Party Loyalty Is Not Reason Enough to Vote for Symington

After Governor Mecham was out office and I was selling real estate while looking for a real job, the Phoenix Gazette published several guest columns that I had submitted. I was thankful for the exposure and it almost led to several job offers. But, the Mecham stigma was impossible to overcome in Arizona. (I will post something on the stigma topic later, then come back and give a link.)

The column below was partly based on a staff meeting I attended with Fife Symington and his campaign crew. The thinking was that because of my high profile that I might be able to bring even a small number of Mecham supporters to vote for Symington, maybe a tiny margin to be the difference. Shortest job tenure I’ve ever had. Fired after two hours on the job.

At the staff meting, Symington asked if anyone knew of possible pitfalls or developing negative news coverage. “Yes, Fife,” I said, “some reporters are muttering something about you being a quarter of billion dollars upside down with Dai-Ichi Kangyo Bank for your shopping center.” Symington’s face instantly turned redder than red, and he said to me, “You Mechamites are all alike. Get out!”

A decade later, Symington was convicted of bank fraud in 1997. This conviction, however, was overturned in 1999 by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. There were then appeals, court dismissals and reversals regarding the conviction.

Before the federal government could retry him, Symington was pardoned by President Clinton, whom Symington had once saved from a rip tide off of Cape Cod. The pardon was granted by Clinton on his last day in office in January 2001. The pardon terminated the federal government’s seven year battle with the former governor.

Symington was the first prominent Republican in Arizona to call for Mecham’s impeachment, resignation, and that charges should be brought against him. 

– Ken Smith

Party Loyalty Is Not Reason Enough to Vote for Symington

The Phoenix Gazette
October 17, 1990

By Ken Smith

I am part of that growing crowd who believes that after the campaign rhetoric there is no significant difference in the actual performance of elected Democrats or Republicans. Like many voters, I am not swayed by bumper sticker philosophies, nor positively influenced by slick 30-second television commercials, nor impressed by blustery political posturing.

The times they are a changin’, but leaders from both major political party cannot see that they are becoming park rangers for dinosaurs. The traditional political convention, for example, looks like a scene from an old movie with brass bands, balloons, and straw hats (although the hats are now made of styrofoam).

Neither party has an exclusive franchise on leadership and brilliance, nor is either completely free from greed and corruption.

Consequently, I frequently vote a split ticket to support those I believe are the better candidates regardless of party label. Although I am now a registered Republican, I will be voting for Democrat Terry Goddard for governor next month.

I have attended, listened to and read about the debates, speeches and proposals of Goddard and his Republican opponent, Fife Symington. The major reason Republican activists offer as to why I should vote for Symington is party loyalty. That’s not enough.

I anticipate that the so-called moderate Republicans will claim that I am supporting Goddard as revenge for Symington’s condescending attitude toward Evan Mecham. I expect the far right wing Republicans to dismiss me as nothing more than a closet liberal. So, as they say during legislative debates, I would like to explain my vote.

For the first 25 years of my adult life I was registered as a Democrat in California. I considered myself somewhat conservative, but party affiliation was mostly irrelevant.

Then, three years ago I accepted the job as press secretary to Governor Mecham. This was eight months into his turbulent tenure. I had been recommended by Maureen Reagan, so maybe Mecham assumed I was a Republican. During the two job interviews with him, Mecham never asked about my politics, nor did he ask about my religion.

As a courtesy to Mecham and the Republican Party, I registered as a Republican after moving to Arizona. The recall effort was then gathering speed and, unknown to me at the time, impeachment and indictment were being considered quietly by Republicans in the State Legislature and the Attorney General’s office.

Circumstances have given me a ring-side seat at Arizona’s recent political battles. I claim no privileged insight, but I have had the opportunity (or misfortune) to learn more about Arizona politics and politicians than most voters.

For the record, I believe the impeachment of Mecham was a horrible political mistake. I had no quarrel with the recall effort because it was constitutional — although I had some serious questions about the source of funds and organizational expertise that was driving the recall effort.

I am still a bit stunned by the extraordinary popular delusions and the madness of crowds which led to the first removal from office of an American governor in six decades. I retain some sympathy for Mecham because of the gross violations of his civil liberties, but I did not support him in the primary. The impeachment is uncorrectable history, and we must move on.

I made an earnest effort to support Symington. In the primary campaign, I had several meetings with Symington’s staff and two brief conversations with the candidate.

In politics, perception becomes reality. How a candidate is perceived is a fairly good indication of how he or she would perform in office. It is not Symington’s political philosophy which bothers me, it is the arrogance he projects. He is too much the smug fellow trying to market himself.

My support for Symington began to unravel shortly after the primary. Like many voters, I am pushed in the opposite direction by negative, dirty trick political campaigns.

Symington participated in a Republican effort of smear tactics by saying he could provide better representation for Arizona families because he was married while Goddard never had been married. This is the same sort of innuendo for which Mecham was castigated by Symington and other Republicans.

Symington and Mecham share more personality traits than either of them would like to admit. Both are contentious and unyielding. Both are thin-skinned and short-fused. Both stoop to argue with reporters. Both ignore the deeply felt passions of those who disagree with them. And, like Mecham, Symington treats questions on his apparent contradictions as impertinences.

These are important comparisons because the governor must be ready, willing and able to compromise and to build coalitions. Symington’s ability to negotiate with the Legislature would be only slightly better than Mecham’s.

The clincher was when I learned that Chris Herstam is the most likely chief of staff if Symington wins the election. Although State Representative Herstam is a Republican, he is singularly responsible for advocating more tax increases than any incumbent Democrat. So, there was a hypocritical thud the next time I heard Symington reach into that pool of hackneyed political phrases and attack Goddard for being a “tax and spend liberal Democrat.”

There are certainly aspects of Goddard’s politics I don’t care for. But Goddard looks and acts like a winner, and this is something Arizona desperately needs after four years of political chaos and incompetence.

Ken Smith was Gov. Evan Mecham’s press secretary for six months from September 1987 through the impeachment proceedings. He now markets computerized real estate information.