It was such a jaw-droppingly ironic sign of things to come that i had to reach for my camera. I mean, literally, there was this sign at the top of the escalator, directing traffic to the various meeting rooms on the second floor of the Wyndham Hotel Saturday Nov. 20th. It was the kind of thing that made people visibly and even audibly respond when it caught and held their eye. You want a symbol, a message from god on high, a sign? Well, here's your sign.
Almost everybody spotted it, almost everyone winced. Some laughed. Some cursed. Buddies pointed and interrupted each other to draw attention to it. Some shook their heads as if exhaling a fly. I took this picture.
Like many others, I had come, as a Democrat to downtown Phoenix on a sunny Saturday seeking to assemble with some other Democrats, wandering if we were still welcome in the capitol city. I felt lost. Literally we had lost, in a great-big, major way, in like, no, not like, actually all state wide races. It sucked, i wanted a new plan. I'd come to the Wyndham to find it. This hotel was supposed to play host to what was supposed to be the first post-election state-wide meeting of the party and there wasn't a donkey in sight.
I was there as myself of course, but also, as my wife's, Beth Weisser's, representative at the consolation-fest she would surely be in for as a recently defeated state senate candidate. It was a tough day of planning for us. The AEA had scheduled a training day the same day. We are both members of both and had to split forces to cover the bases, and sift through assorted clichés. Beth drew the short straw and i was off on an adventure.
As myself, i was there as an "elected precinct committeeman," which is, i guess, one tad better than being an "elected nowhere's nothing," but i was still a novice, a babe in the woods, despite being something like a 6 year semi-active member of the actual party. Not literally a card carrying member or anything, just saying, but as the husband of a recent candidate, i'm clearly in bed with them--as opposed to someone who simply votes Democrat based on the TV ads or some much. Being a fulltime non-profit disorganization on my own, working as a Democrat wasn't often a central part of my life, but come election time, and especially since my wife candidacy, i gleefully put up some signs, pass out some flyers. I drink a lot of coffee while a wide variety of people explain to me exactly what the problem is. You know, good times; it's a party.
But then i am also this annoying self-supposed would-be journalist-type, a purported jokester who skews Dems as freely as the GOP when desperate for easy targets. It is an odd role to play, being the kind of guy who would probably write a column like this, about a meeting like that with a sense of minor, but gleeful, mischief. Anyway, in any of those various roles that play the player, i was mostly there to ask, 'what the ____ just happened? '
"Shellacking." It is such an active verb, Mr. President.
As you may recall that was Obama's morning-after disaster descriptor of choice for the defeat dealt the Democrats in this just past election. To be properly "shellacked," one is not "merely" or even "summarily" defeated. No. One must be brought down (probably flailing), killed of course, and subsequently disemboweled, immersed in acids or some such taxidermy stuff, literally stuffed like a beaver, and THEN painted, varnished in fact with the shell secretions from lac beetles. That's right, doused in beetle juice. It's the same yummy flavor all candy lovers crave on the shells of their shiny M&Ms, though there known as "confectioner's glaze." It's the kind of term used to describe what you would do with a roughly worn relic that was looking a little worse for wear. As in:
("So, should we throw this here ol' stuffed iguana? It's lookin' a might bit scruffy about the elbows."
"Naw, just give it another shellacking."
See? That what it means to get a good "shellacking. I admit that term was a fairly apt description of the appearances of many of my Dem colleagues that morning at the Wyndham. Like so many Dems there that day, i was still a little sore from my own election-day shellacking and looking the restart button, hoping for some recantation-style postgame color done by a penitent Dem leadership sans the spin cycle; and, more importantly, some quick pointers on how the rest of us were going to save our state from the hillbilly Gestapo Fox News had just put in charge of us.
Further, I went with the attitude that the Blue Dog Dems brought this turn upon us all and had a lot of explaining to do. The success of the Tea Party emblem for the GOP showed that Dems needed to differentiate from not assimilate with the GOP leaning segment of the voters. If fifty years of being marketed to have taught me nothing i know you have to build your own brand, you can't steal their brand, you have to build your own. So yes, i am prepared to say it is the move to the right that has destroyed the Democrats, a move away from the public's, and the party's, best interests.
The public has every right to be wary. Twice in recent elections the Dems had first sold, then sold out the message they'd campaigned on, squandering American goodwill and momentum in their support. As Jon Stewart quipped to Barack Obama, "It's like they're campaigning on 'Come on, Baby, give me one more chance.'" In 2006, Dems claimed they were rising up against the "Bush regime" and rallied the country and then; upon being swept into office on national good will for their message, they just basically became members of the Bush power-structure for the last two years of his presidency. Though Dems "controlled" Congress, between bluster and signing statements, Bush still wrote or rewrote government to his liking, consistently got military funding, torturer approval, and legislative endorsements for his Wall Street bail-out schemes.
Then in the face of the Bush economic crisis, America hired the opposition, the Dems to the rescue, to sort it all out and make the mess right, right? And instead, banks continued to get billions in bail-outs, give themselves lavish bonuses, while millions are thrown out of their houses by these every same banks and left with no way to fight back, even after it is plainly shown that multitudes of these evictions are frauds. The fabled Stimulus package gets hollowed out to where it won't achieve much more than the inability to not be pinned with a GOP label as an excess spending talking point.
Then there's a whole other massive expense of energy and goodwill on a health care reform that in the end ran the same course, dribbling down from a mighty message of hope to mealy mouth gesture of an inside deal, selling out the same people it claimed it was helping. It even got them following tri-cornered hats waved around by a PR firm, all to keep powerful health and insurance interests entrenched and train a public to work against their own best interests, by fighting in the streets against universal healthcare.
And now those Tea Party people were going to be running my state? I needed some inspiration. So i wandered through the well-appointed lobby, looking for likeminded Donkey-lovers, searching for some sign it was all going to be all right. With no sign of a sign in sight. That's right, and when i asked for directions, it sounded something like 'over the river and through the woods.' All the length of the lobby and up the escalator there was no further sign of Democrat direction. As if we were hidden from the general public.
Finally up an escalator, and just as you got sight of the second floor, the one and only sign of Democrats in the house came into view. It read:
[and the room name in smaller print]
AZ Democratic Party
State Committee Meeting
[and the room name in smaller print]
AZ Democratic Party
[and so on]
Seriously, i wasn't there to play hall monitor, but i got in a little early, like several other out-of-towners, so i had some time to observe. Few of the people i saw come off that escalator got past that sign without some sort of reaction. And i had about an hour's time that morning lounging on the second floor luxury lobby furniture, to gauge the degree of irony appreciation in each escalator riders' registry as they saw it.
I spent some of that time with Rudy Clark, long-time Native American activist and lobbyist, and a retired teacher. He came down from Peach Springs this morning, but had done some time in the trenches in DC. He warned right now the Democrats look weak and frightened, "pushed into a corner, heading for failure." And Clark wondered why all state and national Democratic leadership allowed that characterization of Democrats to happen and become lodged in the public mind. He also wondered why the Republican party and in particular the Supreme court "had lost their minds, offering the extremely wealthy people even more advantage."
Statewide, Clark, himself, felt a bit shellacked over victories by pro-SB1070 candidates. "I keep hoping Joe Arpaio will have something to do to take him to our reservation and then I'll ask him where are his papers and what's he doing in MY country?" Clark quipped.
Just before joining the crowd flooding into the main meeting hall, we caught up with the Safford contingent of Democrats. Jay Rasco took a second to explain what he saw as the upcoming GOP agenda: "If you keep the working man down, nose to the grindstone, everyday, nose to the grindstone just to keep up, and make sure they have lots of kids and have lots of bills, then they'll be too busy to rock the boat. That's what the GOP has in mind for us."
That in mind, the Dem choice should seem a simple sell. Yet, at a time when the "Party of Change" could be saddled so easily as the party of status quo, the Dems had obviously lost track of their message. I was hoping to bring them back to their sense. But you know what they say, the first step to fixing a problem is being willing to admit that you have a problem in the first place; and the Dem hierarchy there that day were all as happy as campers, despite the fact we were all still drippy with beetle juice. Vince Rabago's campaign chairman, Gilberto Zaragoza, for example was a happy camper with party's campaign effort this year. "Everything went well," he concluded. "We did everything we could." Except win, of course.
And despite the fact that the long-standing and wide spread nickname her organization has gained within the Democratic Party to the point it is mockingly referred to as the "uncoordinated campaign," Michelle Davidson, the coordinator of the party's "Coordinated Campaign," was shockingly proud of her efforts as well; and could and did well substantiate her claims of actively running an extensive campaign, through numerous charts of various grafts ... though polling had shown that by May of '10 the public's goodwill for Dems had decidedly dwindled. Considering all the robo-calls that were made, the pieces of campaign literature created and distributed, and all the personal connections pretended, and, with all of it duly documented on the big screen PowerPoint presentation, i can vouch Davidson's campaign had indeed stayed busy, fiddling away as the whole titanic enterprise sank beneath waves of GOP voter resentments.
Recent shellacked Mesa state representative candidate, Mike Conway, thought of the backlash he was already seeing, and said bitterly, "I am already sick of hearing about repealing 'Obama-care.' I mean come on, at least Democrats do care!"
Conway elaborated, "Look, i did better than some of the targeted candidates. If the targeted candidates did this badly, the ones who got additional funding and support, if they did this badly, then what does that say about the effectiveness of state party efforts, no matter what their expense of energy?"
If the Arizona Democratic Party leadership was aware of this widespread dissension, they were in emphatic denial. For the first 1/2 hour of their presentation it seemed possible no one had told these assembled experts the results of the election. They were very busy talking about their success in fundraising and the challenge of logistics and how good they had done as if losing by 20% or so was a fine race run.
Unfortunately if the rank-in-file were there to get a display of what party higher-ups cared about, it was obviously still money, to the point of being oblivious about almost all else. As state party chair Don Bivens gushed ecstatically, "We raised the money we wanted and spent it the way we wanted to."
Bivens set the tone for treasurer and others who focused on the success the party had had in fund-raising. The roster of morning speakers were likewise money minded. True, early on in the election cycle the fundraising for Democrats versus Republicans, both nationally and to a degree in AZ showed that Dems while anemic were more robust than the Republican party. In fact in 2009, prior to the Citizens United case, the Republican Party was supposedly on the fundraising ropes.
The first person to move past applauding effort expended and openly acknowledge the actual vote count was state treasurer candidate, Andrei Cherny, "We had an unmitigated disaster and there are people all over the state who don't even realize the consequences that will devastate their lives for years to come." It roused the most vocal applause all morning.
On the floor the party leadership spent as much of that morning's energy as they could get away with by blaming Obama. Over-all the talking points that morning were AZ racists love SB 1070 and Obama let us all down. And then there was that most predictable of mechanisms, the backlash of midterms. Yet we had our best year ever ... except for that losing part. One of the more comic unintentional ironies was when a presenter noted, "We had more data than ever and better data than ever .... So we made a huge investment in data collection and it came out to tell us exactly what we expected all along: 65% of the GOP showed up to vote, only 55% of Democrats," and thus we lost. A spokeswoman for the Goddard campaign added, "As Democrats, we see ourselves as a party of intellect. The GOP present themselves as a party of emotion and the emotions they build on most are fear and anger."
When the floor opened up to Q&A, i was offered a chance to frame a question for the panel and scrambled through a series of near misses, such as: "Nationally the pundit class is claiming the message of this election is that Republican ideas should rule. How are Democrats to take this?" Or, "Nationally this race showed that the plutocrats can, in most cases, buy the candidate of their choosing. The big corporate money went to the GOP slate of ideas. Are we, as a country, fated to that kind of existence, to be bought and sold by such hateful ideas?"
OR, "The division is clearly between money and people, in this next election, does the Democratic party intend to work for the money or work for the people?" or rephrased, "Let's be honest about the moral of the Citizens United Supreme Court case decision. This election showed the plutocrats can buy the elections that they want. Their message was clearly hate, fear, and division. This meeting has talked about money quite a bit already. Does the Democratic Party in AZ intend to work for the money or work for the people?"
In the end i chose to rephrase my Goddard question from earlier articles: "The GOP works closely with the Tea Party. The move showed to be a success. How does the Democratic Party intend to try to rebuild their connections with the liberals and progressives who typically energize a party and whom the Dem party turned their backs on this election?"
But dear reader you're going to have to satisfy yourself with your own answers to those queries because in the end my question wasn't taken and we were all sent scurrying for a quick lunch.
Returning, i noticed the sounds of a street musician across the hotel's main entrance. I dug out some change and said, "So, there's a political convention going on over there," and i pointed to the hotel. "Yeah?" he seems unimpressed. "Getting much?" my pocket change clanked in his hands. "Not much." "No surprise?" i said. "No surprise," he echoed behind me.
When i got inside the first person i spoke to was this wise Indian woman, a Hindi Indian, woman, at the LGBT Rainbow Caucus, in a discussion of the party's problem of failing to recruiting candidates for all races, surrendering the agenda. She was inspired and explained, "If you don't have to worry about winning, then you can be more fearless with your message." I hoped to let that be a guide for me for the afternoon sessions.
Torn between my wife's favorite, the Federated Democratic Women, and the LGBT Rainbow Caucus, i decided to split my time with both, but first chatted up Phil Hettmansperger and District 4's Ken LaKind about the need of Democrats challengers in all races in all districts. Hettmansperger had been a recurring state candidate.
In the course of conversation, LaKind hoped i would delineate for him and his neighbor an explanation of the banking scandal and why both GOP and not just Dems, like Dodd, were culpable. The neighbor, on a rightwing news diet, believed that the Democratic Party was consistently at fault for Wall Street deregulation because of Clinton era deregulations, in particular the partial repeal of Glass-Steagall. But as the powerful, but under-heard viral video "I'm not Voting Republican Because I Have a Memory," dutifully documents, it's actually the GOP who have been in power through every major banking scandal in the last century.
The 1999 reversal of Glass Steagall was orchestrated by three Republicans, Gramm, Leach and Bliley, not Clinton, not in a time when the Republican Whitewater lynch mob ran the Congressional show. Next, just as his brother before him, Neil, had dabbled in the Silverado Saving & Loan Scandal decades earlier on daddy's watch, George W Bush backed banks bilking the public again and again, until they had leveraged the whole apparatus to fall over on itself; and then, instead of taking the lumps, they pushed to have the public bail them out, to keep them in business so those very same banks could then throw us all out in the street. And then post it as their record profits and use them to pay GOP record corporate donations.
The impact of those donation dollars was plain to see on the faces in any of the caucus breakout sessions i attended that day. Finally i ducked into the Women's caucus. The sweet gray haired ladies who had spotted the promise of my dear sweet wife, Beth Weisser, and who had then paid the expenses to send her to the wonderful women's candidate training program, Emerge Arizona, were still there and still as earnest as ever. It made one feel proud to see such a collection of the heritage of Democratic women had in Arizona, including friends and acquaintances of former Dem governors Rose Mofford, '88- 91, and Janet Napolitano, '03-09. I mean the original little old ladies were still there, still running the meetings, now a little older than ever.
The ladies talked about a cookbook they had going as a fundraiser. They talked about some resort time they could sort-of raffle off. And then there was a fine-looking paperback edition of the collection of quotations by extraordinary women edited longtime AZ Dem powerhouse Ms. Carolyn Warner. She spoke of coming back from DC after the election and riding with both McCain and Harry Mitchell.
About that point i asked AZ Dem Party State Secretary, Brittni Storrs, her take on the average age of the people in the fairly filled room. She speculated, "mid-50s, somewhere in the 50s." I asked for her age: 23.
When the talk again returned to dealing with fundraising i raised my hand. Unlike my chances on the main floor that morning, in the women's caucus i got my question asked. I said, "I don't mean to be impertinent, but i have to wonder. Thanks to the Citizens United Supreme Court case, the GOP has received hundreds of millions of dollars in contributions. How are you going to battle that kind of fundraising with cook books?"
Not missing a beat, Warner challenged that rather than figure a way to work within the framework of Citizens United, which was clearly a path to ruin, the Dems had to lead the way in creating the legislation prohibiting corporate funding of elections. Furthermore, Warner warned, it needs to be pressed for now, during the lame duck Congress before Republicans take power in January. Warner called for all Arizonans, and all Americans in general, to call dramatically on Congress to pass such an amendment while we the people still have a chance to own what remains of our country. I was so struck by her speech i promised her to write of it and have.
And just then, fear not campaign lovers, as it happened in every session i attended, Rodney Glassman somehow seemed to appear, fresh from baby and ripe with one liners, already in campaign mode with a nuanced road-ready "thank you everybody" speech about how he goes from room to room with no planned speech, but he hears the same issues being discussed in each of the breakout rooms. [Insert preferred caucus-centric issue here.] Then, playing the outsider, in 3 different breakout sessions i attended, Glassman roused himself and others to the call they needed to tear down the walls between the caucuses, if only the leadership would let everybody speak.
Meanwhile over at the Rainbow Caucus, i missed most all of it. BUT, at least in the few moments i saw, i was just wishing everybody would shut up as recurring infighting diluted the fun of being gay about politics. Surviving a gay bashing in my early 20s i learned firsthand gay rights are the essence of human rights and the battle of a person to be allowed to be themselves is a universal eternal glorious struggle. But instead of addressing issues like strategies for refuting impending GOP anti-homosexual agenda and the slo-mo erosion of DADT, they were battling over web pages and availability of minutes. For those jostling for position, the battle must have been breathtaking. For the rest of us, there because GSA issues are the essence of human rights issues, the tug-of-war turned tedious quickly. Just sayin'.
Luckily, i just barely slipped into that meeting in time to help it degenerate into the after-talk indicative of such gatherings as political caucuses; and then slipped out and onto the only place that day with the rush and tingle of the excitement and possibility ... come on, you know i'm talking progressives. The Progressive Democratic Caucus of Arizona, our state's branch of the PDA (Progressive Democrats of America), that is, a congregation of every liberal cause imaginable. The progressive caucus was far and away the largest caucus there that day, the loudest as well. Never mind there were plenty of proxies, on a day when only 240 or so even attended the statewide committee meeting, over one hundred people signed in at the Progressive Caucus. The Progressive Caucus in fact, proved the only caucus on campus where the hotel staff had to bring in additional seating and the bustle of people gathered and chairs being passed down, added a thrill to the build up for the meeting.
It was also the only place where people openly looked like hippies, traded wit in addition to whining and where i felt like my "ImpeachBush.Org" ball-cap and peace signs weren't a deficit to my message. Oh the excitement of seeing so many witty and erudite, and like me a slightly older overweight people who knew exactly how to say i told you so in the most entertaining of ways to the party leaders and were ready to make a boarding house reach for the old donkey's reins.
As documented on the PDA website in "Democrats Need To Act Like the Opposition Party and Put Up a Fight," by Dianne Post and Barbara McCullough-Jones, helmed with grace and quick wittedness orchestration by Dan O'Neal, the meeting was a round robin of at-large calls to action. A veritable who's who of liberal activist causes in AZ, including "Arizona Institute for Peace, Education and Research (AIPER) and Radio Phoenix, the ACLU, NAACP, the Democratic Party, the Green Party, DFA, Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, Code Pink, Arizona Progress ACTION and the End War Coalition.
Combined, they proved thrilling to behold. Chairs lined back walls and people stood along the sides. The room buzzed with the power of ideas. Dynamic PDA speaker and leader Jeff Latas revved up the crowd to the point cheering and speechifying erupted spontaneously.
It was the one place where those rallying cries were seen as entirely unironic and/or non-delusional. And there were plenty of rallying cries to be had. I even spoke twice, muddled in garbled wishful thinking, first about acknowledging the importance of accepting the reality of the plutocracy and of figuring a way to market liberal ideas to plutocrats as a viable option to their current apparent preferred brand of rightwing oppression.
My other speech went something like:
"The Dem party needs to not lose sight of the fact that the youth of America does not support GOP ideas. They voted against the McCain-Palin brand of Bushco Redux in '08 by more than 24 million votes. This go-round, despite two disappointing years of failed Dem rhetoric and a forced fed diet of "Democratic party portrayed as ineffectual power-mad bomb-throwing commies" by the mainstream media, young voters still voted against GOP candidates and propositions by nearly 20%.
Unfortunately more than fourteen million of those young 2008 voters stayed home this go-round, dooming Dem chances because the Democrats dropped the ball for marketing their ideas. The progressives need to become as exciting a logo for Democrats as the GOP have been by co-opting the image of the Tea Party to symbolize their conservatism. We had the youth and lost them and we need to inspire them back again. The Dems need to look cool to young people or we won't get this thing fixed. And Dems are not going to energize a youth vote, or anyone else's vote, by insisting the brand be about old school moneyed politics as usual. That is exactly the stigma kids detest about the GOP. Kids want to believe in something, but we need to act like we believe in something more than fundraising."
I am sure i didn't say all of that that correctly, but i said my piece, gave it a shot. Kind people that they were, they let me finish the whole speech. And have no doubt, the populism was indeed popular. A lot of us came to speechify and there were a lot of great ideas. Like i said, it's a party, you know, good times, despite the fact they appeared to be thought of as an unwanted evil stepchild by the party leaders,
Oh wait, i forgot to mention that part ... turns out progressive smartasses don't play well with the establishment donkeys.
In fact, the ADP (Arizona Democratic Party--yes, those are the same letters as PDA, except in a different order) their leadership refused to grant the PDA a seat at the executive committee with the other caucus leaders and had even tangled for the helm of the state party back in Jan of '09, when progressive leader, former Pima County party chair Paul Eckerstrom handily defeated Bivens in a short-lived upset. As detailed in Stephen Lemon's New Times article, "Eckerstrom Upsets Bivens for Dem Party Chair; Pullen Beats Back James Challenge for GOP Spot," unhappy with the continuing erosion of the Dem brand in AZ, Eckerstrom and the Progressives tried to upset the "Kingdom of Maricopa" strategy of the central Democratic leadership. (Dem higher-ups and the ranks and file are quick to note that 60% of all the votes cast in this election were cast in Maricopa County. That includes Tucson, that includes Flagstaff and all the hinterlands rolled together.)
Progressives, however, counter that the only way to retrain this reddest of red states is to get the progressive message out in every election and force a frame on the debate that is away from issues like abortions and gay marriage and whether Obama is a secret Muslim Nazi-Socialist Kenyan, and so on. Fresh out of the gate with Obama's taking office Arizona Progressives unified and surged in the vote, derailing Bivens and briefly seating Eckerstrom who vowed to take a "15 County" approach for the state party that was similar to Howard Dean's widely-lauded "50 State" approach of working in all races, even long shots to spread the progressive message.
But less than a month after the upset, in a mirror of the national collapse of progressive momentum following the Obama election, Lemons was again reporting on the Brew-ha-ha. This time that Eckerstrom had resigned acknowledging, that, uh-oh, he wasn't as ready to meet the time and travel demands of actually being state party chair as he thought. Needless to say, (but i'm doing it anyway), not only had progressives upbraided themselves, apparently, there had also been considerable dissent all along among the old school rank and file Dems at the thought of having progressives shaping the party agenda, and even talk of fundraising drying up if Bivens was not back on top as the led money man for the Dems.
Guess what? Presto-change-o, Eckerstrom's back out, Bivens is back in and Democrats are selling, or so he says. But, the Dems have been battling an image of being sell-outs every since, with the upstart progressives still scrambling to reform their coup.
Still, the saga of the progressives' lunge to regain their credibility was written behind the lines of oratory and there was plenty of that to be had around that floor. So it made for a thrilling hour. But the meeting only had so much time and soon we were back to the main hall for the afternoon general assembly and a final round of "we'll get 'em next time"-type speeches from the various, and numerous, defeated statewide candidates.
Though some genuine winners were in the mix, the roster of speakers shared the same tone of "trying to not speak of the grapes as too, too, sour." Re-elected Southern AZ Congresswoman Gabbie Giffords stood proud when her turn at bat came round. "We didn't do anything wrong," she bragged as she spoke of her role in the Democrat-led Congress' widely lauded immensely productive legislative record. Yet every achievement she listed was in fact, in the end, a sold-out, compromised-to-the-point-of-meaningless, backroom deal designed to satisfy a sneering GOP who hate giving even an inch to win a mile; and to serve Dems who would rather manufacture PR points, rather than actually accomplish anything.
On a lighter note, for those keeping track, again Rodney Glassman made it clear he was still hoping to run for something, and Andrei Cherny reminded the rest of us why we should hope he would run again as well. The tearjerker sweetheart prize of the afternoon had to go to Felecia Rotellini, whose speech left not one dry eye in the house, including her own. She had been the closest statewide candidate in the election, getting 48% of the vote. Like Cherny, Felecia felt like a future of AZ Democrats. Afterwards, she also called my lovely wife Beth, "An Unsung Hero." So, of course, even if she hadn't already seemed like the most competent Dem candidate among what i took to be a highly qualified slate, Rotellini certainly won my heart with that remark.
Still, my favorite speaker that day, on a day of maybe great hope but many mixed messages, was the big man himself, Terry Goddard, who rose to thunderous applause and mixed standing ovations. Though the outgoing Attorney General, Goddard's not going anywhere as a force in AZ Dem politics anytime soon. Like the other Dem elite, Goddard was happy with the level of productivity of the mechanism the state party machine created, proud of the work Dems had done together.
"We need to keep doing the things we do as Democrats and we need to keep doing them right," Goddard cheered. It was a stirring line in a speech that included the line that got me stirred up: the part when Goddard concluded that though Arizona had "never been a land of hatred and racism," in this election, really, the only way Dems could have won this election would have been to "join the immigrant bashers."
I about choked on my cookie.
That is to say, i had a hard time with Goddard's schizoid claim about AZ racism. Considering that our state is widely acknowledged to now be and to have long been so racist it used to be known as the "Mississippi of the West," so much so it led to historic civil rights action in the 1960-70s, but in the flap-up over the national MLK Day holiday our OG racism was again the target of a Public Enemy protest song in the 1990s. And that as a territory Arizona once allowed Tempe to make it a crime to be "Sonoran" back in 1872; and that the city Goddard once was mayor of was founded by a disgruntled Confederate soldier, Jack Swilling. Considering all that, i wanted to speak up to him. Unlike watching his speech on TV, when it was over i could, and actually did, walk over and asked him about it.
While Goddard acknowledged the history, he clarified he believed the current crisis is the result of people like Russell Pearce and Fox News. As he said in his speech, "Russell Pearce was not elected to be the Voice of Arizona, but you just watch, because he thinks he was."
Before i left i had to ask, "So, back before the election, i asked you a question about Prop 203 and i felt you made it seem like supporting 203 would put you out of the mainstream--"
"I know," Terry smiled, "I read the articles"
I looked up and Terry Goddard was smiling at me. So i forged on, "--and yet that's exactly where you wound up being, out of the mainstream. Marijuana got like 200,000 more votes than you did. What do you make of it?"
Goddard scratched his cheek, "I don't know what to make of it. I don't think it was the right decision, but Arizonans voted in a lot of decisions that day. Almost as many people voted for marijuana," Goddard explained, "as voted for Jan Brewer."
Quickly i quipped, "Are you saying a person would have to be stoned to vote for Jan Brewer."
"No, but I'm laughing when you say it" Goddard lol-ed. So did i.
And we left it at that.
--mikel weisser writes from the left coast of AZ.