Gizzi on Politics: April 21-25

Making Hay In Arizona-1
Conservative swashbuckler Sydney Hay never really expected to run for Congress this year. Having managed the presidential campaign of Rep. Duncan Hunter (R.-Calif.) until he opted out of the race in January, Hays had returned to her work as lobbyist-public relations expert for the copper industry.

But then three-term Republican Rep. Rick Renzi was attacked for alleged corruption and opted not to run for the 1st District seat in Arizona that Hay lost the nomination for back in 2002. Now, with less than two weeks to go before the filing deadline in the Grand Canyon State, the signs are strong that Hays will emerge as both big front-runner in the September primary as well as a national cause for conservative activists.

Much like the U.S. House bids of former state legislators and veteran conservative activists Tom McClintock of California and Woody Jenkins of Louisiana, the campaign of Hays—radio talk show host, businesswoman, campaign organizer, and onetime public school teacher (“I never paid a dime in dues to the NEA!”)—is attracting fervent backing from cultural and economic conservatives in and outside her district. Along with area conservative groups, national organizations such as the American Conservative Union Political Action Committee and Gun Owners of America have weighed in for the feisty grandmother of three.

Besides her years “in the vineyards” for conservative causes and candidates, Hay also has achieved a strong standing in the 1st District business community. As she reminded me, “60% of the nation’s newly mined copper comes from Arizona and the majority of it comes from right here in the 1st District.” Whether it is lobbying or public relations , Hay added, “the work I do for this most significant industry has me dealing with taxes, air and water quality issues, and regulation—the things a conservative needs to deal with in Congress.”

Whether it is because of her name recognition or her following in the conservative grassroots, Hay seems to have dodged any strong primary opposition. At this point, her remaining GOP foes are businessman Preston Korn and State Corporation Commissioner Kris Mayes, a former newspaperwoman and favorite of moderate Republicans. Former State Senate President Ken Bennett, once considered the party establishment’s favorite to succeed Renzi, now appears to be backing away from a race.

There was an almost audible sigh of relief among1st District Republicans when former Democratic State Chairman and multi-millionaire real estate developer Jim Pedersen decided not to run for Congress. Two years ago, Pederson drew 43% of the vote against Republican Sen. Jon Kyl after spending $14.7 million—the bulk of it from his own fortune. At this point, the likely Democratic nominee appears to be state legislator Anne Kirkpatrick, a favorite of the pro-abortion EMILY’s List.

(Committee to Elect Sydney Hay to Congress, P.O. Box 17576, Munds Park, Ariz. 86017;

No-Goes In New York

Republican hopes of retaining the seats of retiring New York GOP Representatives. James Walsh and Tom Reynolds got a dousing of cold water last week when the Republicans thought to have the best hopes of retaining their seats opted against making the races.

In the 25th District (Syracuse) vacated by Walsh (lifetime American Conservative Union rating: 67%). Peter Cappuccilli had been considered a cinch for nomination of both the Republican and Conservative Parties. But Cappuccilli, state fair director under former Republican Gov. (1994-2006) George Pataki, suffered a stroke and decided against the race. The GOP and Conservative ballot lines are now expected to go to Onondaga County Legislator Dale Sweetland, who lost a tight nomination battle for county executive last year. Sweetland is expected to have an uphill race against Democrat Dan Maffei, a former TV news reporter who got 49% of the vote against Walsh last year.

In the Buffalo-based 26th District of Reynolds (lifetime ACU rating: 88%), State Sen. George Maziarz had been considered the likely standard-bearer of both the Republicans and Conservatives. Maziarz, however, recently said, “Thanks but no thanks,” citing his work as chairman of the Senate Energy Committee. Now most talk in GOP and Conservative circles about a successor to Reynolds centers on Assemblyman James Hayes. There are three Democrats vying for nomination in the 26th, including millionaire manufacturer and narrow ’06 loser Jack Davis.

Joe Shell, R.I.P

Like most of the interviews with him, my session with Joe Shell for a 1992 profile began with my mentioning to the former state assemblyman and longtime California conservative how he “ran against Richard Nixon” for the Republican nomination for governor of the Golden State back in 1962.

“I beg your pardon,” Shell admonished me, “That’s not accurate. Nixon ran against me!” The Bakersfield oilman went on to remind me how he had been actively campaigning for the GOP nomination for governor when Nixon, little more than a year after losing the presidency in a squeaker, decided to enter the gubernatorial race. Shell blitzed the state, piloting his own Beechcraft Bonanza airplane and denouncing “calling people liberals when they’re basically socialists,” as he told Time magazine that year. Flanked by pom-pom-bearing cheerleaders known as “Shell’s Belles” and helped by vigorous volunteer workers under the leadership of campaign manager Rus Walton (a former National Association of Manufacturers official), Shell charged that Nixon was merely using the governorship as a stopping place on his way back to national politics.

Amid charges that he was the candidate of the John Birch Society, Shell said no, he wasn’t a Bircher, but there were a lot of fine people in the JBS and he was proud to have their support. (Nixon repeatedly denounced the society.)

Shell lost to Nixon by 2 to 1, and asked Nixon for promises to slash the state budget by $200 million if elected and give Shell backers one-third of the state’s delegation to the next GOP national convention. Nixon refused. Nixon, of course, went on to lose that fall to Democratic Gov. (1958-66) Edmund “Pat Brown—prompting the former Vice President’s famous “last press conference” in which he told reporters, “You won’t have Nixon to kick around anymore.” Of course, things turned out quite differently.

When Shell died on April 11, that campaign was the event that news reports primarily remembered. The headline in the Mercury News was almost universally repeated: “Joe Shell, California legislator who challenged Nixon, dead at 89.” But Shell’s eventful life showed he was much more than that.

A football superstar at the University of Southern California, Shell was captain of the undefeated 1939 team that had gone to the Rose Bowl. Eschewing a career in pro football, Shell joined the U.S. Army Air Corps and was a flight instructor from 1942-43. In 1944, he enlisted in the Navy and saw action as a pilot in World War II. Following his discharged, he settled in Kern County and launched a successful oil-drilling business. In 1954, he won election to the state assembly and later became the conservative point man against Gov. Brown’s big-spending initiatives.

Following his defeat at the hands of Nixon, Shell never sought office again. But he and his supporters remained active in the state party and helped Ronald Reagan win nomination and election as governor in 1966. He became a part-time lobbyist for his fellow independent oil producers and was a generous contributor to conservative causes and candidates. Shell’s wife Mary was elected mayor of their hometown of Bakersfield and, in 1984, won a seat on the Kern County Board of Supervisors over the son-in-law of United Farm Workers leader Cesar Chavez. That same year, Shell’s son Joe Jr. lost a race for the state assembly to Democrat Tom Hayden.

Shell’s longtime friend, Republican Gov. (1982-90) George Deukmejian, persuaded the Bakersfield man to take a seat on the state Agriculture Labor Relations Board in 1989. Shell quit two years later, and the reason he gave was vintage Shell: he was tired to being paid for doing almost nothing, he said.