Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Gov. J.D. Leghorn? Yep, and we ain't just whistlin' 'Dixie'

Gov. J.D. Leghorn? Yep, and we ain't just whistlin' 'Dixie': "Rep. J.D. Hayworth broke the first 'contract' he ever signed with voters, a promise to serve only three terms. He took contributions from companies like Enron, WorldCom and Arthur Andersen. A political action committee he formed accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars from Indians with gambling interests, then hired Hayworth's wife to do bookkeeping. He has taken tens of thousands of dollars from his own campaign war chest and doled it out to other candidates. He collected so much money for this past election (against a candidate with few resources) that he was able to hand over $100,000 to the national Republican campaign committee. He also enthusiastically plays the role of attack dog for his party on the national news programs. Naturally, this type of behavior hasn't gone unnoticed in Arizona. Because of his well-documented antics and unrepentant demeanor, Hayworth has become . . . the most important Republican in the state. More so than Sen. John McCain, who is much more of a national figure. More so than Sen. Jon Kyl or any other member of Congress. A politician is measured by the respect he or she gets from the opposition. Not long ago, I spoke with Maricopa County Attorney Rick Romley, who would like nothing more than to run against Gov. Janet Napolitano in 2006. But only if he first doesn't have to face Hayworth in a primary. "I think it would be best for the party if leadership got together and settled on a candidate, rather than have a bitterly fought primary," Romley said, perhaps taking to heart the chant of "governor, governor, governor" that greeted Hayworth when he took the stage at Republican Party headquarters on Election Night. Other Republicans also have deferred to Hayworth. "An awful lot of people have asked him to look at it (the governor's job)," Hayworth spokesman Larry VanHoose said. "He hasn't put any time frame on deciding. He hasn't had much to say about it, really. I gather that he and Mrs. Hayworth and the family are talking about it, but it hasn't gone much beyond that." People (like me) who once called Hayworth a political Foghorn Leghorn obviously didn't watch enough cartoons. The cagey old rooster takes his lumps, but he always manages to get to his feet, puff up his chest and strut back onto the screen singing do-dah, do-dah. He wins, and so does Hayworth, who appears to rule the roost over a deferential brood of clucking Republican farm birds. Back in 1994, Hayworth stood on the steps of the U.S. Capitol with Matt Salmon, John Shadegg and other Republicans, signing the Contract with America and pledging, among other things, to leave office after six years. The only person who kept the promise, Salmon, lost to Napolitano in the governor's race. Hayworth knew better. He has known from the start that working as a TV sportscaster wasn't simply a good preparation for politics, it was perfect. Politics is TV, and Hayworth has played to the cameras from his very first campaign, when he said, "I don't view what I am planning to do as a career." He instinctively knows what voters hold against a politician and what they don't, what's important to them and what's not. Romley is a war hero who has put bad guys in jail for 16 years. There was a time when a candidate with no combat experience and a background in sports entertainment wouldn't have had a chance against a wounded veteran with a chestful of medals and a history of public service. But as one recent election clearly demonstrated, times change."

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