On the Sunday just before the election, in front of a room full of people and reporters in Kingman, Arizona, I asked AZ Democrat darling, gubernatorial hopeful, Terry Goddard, point blank: “Sir, we see that the right-wing, the GOP, not only embraces their extreme members, the Tea Party, but, in fact, have taken to championing their causes. Why is it the Democrats are continuously attempting to distance themselves from their liberal base?”
After a quick gasp, the room gulped silent, and leaned in at the two of us, glancing back and forth between us like a sports bar crowd trying to watch a ping-pong match in 3X fast-forward. Utterly unruffled, Goddard simply flashed his patented politician smile for the cameras then turned to me and, in the epitome of feigned innocence, asked, “What makes you say that? I’m not sure what you are talking about.” He grinned, inviting the audience to join him in disbelief. “Can you give an example?” he asked and the room turned my way.
After a brief paralyzing instance where I ran through the all-time favorites from that very long list of national issues the Dems had deserted liberals and progressives over (such as Bush war crimes, defunding the national war machine, mortgage relief, Wall Street indictments, and universal health care just to name a quick 5). But I knew he could quickly deflect those as not of his purview.
Desperately seeking an equally compelling AZ state issue, I finally settled the old, and guaranteed ineffective, standby. “Well, how about Prop 203?” [the medical marijuana proposal]?
Anyone want to guess his reaction to me, a volunteer who, for months, had donated hours, and cash, and gallons of gas trucking his signs around my end of the state for this long-time professional politician who promised HE was the best choice to represent my interests?
That’s right, he laughed at me.
And then proceeded to further casually condescend about why the party couldn’t get involved in individuals’ “pet issues.” Two days later Terry Goddard lost by nearly 13% of the votes cast in an election where 60% of those who could vote didn’t, showing that they cared no more for Terry Goddard’s “pet issues” than he did for theirs.
Earlier that week, in a different room full of different people, this time in Bullhead City, I had asked another would-be Dem emperor about his choice of clothing — US Senate candidate, Tucson rich guy Rodney Glassman. I had arrived a bit late, as usual, in this case having been lost, but eventually found the place by spying Glassman’s distinctive full-sized lavishly decorated tour bus in front of a local union hall.
As a devoted Dem volunteer, I had performed similar services and made similar donations of time, cash, and gas for Glassman as well, including one 720 mile round trip, on my own time and my own dime, driving his signs to the farthest northern regions of the state. If the guy was over in our end of the state, I was going to try and catch a glimpse of him just to remind myself of who I was working for.
[Full disclosure — though it took some time and effort in all honesty, in comparison, my efforts for all of AZ statewide Dem candidates combined were minimal next to this one state senate with this one candidate I absolutely loved. You see, in addition to occasionally carrying and posting signs for those guys, I mostly did volunteer work for my wife Beth’s equally Dem doomed campaign, but still …]
Finding myself without paper during the Q&A portion of Glassman’s final whistle-stop visit, I painstakingly undid one of the numerous donation envelopes he’d showered the room with and carefully wrote out my question. I wanted to get it right.
When I finally got a turn he was halfway towards the front door. “Mr. Glassman,” I asked, referring to my notes. “First, let me remind you, assure you, I am a supporter and have done volunteer work for you for months. I’m not making this question up to embarrass you, but I would really like to know. Right now, the elephant in the room that nobody’s talking about is that the rich are running our country like it’s their own plutocracy, again and again shaping our government to suit themselves at the expense and misery of the public and paying politicians to do their bidding for them. And until we fix that we’re all going to suffer. This problem has a long history in the US Senate, which used to be called ‘The Millionaire’s Club.’ Mr. Glassman, a lot of us are working pretty hard to get you elected, and if you do get elected, how can we be sure you’re not going to turn around and feed at the trough like all the other politicians we send to Washington to protect us?”
Now, audience, you know that look folks get when they discover they just took an unsuspecting sip of sour milk? It only lasted a second, but Glassman got it; the look I mean, though I will never be sure if he actually got my point. For within seconds, he had focused in on the now-folded up donation envelope that still rattled in my hands. His eyes narrowed and he asked, “Wait a minute. Have you donated to my campaign?”
[Full disclosure, once more: My wife, Beth, had funded her campaign for the State Senate seat in LD3 through the state’s “Clean Elections” program. Paid for from donations and various state fees, other than taxes, the Clean Election program, one of several across the country, funds qualified candidates who collect enough public support as shown through signed candidate petitions and $5 donations. While the program supplies candidates with a considerable amount of funding (up to $15,000 for their primary campaign and another $25,000 if they should qualify for the general election) the program also limits candidate spending and public donations are kept to $5 max.
Meanwhile, Glassman had run a traditional campaign with no set spending limits and a Citizens’ United style interest in corporate donations (not that any Dem saw much of that action this go-round). As a US Senate candidate, according to Phoenix New Times‘, James King, Glassman burned through well over a million and a half bucks including $500,000 of his money. As a minor league candidate’s eye candy, I had trailed my wife everywhere and had run into Rodney and his donation envelopes at a number of Dem events and had never gotten used to this rich guy trying to get me to give him money.]
However, at that moment that Monday in Bullhead City, unmanned by the intensity of his gaze, I stumbled, forgetting about the very 1st fundraiser, over a year earlier, when I had just met him and against my gut instincts, had handed over a $20 we couldn’t afford. “I don’t remember,” I said. “I don’t think so. If I did, it wouldn’t have been much; I don’t generally have much, and further I believe in working for the candidates I believe in, not just throwing money at them.”
This time Glassman wasn’t thrown by the audacity of my hoping to get him to change. He quickly parried with, “Do you know how Obama got elected?” and then raised his eyebrows in expectation.
And though I instantly knew where he was headed, the best retort I could come up with was: “By getting a whole lot more votes than John McCain did, which,” I quickly added, “is what I am hoping you will do. Which is why I just took your signs to Colorado City and Fredonia and Page.”
But it did no good. Glassman simply, lightly, chuckled and shook his head at me as one would a child emoting about his letter to Santa. “No. He got more money than anyone else.”
Then, as fellow working-class Dem volunteers, who had also sacrificed for months for the man, stood close by, Rodney Glassman, the rich guy I was worried about trusting with my efforts and my government, proceeded to lecture me on the meaninglessness of the people who had voted for Obama without the cash that sold the message. At some point along the exchange, I kid you not, Glassman collected a clutch of donation envelopes and started gesturing with them to emphasize his points, the way Robert Dole once did with his pen. He then elaborated on his money woes, as we nodded, felt bad for the guy and promised to keep working hard to help him win.
Eventually, the crowd wandered out front to the tour bus which idled as Glassman explained the rest of his itinerary for this last western swing to get out the vote in good old Mohave County. He offered anyone interested a free ride on his tour bus to Kingman or Lake Havasu, whichever it was. There was some confusion. While we admired the bus and attempted to make favorable comments about the unique music video Glassman put out, which the bus had just appeared in, Rodney reminded us how important it was to beat McCain, how much he needed our help, how hard he was working for us, the middle-class folks that made America great.
Seeing no one had taken him up on it the first time, Rodney repeated his offer of a ride on the tour bus to the next stop for anyone who wanted to go with him. And then he quickly quipped, “Of course, you’ll have to get your own ride home.”
“Of course,” we nodded and he rode away. I believe a couple of little old ladies might have taken him up on the offer. For the most part the crowd dematerialized and I went back in the union hall to help pick up the Glassman signs he’d left behind and collect the unused donation envelopes.
Eight days later, Rodney Glassman would collect less than 35% of the popular vote.
And if I stopped this article here, it would seem like a great laugh and leave every Democrat painted in these broad colors and that would be great for a Republican rag or a simple “I-told-you-so” sour grapes type rant. I could even squeeze in a joke about “how it seemed like across the country the sheep-ple were literally willing to vote for any crap on the ballot as long as there was an (R) beside its name and if you don’t believe me check out the winner of the Senate race in Idaho, I dare you.” And wittily conclude that the worst part isn’t how awful people like Huppenthahl, Horne, Brewer, and Russell Pearce are – and don’t get me wrong they are heartbreakingly horrendous. No, the worst part is that they were what so many people wanted. As a wise man once said, “you could make a pretty good argument against democracy simply by interviewing the voters.”
Or there’s always that other bitter joke it seems we also often have to suffer through; the one that goes, “If they really wanted us to vote, they would have given us candidates.”
But in Arizona in these statewide elections, that wasn’t really true. One didn’t have to see red or blue to see who was right or wrong in this election. Terry Goddard may be professionally trained to have left-side blindness, but he was clearly better than Brewer. Most animate objects and even some fence posts would probably be better than Brewer. And McCain? Come on, all I have to do is say the guy’s name and I can rest my case.
But when people like Penny Kotterman and Felicia Rotellini, who were honest and earnest and incredibly well-qualified for jobs they had worked for their entire lives to earn, jobs that shape our very lives as Arizonans, when they lose what should have been slam-dunk elections to party hacks and right wing cranks like John Huppenthahl and Tom Horne by ridiculous margins, there is a tragedy here.
Today when I traveled once more, now taking down signs, on my way home I stopped when I got to my own neighborhood out in So-Hi and gathered a sign for Goddard and one for Glassman, and all the others I had placed at a prominent corner. Across the street, a new billboard lit up the night. It had sprung up in the last two days since the election. It is big enough and bright enough I can even see it from my front porch more than a half a mile away. A stark white and green it simply said, “Where’s the Birth Certificate?” and then gives a name and a number in smaller letters. Welcome to the Occupation.
Both in Arizona and America, it’s a tragedy that has come upon us and we’re all going to suffer. We have not yet begun to realize how much we have lost in this election.
But we will.