV poll, taken in November 1997, showed Hull led Johnson by a 2-to-1 margin, with 55 percent of voters supporting Hull and only 27 percent backing Johnson. (Another 32 percent were still undecided.) A more recent poll, taken in May at the close of the Legislative session, found that both Hull and Johnson had lost points, with Hull at 48 percent and Johnson at 20 percent, while 32 percent of the electorate remained undecided.
Can Johnson close the gap? He's pulled off surprise wins in the past. He won a Phoenix City Council seat at age 25 and was elected mayor by the time he was 30.
And then there's the potential spoiler: Tom Rawles, a former Maricopa County supervisor who flirted with a run against Hull in the GOP primary, has jumped into the race as a Libertarian. If he can get past fellow Libertarian Kat Gallant for the third party's nomination, he could be a potential protest vote for conservatives unhappy with Hull. The May poll also showed that, in a three-way race, Rawles picked up the support of 6 percent of voters surveyed, Hull dropped several points to 44 percent, and Johnson climbed to 22 percent.
Reform Party candidate Scott Malcomson will also appear on the November ballot.
IN WHAT COULD turn out to be the meanest statewide primary, state Sen. John Kaites is facing Tom McGovern, a deputy to Attorney General Grant Woods, who is stepping down after two terms.
Although the Attorney General's Office handles many civil issues for the state, expect both campaigns to play the much sexier crime card. During the recent legislative session, Kaites introduced legislation that would have locked up child molesters for life. Not to be outdone, McGovern announced he thought they should be put to death. More recently, McGovern's campaign recently released a videotape in which he expounded at length about his eagerness to kill Arizona's death-row population. By the end of August, at least one of the candidates may be promising to lock up jaywalkers.
As of May 31, Kaites had been more successful raising money for the race, with more than $216,000. McGovern, meanwhile, had raised about $180,000. Both have enough to money to wage strong campaigns.
Kaites' fundraising efforts came under investigation when he raised almost $150,000 last year for an "exploratory campaign." (Had he actually declared himself a candidate, Kaites would have had to give up his Senate seat under Arizona's resign-to-run law.) McGovern filed a formal complaint, alleging Kaites had violated campaign laws by putting together such a large warchest before formally beginning his campaign. The special investigator eventually ruled Kaites had bent but not broken any laws.
So there's the GOP's choice for Arizona's top legal post: the state lawmaker who skirts campaign law, or the high-level AG deputy who doesn't hesitate to use the power of the state to launch witchhunts against his political opponent.
The real winner of the GOP primary, particularly if the race turns nasty, could be Democratic candidate Janet Napolitano, who will face the Republican nominee. The former U.S. Attorney for Arizona, Napolitano is one of the Democrats' best hopes for the November ballot. She's already raised more than $269,000 and won't need to spend any of it in a primary fight.
A May KAET poll showed Napolitano lagging behind both potential GOP nominees. In a Kaites-Napolitano race, 34 percent of those surveyed said they'd vote for Kaites, while 28 percent supported Napolitano. (38 percent were still undecided). The numbers were similar in a McGovern-Napolitano race, with 33 percent supporting the Republican, 29 percent supporting the Democrat and 38 percent undecided.
Secretary of State
THE SECRETARY OF State is essentially Arizona's chief record-keeper. The office tracks state laws and maintains campaign records.
But as we've seen time and again in Arizona, it's also one step away from the Governor's chair.
Incumbent Betsey Bayless, the former Maricopa County supervisor who was appointed to her current post by Hull after she took the Governor's chair, is running her first statewide race. She's already raised $160,000 to campaign.
Bayless is facing former Phoenix City Councilwoman Francis Emma Barwood, whose name recognition skyrocketed after she began demanding an investigation into those strange lights that floated over Phoenix last summer. Barwood had raised only about $15,000--some $10,600 of which was floating around from a previous election. (Inside tip: TW house psychic Stella Sabrina tells us the vast alien conspiracy that pulls all the strings won't allow Barwood to reach a high position like Secretary of State, where she might be in a position to really blow the lid off the truth.)
The GOP nominee could face a tough contest against Art Hamilton, who has served in the state House of Representatives for the last 26 years. The House minority leader, Hamilton is a sharp politician and a talented orator. And Democrats have faired well with the Secretary of State's Office, holding it for 24 of the last 28 years.
But Hamilton trails in the fundraising race: By May 31, he'd collected $31,523 and spent $20,076, leaving him with $11,447.
THE PRIMARY responsibility of the Treasurer's Office is to manage somewhere in the neighborhood of $6 billion in state assets--which is a whole lot of money, with a whole lot of related commissions for the various brokers who get to handle it.
With incumbent Treasurer Tony West seeking a spot on the Corporation Commission, the open office has attracted two Republican candidates. Since no Democrats made the ballot for this post, the winner of the GOP primary will easily win the seat in November.
State Sen. Carol Springer is facing D.L. Culliver, a former Maricopa County car dealer.
Springer, who represents the Prescott and Springerville area, developed a reputation as budget hawk during her years in the Legislature. Culliver, meanwhile, says running a large car dealership gave him extensive experience at handling large sums of money.
Experience aside, Springer has a definite financial disadvantage in the race--as of May, she'd raised less than $33,000, while Culliver had more than $169,000, which includes $150,000 of his own money. Culliver admits he may well spend more on the race than he'll earn in four years in office--all to satisfy a deep need to serve the people of Arizona. He says he hopes to not only manage the state's coffers, but also to use the office to attract high-paying jobs and promote family values.
THE THREE-MEMBER Arizona Corporation Commission regulates the state's businesses. As part of that responsibility, the Corporation Commission oversees utilities, which, in the past, has meant they essentially served as a watchdog when those monopolistic utilities have asked for rate increases.
That utility-oversight role will become even more vital as the 21st century approaches and we navigate the brave new world of competition between electric companies, as well as the transformation of phone companies into multi-media cyberglomerates.
As we mentioned earlier, Arizona's term-limit laws are preventing Democrat Renz Jennings from seeking another term on the Commission. At this point, the Commission is badly fractured. Republican Jim Irvin, who spent more than $100,000 of his own money to win the seat two years ago, has recently allied himself Jennings, which has infuriated Commissioner Carl Kunasek.
Both Irvin and Kunasek have allies seeking the GOP nomination: Irvin's candidate is Gary Carnicle, while Kunasek is backing Tony West, who is leaving his post as state treasurer to seek the GOP nomination. West has raised about $30,000 for his campaign, including $15,000 from himself. Carnicle, meanwhile, seems to be taking a page from Irvin--he's put $150,000 of his own money into the race, bringing his warchest to about $153,000.
The Republican nominee will face Democrat Paul Newman, who has represented Cochise County in the state House of Representatives for six years.
Newman has raised only $5,700 and has little name recognition statewide, but he may have an edge: Even many Republicans are reluctant to give the GOP complete control over a consumer regulatory authority like the Corporation Commission.
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