John Shadegg: True-Blue Conservative

John Shadegg and I were Arizona classmates. Although we were not friends at the time and ran with different crowds (as a teenager I was something of a loner on campus), we both graduated from Camelback High School, class of ’67. In fact, John and I were born days apart in October 1949, grew up in the same north Phoenix neighborhood, and shared the same political hero in Barry Goldwater.

But while I admired Senator Goldwater from afar, John knew him as an intimate friend of the Shadegg family. John’s father, Steve Shadegg, was a senior member of Barry’s "kitchen cabinet," the kitchen in this case being located in the Shadegg home. The elder Shadegg was a longtime power in Arizona’s Republican politics. He was a contributor to Goldwater’s seminal "The Conscience of a Conservative," and for decades served as a key Goldwater adviser and campaign manager. John grew up casually listening to his father and Goldwater talk politics. John’s conservative credentials are not just hereditary; they’re virtually genetic.

John attended the University of Arizona and eventually earned a law degree. By 1983 he was a special assistant attorney general in Arizona. After high school, I went off to college in California and after too many years in graduate school in Kentucky and Texas landed back in Phoenix with a freshly minted doctorate. I was hired on at the Arizona Republic, a conservative Pulliam newspaper I’d grown up with, as my father worked on the production side of the paper for 35 years.

I got to know John while writing editorials for the Republic. We worked together to pass some key pieces of criminal justice legislation and after he left the AG’s office we collaborated on defeating a perfectly awful ballot initiative. In more than 10 years writing editorials, I found John Shadegg, along with Jon Kyl, to be among the most straightforward, honest, and principled politicians in the state.

In 1994, Jon Kyl decided to run for the Senate and vacate his congressional seat in Arizona’s Third District. Shadegg ran for the seat, having lived in the district almost his entire life. By 1994 I had parted company with the Republic, having been invited to seek employment elsewhere by a new publisher brought in from Gannett to set up the family-owned Pulliam paper for sale. Purging the conservatives and moving the paper leftward was among the new regime’s first step to position the venerable Republic for sale to Gannett and I was the first, but not the last, right-winger to be unceremoniously dumped.

I was pretty much radioactive at this time, my very public sacking having been the subject of considerable talk show chatter and speculation. The liberal tabloids had plenty of fun gloating over the departure of the newspaper’s most notorious conservative, as well as a poorly disguised glee over the "Republic’s" leftward drift. It was well known in political circles that the "Republic’s" new liberal publisher despised me and few Arizona politicians would dare be seen in public with me for fear of angering the powerful paper’s thuggish chief.

After a stint with an insurgent gubernatorial campaign — we unsuccessfully challenged the soon-to-be-indicted incumbent Fife Symington in the GOP primary — I was at loose ends. John Shadegg gave me a job when I needed it and helped rehabilitate me with the political establishment.

For the two months of the general election I worked in John’s campaign headquarters, doing a little bit of everything in the way that you do in a campaign — writing op-ed columns and policy papers, stuffing envelops, planting yard signs, appearing on radio talk shows as a surrogate for the candidate. Throughout, John was never willing to compromise his principles. His opponent was an attractive woman who positioned herself as a moderate Democrat. Unlike some Republicans, John resisted the temptation to moderate his own views and move toward the middle. He ran as a proud, unapologetic conservative who stood squarely for lower taxes, less spending, smaller government, a strong national defense, traditional family values, personal freedom and responsibility. He won.

Election night 1994 was unforgettable, as conservative Republicans swept the Democrats from power in the House for the first time in four decades. At the Republican victory in Phoenix party we whooped wildly at the news of each big win across the country. John went to Congress and I went to New Hampshire to write editorials for Bill and Nackey Loeb’s combative Union Leader.

The heady days of the Republican Revolution of 1994 have pretty much fizzled out, disappearing under a torrent of government spending, new federal entitlements, scandalous pork-barrel projects, thousands of wasteful earmarks, bribery, corruption and special-interest pleading. Too many of the revolutionaries of ’94 have "gone native," selling out to the Big Government culture of Congress, falling prey to the "spend-and-spend, elect-and-elect" cynicism the Democrats perfected in their 40-year hegemony. The Republicans managed it all in just a single decade.

John Shadegg is not one of the sellouts. He never has compromised the conservative principles he learned from his father and Barry Goldwater and upon which he was elected to Congress. If the House Republicans truly want to return to the Spirit of ’94 and the Goldwater-Reagan principles that produced their majority — and make a clean break with the undisciplined excesses of recent years — then they will elect John Shadegg to the post of Majority Leader.