Politics 2003Week of April 7

BACK TO THE FUTURE IN ARIZONA? The last time Arizona Republicans selected delegates to the national party convention by state convention rather than primary was in 1976. That was the year of Ronald Reagan’s almost-successful challenge to President Gerald Ford. So well organized were the Reaganites in Arizona, that the state convention selected only one delegate to Kansas City pledged to Ford (House Republican Leader John J. Rhodes) with the remaining 28 pledged to the Californian. Conspicuous by his absence from the delegation was the Grand Canyon State’s two-term senator and former three-term governor, Paul Fannin. (Barry Goldwater, at the time rabidly pro-Ford and extremely hostile to onetime close friend Reagan, had denounced the Reagan campaign for denying a delegate seat to Fannin; but, as HUMAN EVENTS pointed out in its May 15, 1976, issue, even close political aides to Sen. Fannin “said this was just unfair. They pointed to the fact that Fannin actually wrote an open letter to party people announcing his decision not to seek a delegate position and that, even so, many Reagan people at the state convention were still pushing his nomination.”). The next time Arizona GOPers may choose national convention delegates through a state convention will be in 2004 when the presiding officer of the party conclave will be Bob Fannin, son of the recently-deceased former senator and himself state Republican chairman. After choosing national convention delegates by primary since 1980 (and, following a statewide initiative in 1998, permitting independents to participate in party primaries), Fannin and other Republicans are arguing that their state’s budgetary woes necessitate a return to a convention underwritten by parties instead of a tax-funded presidential primary. “We should not fund a residential primary because we are in a serious budget crisis,” Fannin told me. The Phoenix attorney pointed out that with a $1 billion-plus state deficit, permitting a party organization to choose delegates to go to New York City through a convention paid for by private funds, would save Arizona taxpayers an estimated $3 million (the cost of a presidential primary). Besides, as Fannin noted, “the nominee is going to be George W. Bush, unless you know something else.” SAVING TAX DOLLARS Most Republicans agree with their chairman and, by a 17-to-12 vote, the GOP-controlled state senate recently voted to end the presidential primary. Led by Speaker Jake Flake (uncle of Republican U.S. Rep. Jeff Flake), the GOP-run state House is expected to follow suit. What Democratic Gov. Janet Napolitano will do remains unclear at this time. On one hand, the governor obviously wants to be a player in national politics and supported an “early-bird” primary as a means of enhancing her clout; on the other, it might be risky for Napolitano—who campaigned last year for eliminating other costly tax-funded programs—to support something that is obviously not a necessity for Arizona. Should she veto the primary termination, Fannin hinted that Republicans might nonetheless opt out of the system and still hold a state convention to select delegates to New York, thereby saving the taxpayers some money. (Under a new party rule enacted by the Republican National Committee in 2000, state party rules now take precedence over state law and thus parties can decouple from statutory presidential primaries.) If the Arizona primary is eliminated in ’04, Fannin says, there is still a chance that the state legislature can revive it for ’08, “at a time when, we hope, the state will have the money.” But, recalling how Republicans were reluctant to follow in the 1970s when Democratic-run legislatures began enacting presidential primary laws in various states, pundits generally agree that if GOP organizations recover the clout they formerly had with state conventions, they will be hard-pressed to ever relinquish it again. Virginia Republican National Committeeman Morton C. Blackwell seemed to speak for many when he said, “A convention system, like Virginia’s, which allows many thousands of people to participate meaningfully, is far more healthy politically than primaries. which are fought out with television ads.” DAVIS, DEMS, BRUTUS, AND BENEDICT Wednesday, Nov. 14, 2001: California State Assemblyman Mike Briggs was speaking to a luncheon of prominent conservatives in Washington, D.C., and selling himself as the best conservative in a Republican primary for a newly-carved, Fresno-based U.S. House district. Much of what Briggs said sounded fine to the audience—until he was asked if he had voted for Democratic Gov. Gray Davis‘ record-high budget earlier that year. Yes, replied Briggs, he was indeed one of four Assembly Republicans to vote with Davis; the support of the four renegade Republicans gave the governor the two-thirds of the Assembly he needed to enact his controversial budget, which included a sales tax increase. But, insisted Briggs, he had done so only after securing other “tax cuts.” This was considered a lame excuse by many at the luncheon and voters in California who knew that the “cuts” he referred to were actually tax credits for agribusiness interests such as ethanol. Briggs’ tax apostasy would haunt him throughout the congressional primary. Republican State Sen. Rico Oller, one of Davis’s most spirited opponents in Sacramento, sent out a blistering letter denouncing Briggs’ tax votes and donated $1,000 to one of his primary foes. Cries of “Benedict Arnold Briggs” were heard and the candidate was increasingly forced to play defense and explain his votes. In the March primary, Briggs pulled a dismal 26% of the vote in the primary and came in third behind now Rep. Devon Nunes. Saturday, Sept. 17, 1994: “Mo-Jo!, Mo-Jo! Mo-Jo!” Republican state conventioneers chanted excitedly as State Sen. Maurice Johannessen took to the podium at the state party conclave at the Town and Country Hotel in San Diego. One year before, the former Redding mayor and deputy sheriff had become a Republican hero by winning a widely-watched special election for the 4th District Senate seat that redrawn district lines had forced incumbent Democrat (and now Rep.) Mike Thompson to relinquish and run elsewhere. Johnannessen, who never trimmed his sails on “law-and-order” or opposition to higher taxes and abortion, thanked the convention guests for their support, with traces of an accent from his native Norway that reminded many listeners of pianist-comedian Victor Borge. Of late, for many Republicans, “Mo-Jo’s” Norwegian accent brings Victor Borge to mind less than Vidkun Quisling, who sold out Norway to German troops and became the Nazi stooge ruler until the resistance fighters hanged him in 1945. It’s a rather tough comparison, but in the past two years, Johannessen has been the lone Republican in the Senate to support Davis on raising taxes—by $1 billion for 2001-02 and $2.5 billion for ’02-03. In fact, in both cases, he provided Davis and Democratic Senate President John Burton the pivotal vote they needed to enact their desired budget. Briggs and Johannessen obviously have abandoned GOP careers. Briggs is an $8,250-per-month consultant to Democratic Assembly Speaker Herb Wesson on issues ranging from agriculture to horse-racing. Johannessen, who must leave the Senate next year under state term limits, has just been named by Davis to head up the state Department of Veterans Affairs at $100,000 per year. “Given Sen. Johannessen’s buddy-buddy relationship with the Democratic majority in raising taxes, they should have little trouble confirming him,” editorialized the Orange County Register, “The Brutus of the California Senate last Tuesday received his reward,” said the paper. Compounding Republican animosity toward Briggs was the revelation that, while on Wesson’s payroll, the former legislator was also drawing $8,300 a month from the state Republican Party for signing up new GOP voters in the Central Valley. “He was deceiving us while he was selling us out to the Democrats!” fumed Republican state legislator Ray Haynes of Riverside. “This is hypocrisy that is unrivaled in my time in the Capitol!” Briggs was promptly removed from the Republican payroll.