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Governor race nears first stage



Gov. Fife Symington has presided over an economic recovery in Arizona, yet candidates are lined up for the opportunity to run against him.

Not only is a trio of Democrats battling for the opportunity to face Symington in November’s general election, but he also faces a challenge in Tuesday’s GOP primary from Barbara McConnell Barrett, a corporate lawyer and former Reagan administration appointee.

Understandably, Symington wants the campaign focused on the state’s economic turnaround.

“I vowed to get state spending under control, reduce taxes and do my best to promote economic development and restore strength to the economy,’ he said. “I think I am in a strong position because I accomplished my goals.’

Though Symington has reduced taxes by $1.7 billion, overseen the relocation of nearly 70 companies to the state and the creation of about 200,000 jobs, he is seen by many to be politically vulnerable.

Four years ago, Symington ran as the successful boss of a commercial development company who would apply free-market principles to state government. Since that time, however, Symington’s real estate empire has come crashing down around him.

A former director of failed Southwest Savings and Loan, Symington was named in a $197 million lawsuit filed by the Resolution Trust Corp. Though the case was settled out of court with no adverse findings against Symington, it produced oodles of bad press for the governor.

Symington’s political opponents say dark clouds still surround him. A federal grand jury reportedly is investigating Symington’s business dealings, and the Attorney General’s Office has launched a probe of possible civil violations involving a former Symington aide in connection with the awarding of a $1.5 million government contract.

Barrett has done little to differentiate herself from Symington on the issues. And yet there she is, doing the unthinkable: challenging a fellow conservative from her own party.

Symington, for the most part, has simply ignored Barrett’s candidacy. He has declined to debate her, except for a handful of joint appearances.

Barrett’s campaign was unusually tame until late last month, when she launched a series of negative advertisements questioning Symington’s ethics.

Some Republican officials complain the Barrett ads violate a pledge she signed to refrain from throwing mud in the primary.

But according to Earl de Berge, research director of the Phoenix-based Behavior Research Institute, Barrett’s negative advertising blitz backfired, serving only to solidify Symington’s support.

A statewide poll of 535 Republicans conducted over the Labor Day weekend by the institute indicates Symington has the support of 55 percent, while Barrett has 17 percent. The poll concludes that 28 percent of Republican voters are undecided.

“The negative gubernatorial primary campaign of Barbara Barrett against fellow Republican and incumbent Fife Symington has backfired,’ de Berge said. “GOP voters, perhaps responding to the call of party leaders to rally around Symington, are abandoning her campaign.’

Barrett said she challenged Symington because Arizona “cannot be satisfied with the status quo.’ She said she doesn’t dislike Symington personally, “I just think I can do a better job.’

The first-time candidate has poured more than $1 million of her own money into her campaign. Barrett did not always have such riches at her disposal.

She grew up poor on a western Pennsylvania farm. She was just 13 when her father, Bob McConnell, died of a heart attack. She helped support the family by running a horseback-riding business.

At 17, she headed west with just $34 and a scholarship to Arizona State University in her pocket. Barrett scraped by, living in a converted ranch bunkhouse and working a variety of odd jobs. She eventually received bachelor’s, master’s and law degrees at ASU.

Barrett worked as an attorney for the former Greyhound Corp. before twice being appointed by former President Reagan to high federal posts. A pilot herself, she first served as vice chairman of the Civil Aeronautics Board, an agency she helped dismantle. Barrett was later named deputy administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration, a 47,000-employee agency with a $6 billion annual budget.

In 1985 she married Craig Barrett, chief operating officer of Intel Corp., the largest manufacturer of computer microchips in the world.

Returning to Phoenix after her stint in Washington, D.C., Barrett began practicing law, specializing in aviation and international trade.

While Barrett sprang from humble beginnings, Symington’s great-grandfather was industrialist Henry Clay Frick, a founder of U.S. Steel. Symington, who was raised in Baltimore, also boasts an impressive political pedigree.

His father, who ran unsuccessfully for Congress, served as an ambassador to Trinidad and Tobago. Symington is a cousin of the deceased Stuart Symington, a former U.S. senator from Missouri. Symington’s wife, Ann, is the daughter of longtime state Sen. John Pritzlaff.

After graduating from Harvard, Symington served as an Air Force air-traffic controller during the Vietnam War. His efforts directing search and rescue missions earned him a Bronze Star. After his stint in the Air Force, Symington moved to Arizona to seek a fortune of his own in real estate.

Symington was the first influential Republican businessman to give money and public support to the campaign to recall former GOP Gov. Evan Mecham from office. Symington later delivered a knockout blow to Mecham’s political career, soundly defeating Mecham and three other candidates in the 1990 Republican gubernatorial primary. He went on to win the governor’s office by defeating Democrat Terry Goddard, a former Phoenix mayor, in a 1991 runoff election.

Conventional wisdom among political observers is that Barrett’s campaign has failed to outline why Republicans should abandon a Republican incumbent to vote for her.

“I don’t think Barrett has run an effective campaign,’ said Bruce Merrill, director of ASU’s media research program. “Her campaign has been unfocused. When you are running against an incumbent governor you have to show what you would do differently.’

Although Barrett approves of tax cuts Symington has pushed through the Legislature, she criticized him for not doing more to reduce the size of state government.

“In the past three years, the state’s budget has ballooned from about $3 billion to over $4 billion,’ she said. “Now I ask you, is your income, your family’s budget, going up 10 percent a year?’

Symington responds that he has cut the rate of government growth in half, but that spending continues to climb because Arizona continues to grow.

Barrett said she would promote policies to abolish a revolving-door prison system that simply warehouses criminals.

“We call it a `Corrections Department,’ but it doesn’t seem to correct anyone,’ she said. “Prisoners should re-enter society only if they do so as productive citizens after training, work and education requirements are met. As governor, I’ll keep dangerous criminals in prison – period.’

However, Symington pushed truth-in-sentencing laws, requiring convicted criminals to serve at least 85 percent of their sentences, through the Legislature. He also signed a juvenile gun ban into law and created an anti-gang undercover task force.

“While my opponent is busy hammering at my record – and I think it’s a good record – she’s really offered few specifics of where she wants to take the state,’ said Symington.

Barrett has repeatedly attacked Symington for his failure to get education improvements approved until a special legislative session this summer.

“The governor didn’t get anything for 3 1/2 years because he didn’t work closely enough with the Legislature, he couldn’t get the votes and he didn’t have the respect of the legislators to get the job done,’ she said.

“Our education problems are tragic. I feel a sense of urgency. It is not something you do to get ready for an election campaign.’

Symington said he worked for education reforms from his first days in office, but admits it was difficult to get reforms past an entrenched education bureaucracy. Nonetheless, he said that recently passed education proposals – such as charter schools, open enrollment and decentralization – will improve state schools and increase parental involvement.

Barrett, who identified education as her top priority, said she would lengthen the school year and encourage partnerships between schools and business.

While Barrett has been critical of Symington’s efforts to pass a pilot program creating a school voucher system in which parents could choose between public, parochial and private schools, she backs such a system.

“It’s very confusing with Barbara because she is all over the map on the voucher issue,’ said Symington.

Symington has received the endorsement of the Tucson Business Coalition, primarily because of his successful efforts to pass tax-equity legislation bringing more state revenue to Pima County.

“I have probably been the strongest governor for Pima County in modern history,’ he said.


Top priority: Education

Age: 43

Political affiliation: Republican

Educational background: Received a bachelor’s degree in liberal arts in 1972, a master’s degree in public administration in 1975 and a law degree in 1978, all from Arizona State University

Occupation: Corporate lawyer

Political experience: Twice appointed by former President Reagan to federal posts, first as vice chairman of the Civil Aeronautics Board and later as deputy administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration


Top priority: Job creation and tax reduction

Age: 49

Political affiliation: Republican

Educational background: Received a bachelor of arts degree in American history and art history from Harvard College in 1968

Occupation: Former commercial and industrial real estate developer and savings and loan board member

Political experience: Elected governor in a runoff election in February 1991, past chairman of the Western Governors Association, state Republican finance chairman from 1982 to 1984


Paul Johnson is on the offensive against his Democratic gubernatorial rivals, Terry Goddard and Eddie Basha.

First, Johnson charged that his primary opponents are advocating millions of dollars in new programs that can’t possibly be paid for.

And just last weekend he began painting Goddard and Basha as soft on crime.

The gloves-off strategy appears to be paying off. Johnson, who resigned as Phoenix mayor last March to run for governor, has jumped from the bottom of the pack into a virtual dead heat with Goddard as the Democratic front-runner, according to recently released public opinion polls.

But the public opinion poll that counts comes Tuesday, when Arizona Democrats go to the polls to determine whether Goddard, Basha or Johnson will represent their party against either incumbent Gov. Fife Symington or his GOP challenger, Barbara Barrett.

Johnson unveiled a 30-second commercial last weekend accusing Basha, a former state Board of Education president, of supporting a policy that allows convicted felons to teach in public schools. It is a charge Basha vehemently denies.

In the same commercial, Goddard, who preceded Johnson as mayor of Phoenix, is accused of endorsing plea bargains for accused murderers and rapists.

Johnson said his position is to ban any convicted felon from ever teaching in public schools, eliminate plea bargains for murderers and violent rapists and automatically transfer violent juveniles over age 14 to adult court.

“It looks like Johnson is so hungry and desperate that he’s willing to dishonor himself and our party to win,’ Basha said about Johnson’s ads. “It is distasteful, and I hope that Arizona Democrats will reject him and the kind of drive-by political shootings he represents.’

Basha lashed back at Johnson’s use of “Willy Horton-type advertising’ in a television ad of his own that began airing Thursday.

“Paul Johnson has viciously attacked my honor and reputation,’ says Basha in his counterattack commercial. “Here’s the truth. I always supported tough laws to keep child abusers and violent criminals out of our classrooms. The idea I would tolerate dangerous felons teaching our children is preposterous.’

Goddard noted that he and Basha promised to refrain from negative attacks against their primary opponents, a pledge Johnson refused to sign.

“Now we know why Paul Johnson refused to sign the clean-campaign pledge,’ said Goddard. “All along he intended to run a dirty campaign. Sadly, this is what we have come to expect from Paul. Now he’s using smear tactics. Paul is desperate, apparently he’ll stop at nothing to get out of third place.’

But Goddard has said he could not support a proposal to limit plea bargaining.

“Terry (Goddard) has said plea bargaining is an important weapon in a prosecutor’s arsenal to put violent criminals behind bars,’ said Marty Latz, Goddard’s deputy campaign manager. “Oftentimes prosecutors plea bargain with one perpetrator so they can put away another perpetrator that is judged more dangerous.’

Goddard, who has stressed his ability to fight crime throughout the campaign, said he added 400 police officers during his tenure as mayor of Phoenix, while Johnson added none.

“He (Johnson) is trying to cover up his own sorry record of fighting crime,’ said Goddard.

And yet, at a news conference last week, the labor group that represents the 400 Phoenix officers hired by Goddard endorsed Johnson, as did seven Democratic county attorneys from across the state.

“Crime and its causes are complex,’ said Pima County Attorney Stephen Neely. “What is simple – what brings us here and what has led nearly every major law enforcement group to endorse Paul Johnson – is the knowledge that no public official in Arizona is more critical to bringing crime under control than the governor.’

Johnson advocates not only a get-tough law-enforcement policy, but also increased emphasis on education and youth programs. He identifies “kids and crime’ as his top priority.

In speech after speech, Johnson has said the state needs to employ both “a hammer and a hug’ in combating juvenile crime. He maintains that the state’s juvenile justice system is in need of fundamental reform.

“There are no real consequences the first time a kid enters the system,’ he said. “I want to create what I call a first-offense youth corps. On the first offense, the kid does community service work. On the second offense, the parent has to show up and work with them.’

During Johnson’s mayoral tenure, Phoenix instituted a juvenile gun law, a policy to melt down confiscated weapons, and a youth curfew ordinance.

Basha, an outspoken advocate for education who serves on the state Board of Regents, is running on a theme of “people, not politics.’ He has said his first commitment as governor would be to pump more than $200 million of increased funding into Arizona schools.

He has said the state needs to consolidate all services for children into “community-based schools,’ provide year-round schooling in inner-city schools and provide increased health services to children.

Basha has said that if state revenues are not sufficient to cover his proposed education improvements, he will shift budget priorities. He has said he would consider retracting tax breaks given to utilities and instituting across-the board cuts of state agencies to fund his education proposals.

“If money is not available, we have to cut the suit to fit the person,’ he said. “That’s what we do in the private sector.’

Basha, who owns and operates the state’s largest family-owned grocery chain, has said the state is spending too much of its money on prisons.

“My campaign is about putting more of our resources on investment and prevention,’ he said. “If we redirect our resources from this remediation and reaction mode that permeates Republican thought, we’ll be able to affect change.

“A higher percentage of Arizona cattle are inoculated than Arizona children, and there is no excuse for that in a society such as ours. We need to invest our money in the playpen, not the state pen.’

All three Democrats are staunch proponents of equalizing the state’s education funding formula. The Arizona Supreme Court recently ruled the state’s property-based school funding method is unconstitutional because it creates disparities between rich and poor districts.

Goddard said he would form a task force of legislators, local school officials and parents to recommend how to equalize school funding. The task force would be given six months to complete its work, and then, Goddard said, he would call a special session of the Legislature to resolve the situation.

“Fife Symington could have and should have tackled this issue immediately upon taking office,’ said Goddard. “We can no longer afford an administration that ducks the hard choices.’

Goddard also charged that Symington has “virtually ignored’ the problem of domestic violence. Goddard has proposed a $15 million domestic violence initiative that he said can be paid for from estimated growth in state revenues.

He has also promised to beef up Child Protective Services so every complaint of abuse made to the agency is investigated.

Goddard has said he will prevent any state from using Arizona as a dumping ground for toxic waste.

“Toxic profiteers would like to turn Arizona into California’s trash compactor,’ he said. “I am determined to stamp out the pirates who would dump toxins into the desert washes.’

However, Goddard has identified his top priority as putting more police officers on Arizona’s streets.

“Our state has failed to meet its most basic responsibility – protecting Arizona’s families,’ he said. “I am running for governor to accomplish precisely that – to protect the families of Arizona.’

Goddard, the son of a former Arizona governor, is a Tucson native who once attended Rincon High School.

While there has been friction between the Democratic candidates in recent weeks, they all are sharply critical of Symington, particularly his proposal to do away with $1.6 billion in state income taxes over the next four years.

Goddard called Symington’s tax-cut plan “the mother of all campaign political promises.’

Said Basha: “It’s a political shell game. It’s just political rhetoric, 1994 sloganeering.’

Said Johnson: “I have tagged what Gov. Symington has proposed as Pinocchio politics.’

All three Democratic candidates maintain that they are most qualified to beat Symington.

Symington defeated Goddard by some 4,200 votes in the November 1990 general election but, under a state law passed by voters in 1988 that has since been repealed, it was not a large enough margin. In early 1991, in the first gubernatorial runoff in state history, Symington won with 52 percent of the vote, compared to Goddard’s 48 percent.

Goddard has said this campaign will be different “because now the people of Arizona know Fife Symington.’

Johnson has said he is the Democrat with the best chance of besting Symington because he is running a centrist campaign that will appeal to voters in the general election.

Basha has said his business experience makes him the only Democrat in the race who can defeat the incumbent.


Top priority: Education

Age: 57

Political affiliation: Democrat

Educational background: Bachelor’s degree in history from Stanford University in 1959.

Occupation: Heads a family-owned grocery chain that operates 64 stores

Political experience: Serves on the Arizona Board of Regents, a former member of the state Board of Education and a three-time president of the Chandler Unified School District Governing Board


Top priority: Putting more police on Arizona streets

Age: 47

Political affiliation: Democrat

Educational background: Bachelor’s degree in American history from Harvard College in 1969 and a law degree from Arizona State University in 1976

Occupation: Lawyer in private practice; worked for three years as a prosecutor in the Arizona Attorney General’s Office

Political experience: Elected four times as mayor of Phoenix and formerly served as president of the National League of Cities. Was the Democratic gubernatorial nominee in 1990, losing to Symington in a runoff election


Top priority: “Kids and crime’

Age: 35

Political affiliation: Democrat

Educational background: Received a bachelor’s degree in business administration from the University of Phoenix in 1993

Occupation: Owner of Johnson Company General Contracting from 1978 to 1985

Political experience: Served four years as mayor of Phoenix, resigning this year to run for governor; was a member of the Phoenix City Council from 1985 to 1990

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