Back in 1997, I happened to be doing an off-site project for the company I was working for. This meant I spent the summer in Phoenix, where I learned that summers can, in fact, be worse than they are in Tucson.
So I was up there the day that J. Fife Symington III was convicted of various counts of fraud, ending his time as governor. I listened to one of those news-talk stations on the way home and callers were actually suprised that this occurred. “How could this happen?” many bemoaned.
The silly part was, only a couple of years earlier, there was a perfectly good candidate running against Symington, and the sleaze was already at that point swirling around him. Folks had a choice, and they chose to vote this guy in anyway. They shouldn’t have been suprised at the results.
I see a symptom of the same sort of problem in the Rick Renzi situation. Of course, in this case, Renzi benefitted from the lack of strong opponents in two of his elections (but did almost get beaten by one of them), and a slow start by the third. The Democratic Party could have done a better job in recruiting candidates, but there were other parts of our state’s civic and political establishment that fell down on the job here.
First off, where the heck was our state’s paper of record, The Arizona Republic? These allegations have been out there since well before the 2006 election. How did the Republic handle them? Well, despite this scandal being aired in the New York Times and the Washington Post, the Republic wrote a story alleging that the charges were ginned up by Renzi’s Democratic opponent, Ellen Simon. Apparently, they thought that the Bush administration appointees in the US Attorneys office were excited about helping her campaign. Even newspapers such as the New Times, Sierra Vista Herald and the Arizona Daily Sun, which surely the folks at the Republic regard as their lessers, pursued this story with more vigor in the run up to that election. Ironically, the land swap that has given Renzi such headaches was praised in the Republic’s endorsement of him.
I also lay some of this at the feet of John McCain, who while pursuing ethics reform abroad, seemed blind to problems here in Arizona, especially when the problem in question is a fellow Republican. When these charges first surfaced about Renzi, McCain put on his personal stamp of aproval by making a robocall for the guy extolling his honesty and integrity:
This is Senator John McCain. I’m calling to urge you to support my friend, Representative Rick Renzi for Congress. Rick has represented the first district of Arizona with tenacity, honesty and integrity beyond reproach. I work with Rick every day and can report to you his total dedication to the people of Arizona and the United States. Please join me in supporting rural Arizona’s workhorse Congressman on November 7.
It was just last month, well after the charges became public, that McCain named Renzi one of his Arizona co-chairs. Yeah, I know, every congressman from Arizona not named Raúl, Gabrielle, Harry or Ed is a co-chair. But, you’d think that someone who has prided himself on being so ethically above board would have told Renzi, “look man, I love you but…” I guess partisanship trumps all this claptrap about good government.
I suppose that after he resigns or waits out the end of his term, there will be some soul searching that will quickly be forgotten the next time some carpetbagger with a shallow resume and good hair promises to lower taxes.