In a bit of controversy, Tedski (my favorite blogger on Arizona political issues) 'arm-wrestled' a small secret out of fellow blogger Kevin Spidel, namely that John Verkamp plans to run for the Senate in the Democratic primary against Jim Pederson. The winner would face Republican incumbent Jon Kyl in November.
Now, quoting Spidel on Verkamp, he says
You all know him as a former County Attorney for Coconino County, a former Republican Legislator, and now as a vocal opponent against the war, and for single payer healthcare around Arizona. He is a third generation native with a family business in the Grand Canyon. Still not enough to get who this is? Folks who have come to a PDA, antiwar meeting, or peace action know him.
Pardon me, but I remain unconvinced. And no, it isn't simply because he is a former Republican legislator (I supported former Reagan supporter Wesley Clark in his Presidential bid in 2004, and I support former Republican legislator Slade Mead in his current quest to become state Superintendent of Schools.) As more and more Republicans switch parties, it is likely that in the future we will see more Meads, more Clarks and perhaps more Verkamps.
The reasons I am unconvinced about Verkamp is about HOW he switched parties, combined with the disconnect between what his positions were four years ago (as a moderate Republican who did break ranks to vote with the Governor on the budget, but also supported a lot of the same garbage that the rest of the GOP did-- and single payer health care? Why didn't he push for it in the legislature if he is so big on it?) and his new status as an extreme progressive. Now, I don't want to discount the possibility that he may have become fed up (like many people I know, including at least a couple of voters I have re-registered as Democrats) with the excesses of the Bush administration and of his former brethren in the legislature, but somehow this one doesn't pass the sniff test.
Let's focus on the how he switched matter first. In 2002, the independent redistricting commission redrew the lines and because Flagstaff didn't get its act together, instead of continuing to dominate its own district as people had expected, it was lumped into a district with the Navajo reservation (which is about three quarters population wise of the district.) Verkamp (who did not join the legislature until 1999, and so was nowhere near term limited out) decided not to run for re-election to the Senate in the new district, concluding (probably correctly) that a Republican would have no chance of winning in it. Had he switched parties then, however, he would have had a decent chance to retain his seat. Navajos are willing to listen to a Democrat from the Flagstaff area portion of the district (Ann Kirkpatrick of Sedona is one of the district's representatives today in the House, and would not have gotten there without support on the reservation.) So if Verkamp was really a closet Democrat then he had every opportunity to switch that year, and he would likely have retained his Senate seat in the bargain. But he instead put his party loyalty to the GOP ahead of his own interests and declined to switch parties so he could run.
So what of his 'conversion?' People change, after all. One of the people I re-registered as a Democrat in the little town I live in had been a conservative for nearly his whole life, even voting Libertarian once because he felt that the Republican candidate that year for President wasn't conservative enough. But after four years of Bush, the guy was so angry about Iraq, about changing the surplus to a deficit, about corporate welfare and about the Republicans' do-nothing approach on health care, that he re-registered as a Democrat. Couldn't Verkamp have undergone a similar transformation? After all, he was one of the most moderate Republicans in the state Senate for many years.
He might have, but I remain skeptical. Why, for example, would he wait until now, when Jim Pederson has jumped out to the point where he is the putative nominee and his recent round of positive ads have cut Kyl's lead in half, to run for the United States Senate? I understand (and agree with probably more than someone just reading this post and otherwise unacquainted with my blog would imagine) the point of view that we don't want to work our tails off to elect a Democratic Senator and get a Zell Miller/ Joe Lieberman/ Ben Nelson type Senator who the Republicans can always count on to break ranks. However, I don't believe that Jim Pederson, who transformed the Arizona Democratic party from a chronic loser which hadn't won very much statewide or elected a Governor in over a decade, into an influential and dynamic party during his stint as chair, is a guy who would break ranks often and vote with Republicans. Work with Republicans, yes (and frankly most voters of any persuasion want the problems to get solved, don't we?), but undermine the Democratic leadership, absolutely not.
My concern is this: given that John Verkamp refused to break ranks with the Republican party even when it cost him his state Senate seat, why should I believe that his candidacy is anything more than a 'trojan horse' candidacy, which he may well have worked up to over the past couple of years by showing up at progressive meetings, and which is expressly designed to run a negative campaign attacking Pederson? Republicans have been known to try this sort of stuff before (I've seen it personally in other states) and earlier this year I got a call from a 'pollster' who was obviously a front for someone wanting to smear Pederson. So if that is their strategy, then what better vehicle than a "Democrat" running against him in the primary? What causes me to wonder the most about this is the timing; If Verkamp was serious about a Senate run, he would have begun months ago. Coming out now seems to be the response to Pederson's recent momentum. Now stop and think-- who would want to change the dynamics of the race right now?
He has the right to run, but any progressive should think real hard about what is going on before they opt to support him.
NOTE: Tedski makes a point in the comments that Wesley Clark was never a registered Republican, being registered in Arkansas when they did not have voter registration. However, in addition to Reagan, he also voted for Nixon and has admitted that he considered himself more to identify with the Republican party than the Democratic party. This article (which is not complimentary at all to Clark) makes it clear that he tilted towards the Republican side much more than towards the Democratic side until a couple of years ago, so that my description of Clark as a 'former Republican' is not entirely without merit. Therefore I'm not counting this as an error (so I still have a .981 fielding percentage) but definitely could have been played better. Thanks, Ted.