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Moderate Group Surfaces To Take On Conservative Opposition

by Phil Riske Wednesday, Dec. 17, 2003 at 1:09 AM
priske@azcapitoltimes.com

Mr. Woods challenged the Club fog Growth to disclose who its donors are; "Don't come into Arizona in secret. Tell us exactly where your donations are coming from or stay out of Arizona."



Mainstream Arizona Pledges Message Of Support

December 15, 2003

Two prominent members of the Arizona Republican Party's moderate wing, former state Attorney General Grant Woods and Board of Regents member and former state Representative Jack Jewett, said they have formed an organization called Mainstream Arizona to combat the Club for Growth and similar conservative organizations.

"We're here because this out-of-state club said it's coming to Arizona to target mainstream legislators," Mr. Jewett said at a Dec.10 news conference.

Mr. Woods said: "A lot of us were alarmed when the Club for Growth said it was coming to Arizona and try to change, in particular, the Arizona Republican Party and make it, if possible, even more conservative. Most people in Arizona understand that if you took the people out of the Legislature who are more mainstream in their thinking and inserted in their place people from the far right, then this state would be even more screwed up than it is already."

Both men said the goal of Mainstream Arizona is broader than simply responding to right-wing attacks on moderate Republicans, but both also repeatedly mentioned the Club for Growth, a tough-talking D.C.-based organization that has begun turning its attention to state elections.

Club for Growth, founded in 1999 by several nationally known conservatives, including Larry Kudlow, co-host of CNBC's Kudlow and Cramer show, and Ed Crane, president of the Cato Institute, says on its Web site that it sends campaign contributions "to the most free-market oriented candidates in tight, but winnable races."

"One lesson we've learned from the left," the site says, "is that if you really want to advance your agenda, take out an incumbent who opposes you. This terrorizes all the rest. In fact, it's amazing how quickly cowardly politicians see things our way when they believe that their political careers are in danger."

Firing, Among Other Issues, Prompts Action

Early in September the club named GOP former state Rep. Steve May as its Arizona director, and Mr. May said his organization was ready to use "big money and hardball politics" to carry its anti-tax, pro-growth message into Arizona Republican legislative primaries in 2004.

Two weeks later, Mr. May was out of a job. He said he was fired because he is openly gay. The club denied it and said he was not conservative enough, but for some the firing was a message of intolerance they found offensive. Former Arizona Senate president Tom Patterson, once one of the club's biggest boosters, said he was dismayed by the firing.

The firing, coming on top of the club's announced intent to attack GOP moderates, precipitated formation of Mainstream Arizona, said Mr. Jewett, who told a reporter he was moved to act after reading accounts of the club's goals and the firing.

Both he and Mr. Woods stressed the club's lack of ties to Arizona, calling it a "national secret organization" and repeatedly criticized it for not disclosing who donates money to its cause.

Group Plans To Disclose Donors

By contrast, Mr. Jewett said, Mainstream Arizona will disclose the names of all its contributors. He said his organization already has three pledges totaling ,000. He said the names of the donors will be disclosed as soon as the money is in the bank.

He said Mainstream Arizona is a nonprofit "427" organization, so-called because it was formed under that section of the Internal Revenue Code, and as such it can raise money from corporations as well as individuals and can advocate for public policy positions. It cannot, however, take sides specifically in political races or in ballot-question campaigns.

Mr. Woods challenged the club to disclose who its donors are.

"Don't come into Arizona in secret," he said at the news conference. "Tell us exactly where your donations are coming from or stay out of Arizona."

He said Mainstream Arizona will operate largely as a Web-based organization. "We have been impressed by Governor Dean's efforts on the Internet," said Mr. Woods, referring to the Democratic presidential candidate's widely publicized success at raising money that way.

Mainstream, he said, will advocate for moderate positions on primary and secondary education, health care and environmental protection.

"We're going to align ourselves with candidates and office holders who feel the same way," Mr. Woods said.

Although Mainstream Arizona cannot directly support candidates, Mr. Woods said, moderate Republicans who are attacked by the Club for Growth will benefit from Mainstream attention because, Mr. Woods said, "Whatever they spend, we will try to spend on the other side" to call attention to moderates' positions on policies and issues.

Rep. Tom O'Halleran, a District 1 Republican, smiled upon learning that a new public policy group is being formed to support moderate politicians.

Possible Club For Growth Targets

He and Rep. Pete Hershberger, R-Dist. 26, and other moderate House members who pushed for more education funding in the fiscal 2004 budget, could be Club for Growth targets in next year's elections, along with Sens. Slade Mead, R-Dist. 20, Linda Binder, R-Dist. 3, and Carolyn Allen, R-Dist. 8, who have sided with Democrats on education, health care and child welfare funding and policies.

Mr. Mead already has been the target of one conservative group, Arizona At Its Best, in his 2002 primary victory against conservative Rep. Lori Daniels, who was termed out in the House and was running for the Senate.

As for whether Mainstream Arizona will counterattack by aiming to unseat GOP legislative conservatives, Mr. Jewett said that is not part of the plan.

"Our message is a positive message," he said, "a message of support."

Mr. Woods said Mainstream Arizona will support K-12 education, universities, health care and environmental improvement and "any candidate the Club for Growth opposes."

FYI

The new group's Web site is http://www.mainstreamaz.com
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