After being undecided for most of the campaign here in Congressional District One, I've decided that I am supporting Mike Cacciopoli for Congress. I'd probably have done it about a month earlier except that I was waiting for him to say one thing, and he has said it, that if he does not win then he will endorse the winner of the primary. However, I hope that is moot, because I believe that Mike would be the strongest candidate we could field in the general, and would also be someone who I actually would feel represented ME in Congress.
Our incumbent is 'Richmond Rickey', Rick Renzi, a Republican from Virginia who decided to run here when the district was created in 2002. In fact, Renzi, whose deepest ties to the district were that he had once been a quarterback for NAU, hadn't lived anywhere near Arizona for twenty years when he heard there would be a northern Arizona district. So he bought a house in Kingman. Then it was announced that Mohave county would not be included within the boundaries of the district, so the next day the house in Kingman went on the market and he bought a house in the district. Renzi still resides pretty much all the time in Burke, Virginia, where his wife and kids live, he mostly uses his house in the district as a campaign headquarters.
Renzi defeated the 2002 Democratic nominee, George Cordova, by spending four million dollars running ads that accused Cordova of embezzling money from a business he was a partner in and wiring it to his uncle in Mexico. Of course if this were true, then Cordova would be looking out at the world from a prison cell right now, but it was not true. After the election, Cordova sued Rick Renzi for the lies he told, and Renzi settled out of court for an undisclosed sum of money. Oh, and the money? He's got it. That four million dollars was the subject of an investigation by the Federal Election Commission, which concluded that it was raised and spent illegally, and has landed him on the list of the 13 most corrupt congressmen. Renzi's attitude has been very DeLay-ish, essentially that "I won, so don't bug me with the details." And he's right. He has the seat. George Cordova has an out of court settlement. The rest of us have the shaft.
Then two years ago, Paul Babbitt, a former mayor of Flagstaff ran against him. Like a lot of people, I worked very hard for Paul. He's a good guy, and would have made a great Congressman. But he was not a very strong candidate. So Renzi won with over 60% of the vote, despite the fact that we have an 8% voter registration edge in favor of Democrats.
What about this year? We have five candidates, Mike Cacciopoli, Bob Donahue, Susan Friedman, Vic McKerlie and Ellen Simon.
McKerlie, though he is a nice guy and is right about the need to provide health care, often sounds like a Republican when you hear him speak. It won't matter because he won't win anyway.
Friedman, is sincere, hard working and very thoughtful. Unfortunately she is also not a very strong candidate. I had, when I was undecided, been considering voting for her, because I admire her commitment to principle and her willingness to go anywhere and speak to anyone on behalf of her convictions.
Donahue, who ran against Babbitt in the primary in 2004, is a Vietnam vet with the background to support his contention that he sees us in very much the same situation in Iraq. Though I don't agree with him on every issue, Donahue is someone I would have no problem working hard for. In 2004, despite being outspent in the primary 100 to 1, Donahue got a quarter of the vote. That should probably have been considered an early wake up call for the Babbitt campaign. And as hard as I worked for Babbitt, I can honestly say that if I were to have 2004 to do over again, I would work for Bob Donahue in the primary.
Ellen Simon is considered the 'insider' choice. I don't know if that's true or not, and really I don't care. I've heard her speak when she visited one of our meetings and she's not Paul Babbitt. Unfortunately, she is also not a candidate that I feel I can support in the primary. She is right about many issues, including the most important issue of our day. She says point blank that we have to get out of Iraq and as soon as we can-- and we agree on that. On some other issues she has unrealistic solutions: For example, on her own website, she supports a balanced budget amendment to 'reduce' deficits. Aside from the fact that this is an oxymoron-- if you balance the budget then the deficit is by definition zero, if it is merely 'reduced' then the budget is not balanced, I am always skeptical of people who propose a Constitutional Amendment as the solution to anything. It is good rhetoric, but the founding fathers made it intentionally difficult to amend the Constitution (one reason why we've only amended it 18 times since the Bill of Rights), and it sounds to me like a surrender; In other words, she doesn't trust herself to do the right thing if she is in Congress in regard to revenues and budgetting. Does that mean that she would go along with more tax cuts for the rich then, what has unbalanced the budget in the first place? And of course if there is a balanced budget amendment then Republicans will not want to roll back the Bush tax cuts, so it is likely that any balanced budget that was produced by negotiation, even if it did reverse some of the tax cuts, would likely result in more cuts of the types we've seen over the past few years that have devastated everything from our national parks to veterans health care. She never really answers that concern. On balance though, her issue positions are good ones, and if she wins the primary then I would not have a problem supporting her in the general based on them. However, she has another problem that started small but by now threatens to consume her campaign.
The other problem she has is one that it would have been easy to answer when it first came up, but has snowballed because she did not confront it publically. It is about her husband and allegations made by his ex-wife in regard to child support. Now, I understand that Ellen Simon is not her husband. And I also understand that an ex-spouse may say anything, and it may or may not be true. However, her failure to answer this has caused me to believe that she can't win against Rick Renzi (we've seen how Renzi fights; does anyone seriously believe that if she doesn't respond now, that he won't use it in the general? He's the king of negative ads. How a candidate responds to bad press in a primary can tell you how they will respond to more of it in the general. Bill Clinton, when hit with the Gennifer Flowers accusation, went on 60 minutes with Hillary Clinton, spoke directly and forthrightly that they were just like any two married people, had had problems in their marriage, but were going on together. Then after that, every time Bill Clinton was hit with a new accusation (whether it was true or not) his campaign had a rebuttal out immediately, often so soon that the rebuttal was part of the original story. But the point is he confronted it immediately. Sure there were people who every time some new story came out, swore to never vote for Bill Clinton, but they were mostly the same crowd every time, and the people who heard his rebuttal and then having heard both sides decided to move on and listen to the issues, outnumbered them. Simon said at a meeting I attended on August 10 where she was asked about this, that her political advisors have told her not to confront it. Her declaration that "I will not be swiftboated" aside, she will. That's exactly the advice that John Kerry's advisors gave him. And even if she is successful at rebutting it later, the election this year if she is the nominee would be about Ellen Simon and Blaine Tanner and Pamela Tanner (her husband and his ex), not about Rick Renzi, and that is what Renzi wants.
And what about Mike Cacciopoli? He has raised some of the child support issues. Not that I'm thrilled about attack ads in primaries, but let's face it-- this is not a secret, and Rick Renzi will use it whether he does or not. More the point though, I like the way that Mike frames issues-- direct, blunt and to the point. There are times when I may take issue with him (for example, while I agree that we need to leave Iraq, I'm not sure that asking for a special prosecutor to investigate the run up to the Iraq war and then impeach Bush if he is found to have manipulated intelligence is smart politics-- even if you are successful, then you have divided the country more than he ever did, and your reward for all that effort is that Dick Cheney becomes the President.) However, even when I disagree with him, there is no question where Mike Cacciopoli stands, and he rejects the Republican rhetoric and way of speaking about every issue (one good example, is that he isn't against 'illegal immigration,' he is against 'illegal employment' and isn't afraid to advocate sending people to prison who hire illegally. And he's right. No amount of border security, or making life hard on people who come here without documentation will ever prevent them from coming here seeking a better life-- after all, they have nothing right now. So as long as jobs are available, they will come. The only way to prevent it is to 1) increase legal immigration until it is at a realistic level given the job market, and 2) put people in prison who hire illegally. Mike understands this. He can forcefully and directly articulate a progressive point of view, and stands in sharp contrast to Rick Renzi.
I had not been willing to endorse Mike though unless he was willing to commit to endorsing the nominee in the event it is any of the other candidates. He was asked that question at the Cottonwood forum and said that yes he would. Mike won't be a Joe Lieberman.
I'd like to finish by quoting from an email that one of my friends sent out on why she made the decision this week to support Mike. She's a lot more direct than I am.
HE KNOWS THE ISSUES, ISN'T AFRAID TO ADDRESS THEM, AND IS VERY VESTED IN HIS STANCE. HE DEFINITELY IS OPINIONATED AND IS NOT AFRAID TO DEFEND HIS POSITION.
In this time, when the very foundation of our Democracy is at stake (I mean, could you even imagine a decade ago that we would even be debating issues like under what circumstances it's OK for the Government to ignore the courts and tap your phone line anyway, or when it is OK to torture prisoners?) we need somebody bold to speak boldly to the issues, which is why I support Mike Cacciopoli for Congress. He's the best candidate, out of five good candidates.