Gizzi on Politics: Feb. 2, 2009

Under Western Skies

Paradise Valley, Ariz.: January 14-22 was an eventful week in the Grand Canyon State: The Cardinals won a photo-finish triumph over the Philadelphia Eagles with a touchdown and headed for their first-ever Super Bowl, the celebrated Barrett-Jackson auto show was held in Scottsdale, and conservative Republican Jan Brewer was inaugurated as the state’s 22nd governor, succeeding liberal Democrat Janet Napolitano, the newly minted secretary of Homeland Security.

For me, the evening of Barack Obama’s inauguration meant heading out to the San-Tan Flats steakhouse owned by conservative stalwart Dale Bell, a veteran of Ronald Reagan’s 1976 campaign for President and Republican nominee for Congress from South Dakota in 1984 and ’86. At dinner, Bell regaled me with stories of how county officials tried to ban outdoor dancing at his establishment and how, with national pundits such as George Will highlighting the clash, San-Tan Flats overcame the “dancing police.”

What Next for ‘the Real Deal?’

Following an inauguration ceremony that drew 1,500 guests to the State Capitol in Phoenix and an address that stirred conservatives, Republican Gov. Jan Brewer last week set out to grapple with a state budget shortfall estimated at nearly $4 billion over the next two fiscal years.

Although the 64-year-old Brewer has so far not offered any specifics of her promised “stimulus package” of greater freedom and no new taxes, few conservatives whom I spoke to at the Capitol doubt she is, in their words, “the real deal.”

As a Maricopa County supervisor and state senator, Brewer has consistently taken a strong conservative stance on fiscal as well as cultural issues. Two decades ago, as the Arizona Republic noted, she had joined with a majority of her fellow state legislators to kill the proposed Martin Luther King holiday. The rejection of the King holiday because of his liberal background provoked controversy and brought nationwide press attention to Arizona.

In 1988, she was one of only four state senators to vote against removing Republican Gov. Evan Mecham from office following his impeachment in the Arizona House of Representatives.

In her first move upon succeeding Democrat Napolitano, Brewer tapped former State Senate President Ken Bennett to succeed her as secretary of state — the state’s second-highest constitutional office. (Arizona has no lieutenant governor.) A strong conservative, Bennett had long been considered the leading GOP hopeful to succeed retiring Republican Rep. Rick Renzi last year, but finally chose not to run. Renzi’s 1st District seat was won by Democrat Anne Kirkpatrick.

Following the inaugural ceremony, I was discussing what Brewer would do for certain on the social conservative agenda with Bas Aja (pronounced “AH-hah”), president of the Arizona Cattlemen’s Association. “For one thing,” he told me, “after six years of having a ‘holiday tree’ on state property under Gov. Napolitano, Gov. Brewer promised we’ll have a ‘Christmas tree’ back.”

Pullen Pulls It Off Again

The heated race for state Republican chairman was decided last week, as incumbent Chairman and conservative swashbuckler Randy Pullen was re-elected by a vote of 521 to 474. Certified Public Accountant and former Phoenix mayoral candidate Pullen thus won a rematch with Lisa James, whom he defeated for the chairmanship in ’07 by four votes out of more than 1,000 cast.

Both contenders are considered conservatives, although border-security hawk Pullen is considered to have more of a “grass-roots” pedigree than his opponent. James, who helped run George W. Bush’s two presidential campaigns in Arizona and was state co-chairman of Rudy Giuliani’s presidential bid last year, is the wife of public relations wizard Gordon James, a close friend for the elder George Bush.

Lisa James tried to focus the contest on Pullen’s performance as chairman. Her supporters pointed out that, in the last election cycle, the state party had raised less money and registered fewer voters that the Democratic Party. They also noted that even with favorite son John McCain heading the ticket, the Arizona GOP lost the open U.S. House seat in the 1st District and Democrats picked up two seats on the state Corporation Commission.

Pullen fired back that Republicans had actually gained three new state legislature seats under his leadership and that, like just about every state GOP chairman outside the South, Arizona suffered in a year in which Republicans took a beating nationwide. He also emphasized that, under his aegis, the state party had helped recruit and elect minorities to office. Pullen mentioned State Rep. Steve Montenegro, who is of Hispanic heritage (“a real star,” according to the chairman) and Paradise Valley Mayor Vernon Parker, who is African-American. Parker formerly served as a special assistant in the White House under the elder George Bush and as assistant secretary of Agriculture for civil rights under George W. Bush.

“We bucked the trend,” Pullen told the Arizona Republic’s Matthew Benson. “When I talk to my chairman peers around the country, they think we did a great job.”

More “establishment” Republicans lined up behind James than behind Pullen. Among her backers were Sen. Jon Kyl, Representatives Jeff Flake and John Shadegg, State Senate President Bob Burns, House Speaker Ken Adams, and Secretary of State-designate Ken Bennett.

McCain, who strongly backed James over Pullen last year, stayed neutral in their second contest. So did Rep. Trent Franks and Gov. Brewer, both considered more “grass-roots” than “establishment.”

Changing Rules in Fourth Quarter

That’s what supporters of Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon seem to be trying to do. Last week, a political group led by Gordon supporters filed paperwork to put an initiative on the city’s September ballot that would delay the 2011 election for mayor and odd-numbered city-council districts until 2013. Under the present law in Phoenix, the mayor is limited to two four-year terms. Gordon was elected in 2003 and under current law is termed out in 2011.

But, as the Arizona Republic pointed out, the delay to 2013 would also “buy time for the two-term mayor as he contemplates his next political move.” Democrat Gordon could join State Atty. Gen. Terry Goddard and former State Party Chairman Jim Pedersen in the primary for governor next year, and he could take on Sen. Jon Kyl (R.-Ariz.) in 2012.  

My “Moose-Stake”

In the eponymous children’s book, Morris the Moose realizes that the fellow creature in the forest he has long insisted was a moose is actually a cow. This comes after Morris looks at the reflection of both of them in the pond and realizes they are different. He promptly admits: “I made a moose-stake.”

So it is with me. In the November 24 “Politics,” I wrote that the late Rep. (1948-62, 1966-92) Sid Yates (D.-Ill.) “served until 1992 and left Congress as chairman of the powerful Rules Committee.” Yates did indeed serve until 1992, and was a powerful lawmaker. But, as faithful reader and longtime Capitol Hill fixture Al Cobb wrote me, “Rep. Yates was a senior member of the Appropriations Committee and for many years chaired its Interior Subcommittee.… I doubt any member would be on both Appropriations and Rules.”

He was right. I had made a “moose-stake.”

Also, in last week’s “Politics” column, I reported the election of conservative Matt Marsden, a former aide to Rep. Mike Rogers (R.-Mich.), as the new Republican state chairman of Iowa. I had the wrong conservative Matt. The new GOP chairman in the Hawkeye State is Matt Strawn, who also worked for Rogers as well as for conservative Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R.-Ga.). The 35-year-old Strawn is now the co-owner of the Iowa Barnstormers arena football team. In taking the party helm after retiring Chairman Stewart Iverson, Ankemy resident Strawn defeated two opponents at a meeting of the state GOP’s state central committee.

At a time when Iowa Republicans have fallen more than 110,000 behind the Democrats in voter registration and Barack Obama handily won the state’s electoral vote last fall, Strawn vowed to use Facebook and other high-tech communications venues to reach younger voters.

And I vow to try not to make any more “moose-stakes.”