Republican Kool-Aid, Arizona Style

Sweetened with rattlesnake venom.

The Republican mayors of three Arizona cities have been asked to resign by the Arizona Republican Party's District 4 committee.

3 GOP mayors asked to quit
Backing of Napolitano brings heat from party

Scott Wong
The Arizona Republic
Oct. 28, 2006 12:00 AM

Arizona Republicans have begun to turn on some of their own for not marching in lock step with their party, and it all may have started because of a miscommunication.

GOP leaders from Legislative District 4 on Friday called for the resignations of three West Valley mayors, all registered Republicans, because of their endorsement of Gov. Janet Napolitano, a Democrat.

Other current and former Republican officeholders also have crossed party lines with endorsements this election season in local and state contests as well as in an East Valley congressional race.

Friday's move by GOP activists underscores deep fissures in the Republican Party, political observers said. Conservative members hope to pressure those holding more moderate views to remain silent in deference to Len Munsil, Napolitano's Republican challenger.

City council, school board and other local elected offices traditionally are nonpartisan. But District 4 party leaders said they followed orders from Arizona Republican Party Chairman Matt Salmon in demanding the resignation of any GOP elected official who endorsed a candidate from another party.

On Friday, District 4 GOP leaders hand-delivered letters to the offices of Mayors Elaine Scruggs of Glendale, Joan Shafer of Surprise and Ron Badowski of Wickenburg, demanding that they step down for publicly supporting Napolitano.

"We're letting the public know that if you are a Republican, you should stand by your party or remain silent," said Lyle Tuttle, chairman of the Republican Party of District 4, which includes parts of Phoenix, Glendale, Peoria and Surprise. "It's fine if they want to vote for someone else, but for them to endorse a non-Republican is not following the party line."

However, a spokesman for the state Republican Party clarified that while Salmon issued a directive, it applied only to precinct committee members. He added that the "grass-roots activists" from District 4 acted without consent of state party leadership.

"The chairman appreciates these Republicans' enthusiasm and loyalty to their party, but Matt Salmon would not have personally recommended this call for the mayors' resignations," spokesman Garrick Taylor said.

Glendale's Scruggs, who also has endorsed Republican Sen. Jon Kyl, called the letter insulting and an example of "precinct committeemen gone wild."

She said certain members of her party are more interested in "mind control" than in a person's right to back a candidate based on qualifications, integrity and track record.

"This reminds me of Reverend Jim Jones saying, 'Stand in line and drink the Kool-Aid,' " Scruggs said, referring to the cult leader responsible for the 1978 Jonestown, Guyana, mass suicide. "That's how this message comes across to me. What this says is, we are not to think; we are not to make decisions."

That some Republicans would try to impose party discipline on their local elected officials was an unusual tactic, said Marilyn Dantico, associate professor of political science at Arizona State University.

"The Republican Party has started to lack discipline," Dantico said, adding that she sees major divisions within the party. "There is a lot of pressure to hold the line, but it surprises me that it's taken this form."

Dantico said local races became nonpartisan in response to disillusionment with political machines operating in places such as Chicago and New York. Many believed that in local elections, citizens should vote for individual candidates rather than along party lines when it came to community interests.

The three mayors are not the only Republican officials who have crossed party lines.

Arizona House Speaker Jim Weiers, R-Phoenix, endorsed state Rep. Leah Landrum Taylor, a Phoenix Democrat who is running for a state Senate seat.

Former state Attorney General Grant Woods has thrown his support behind Napolitano, as have Mesa Mayor Keno Hawker and Phoenix Councilman Tom Simplot.

And at least three sitting Republican Tempe council members have endorsed Democrat Harry Mitchell over incumbent J.D. Hayworth for the 5th Congressional District seat. So did the president of the Kyrene Elementary district school board.

On the flip side, Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon, a Democrat, has endorsed Weiers.

To get a better understanding of why the mayors would endorse a candidate from the other party, you need to know that Janet Napolitano's opponent in the gubernatorial race is Len Munsil. Munsil can't properly be called "conservative"; he's a far-far-right fundamentalist, and "radical" would be a much more accurate description. He's probably the most extremist candidate the Republican Party has run for governor in Arizona since Evan Mecham.

I'm also dubious about the claim that the decision to demand the resignations did NOT come from Matt Salmon's office. This strikes me as the handy-dandy "overenthusiastic Republican aide" excuse trotted out again. Particularly when you remember that Matt Salmon was Janet Napolitano's opponent in the last Arizona gubernatorial race, and that he was skunked fairly handily by her. No personal issues to see here, move along, move along....

I sent personal emails to Scruggs and Shafer (Badowski doesn't have an email address listed on Wickenburg's website), saying:
Tell them to go to hell. And to take a copy of the
Bill of Rights with them to study.

Do you really feel comfortable belonging to a
political party that only believes in freedom of
speech when that speech is in their favor? Give it
some thought.

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