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What the Devil won't tell you

Can Candidate Glassman prove that he's grown up?

The candidate this columnist got to know has no place in public office

This is a column I've had trouble writing because I don't like bitching about former employers. I mean, the Tucson Citizen and I had some run-ins and I don't mind explaining parts of it when it's pertinent to some larger understanding of the media, but naming names is something I just think is bad form.

And in political campaigns or any sort of freelance work, it can lead people to not want to trust you. Hell, in any form, it can be a giant warning flag.

But when you are seeking public office and are shot through with enough character flaws to overshadow a corrupt college football program, that's when the people have a right to know.

I'll put it this way: Everything I need to know about Donald Trump, I learned from Rodney Glassman.

The rich kid who needs the affirmation. The egotist with a short attention span who thinks everything is about him and blames his staff and others for his own shortcomings. The absolute lack of policy chops.

Rodney won a seat on the City Council in 2007, as a Democrat, and tried to make the leap to the U.S. Senate before finishing his first term. The Council seat was just a stepping stone and he never intended to stick around for the full four years. He was onward and upward, handing out business cards advertising that he was an Eagle Scout.

Glassman's campaign for Arizona Corporation Commission is gaining steam and he seems an early favorite, now as a Republican, to secure a spot regulating utilities, railroads and pipelines in the state. That's a lot of responsibility for a guy who proved so lacking his last political race. I know. I was there.

I got aboard the Glassman for U.S. Senate campaign bus during the Great Recession, needing a way to earn a buck. I took a paying gig to see how a Senate campaign works and the professional Washington staff wanted me on board. I stayed because I had a kid to support and there was a recession on. Afterward, Rodney asked to meet with me, I presume to figure out what I could do for him next but I had had enough. I was not going to be Karl Rove to his George W. Bush or David Axelrod to his Obama.

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A lot could've happened to the guy in the eight years since I worked for him and I hope it has. The now-Republican is leading the pack in fundraising in his race for the Corporation Commission and could easily find his way on that important public post. I'm not sure he could ever win my vote but he could serve the position with honor if he has matured. He's smart. He works his absolute ass off in a thousand directions on any given day. He's somewhat talented on the stump and I know he can be reasonable for a half-hour at a time.

If Rodney has grown up and evolved then he can prove it in the coming months. Here's a test for his early team. Is he reading this column and demanding his team to get me to "write something nice about him?" Is he reading this column and demanding I be destroyed? If he's evolved, he can move on. If there is an email thread 20 entries long over this, then he is still the guy I knew back then.

The Rodney I knew probably shouldn't hold public office beyond the local level, if even that. If he wins his race and serves on the ACC, I'm going to predict his next run (probably in 2024) will be governor. If he wins that, he'll be looking at the next rung up the ladder and won't wait to be re-elected before he tries his next run. Don't underestimate his drive, determination and how little he has to sleep. He didn't even stop on the road for bathroom breaks. That's what the empty water bottles were for.

It's been eight years and I don't wish ill on Rodney. But he's entering the arena again to run for  Corporation Commission and affect millions of lives daily. There's stuff Arizonans should know.

Zero policy tolerance

Much is being made of his switch from Democrat to Republican. That suggests the lens through which he views the world has been altered. I'm not saying that's impossible or likely. I'm saying I never saw a lens at all. Well, I did, it just had nothing to do with any existential concept of any kind of sense of right and wrong. Is it good for Rodney now? Is it bad for Rodney now? His lens was the convenience of ambition.

Rodney was as clueless of a candidate on policy as I have ever run across running for office. As a political writer, I had interviewed hundreds of candidates misguided, misinformed or just missing relevant information that made their ideas unworkable. I had never run across someone who absolutely did not care one way or another about a single policy.

On the left and the right, people involved in politics show passion. There are lines they won't cross on policy. They have principles rooted in ideals. State Sen. Doug Seel came to Arizona to find a red state and has been a firebrand on conservative orthodoxy, seeking elected office almost out of college. He had political passions. Tim Sultan, on the left, came roaring from the Harvard Quad to the political campaign here in Tucson. He was very liberal.

Rodney knew nothing and didn't seem to care to know anything more.

The campaign told him exactly what to say about most issues because he really didn't care what he said. Policy just wasn't something he thought about. Part of my job was to write talking points. I wrote them all, from immigration to Middle East policy, and they all cleared internal hurdles without a whisper from Rodney. He didn't care. If a lawn sign got knocked down in Tortolita, he'd be on the phone to field operatives demanding they drive out and fix it. Climate change? Health care? Regulation? The only thing he might care about is what polled well. He just wanted talking points to say something to a crowd.

I once asked him during a conference call before a debate if he could name the three most expensive federal programs. The defense budget, Social Security and Medicare isn't a hard answer if 1) You are running for U.S. Senate and 2) All you have sought since coming to Tucson when you were 20 years old was to seek elected office.

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Rodney couldn't do it. What's more, there was a total lack of interest in policy.

When I wrote talking points, those became his policies. He never chimed in and said "I have a more nuanced take here" or "I want this to sound a lot more like that." We heard nothing but crickets.

If a light is never on, does it need a switch?

There were two policies that got his dander up.

One was gay marriage and none of us on the campaign could figure out what his stand was because all he would say is "marriage is a religious institution." What the hell did that mean? Agnostics and atheists couldn't get married? That's how he explained it but he never explained it well.

The other policy Rodney actually brushed us back on involved fixing Social Security by increasing withholding on higher income earners. He was a trust-fund kid who would make $300,000 a year for the rest of his life and didn't need Social Security. So he snapped at me that he shouldn't have to pay more for a program he never would never need.

Incredibly self-serving? Yes. At least it was easy to understand and made linear sense. The campaign could have dealt with a conservative Democrat. There's "there" there with one of them. Policy was irrelevant to Rodney in 2010.

Rodney later told the Arizona Republic that a meeting with conservative political consultant Constantin Querard led to the question: "Why are you a Democrat?" And so he thought about it and became a Republican. Querard is something of a legend in right-wing Arizona politics, and Rodney's used a convenient name-drop to show his enlightenment before. He said after a debate in 2010 that farm-worker icon Dolores Huerta's words convinced him of the importance of "reproductive justice."

I don't think anyone familiar with Rodney was shocked when he switched parties. No one familiar with the campaign was bewildered, I can guarantee that. What Rodney stood for was just unimportant. Rodney stood for Rodney. Tucson is full of Democrats, so he was a Democrat. Maricopa County is full of Republicans. He lives up there now. So, he's a Republican.

Maybe he has become a legit conservative and if so, godspeed on your journey, Rodney.

Road kill waiting to happen

If how someone treats employees matters a whit, Rodney was a nightmare and he was — I have to say — better to me than most. He only urged that I be fired twice that I know of.

I got promoted to communications director because the whole senior campaign staff quit all at once — the second time that happened. Of course, the spin (so long as my soul was done for anyway) was that "there was nothing to see here." That's straight-up crisis management 101. There is no drama. The whole institution a flak is spinning for may be on fire and the people inside it turning into flesh-eating zombies but it's just "a work place kerfuffle like any other business. What matters is ... (pivot here)."

The new campaign manager came on for the general election, swearing he'd seen everything. He was a veteran of campaigns dating back to the Carter years. No problem, he said. I got this. Two weeks later, he'd given up.

The senior staff quitting followed quickly on the entire field team quitting on Glassman. They just felt bullied and under-valued by the candidate. These were young and idealistic campaign workers who came from all over the West to help win a progressive race in the wake of Arizona's SB 1070, the immigration law that set the national political landscape on fire. Rodney, personally, drove them out.

He would only listen to women who were tough enough to beat him over the head with a rhetorical ballpeen hammer. His first campaign manager, when he ran for City Council, was local activist and his eventual chief of staff Katie Bolger. She can intimidate by ordering water. My first boss, Dawn Teo, could get Rodney to sit still but only because she was a genius Tennessee woodswoman and piled those IQ points on her rural Southern mountain of mojo.

He needed a mom to all but bash his brains in just to get him to listen. The rest were just roadkill waiting to happen.

His ambition has always been to win elections, for the sense of victory and the status. He's not alone in that. Even a true believer like U.S. Rep. Raul Grijalva told me seeing vote totals roll up for you over someone else is like nothing else. It's powerful.

Yet Rodney started letting people know he was running for office someday, somewhere by years before he made his first run at 27. Again, nothing crazy there.

One thing telling happened during the first Senate campaign meeting. Originally, he had planned on running for Arizona Secretary of State. Yet he told us all that his father had nixed that idea basically because that was, 'scuse my French, a wussy office. So he ran for the U.S. Senate to make his father happy.

Rodney didn't come across as evil in the sense that he has dastardly designs. He acted a bully. He ruined a trip to the NetRoots Nation convention in Las Vegas, not by proving too conservative for the left-wing crowd but because he got publicly and verbally abusive to his social media director. Just chewed him up right in front of a lot of people. But Rodney didn't worry about that. How he treated his slave was his own business.

The one time he absolutely blew up at me was when I told him the Arizona Republic was going to endorse McCain and not him. A Democrat winning an endorsement from a conservative editorial board like the Republic's would have to knock the socks off some pretty savvy players. Rodney was never going to do that without learning policy on a granular level and being able to explain it easily. That Democrat would have to have a clear and convincing case to make to skeptics, revealing wisdom and a vision. Considering Rodney's own campaign staffers had no clue what he was talking about half the time, we didn't hold out much hope.

Take me out of the equation for a moment. He was a Democrat feeling entitled to a Republican paper's endorsement and if he didn't get it, it was the staff's fault. That might come with being a trust fund kid but I've met trust fund kids who aren't at all like that.

The stupid war that almost was

Lastly, and perhaps most alarmingly, Rodney was ready to declare war on Karin Uhlich two weeks ahead of the Senate primary over a comment he said he never made despite two pretty good sources saying he made it.

A story ran alleging Rodney had scoffed at the idea of serving alongside Uhlich, an openly gay City Council member. Rodney called it an out-and-out lie. Then Griijalva told me that he had said something similar to him. Then Bolger, his own chief of staff, corroborated the report. "He needs to own it and move on," Bolger told me.

I started working out a peace between Uhlich and Rodney and had a late-night meeting arranged between the two of them. Uhlich didn't really want the battle. Rodney was ready to eat crow to get the story over with. Well, that was where he was north of Casa Grande. By the time he hit Eloy, he called me back and was ready to declare unrestricted war on Uhlich if she didn't recant. Never mind the witnesses to the comment. In his head it was a lie and he was ready to do something phenomenally self-destructive to do it.

Sniping with Uhlich was one thing. A full-on brawl would have eaten up the campaign coverage the whole rest of the primary and Uhlich wasn't one of his opponents. So, I just called her back and said "meeting's off." Then I told Rodney the same thing, explained that he could fire me if he wanted but I wasn't going to be part of a campaign suicide. I turned off the phone and went and listened to music. Alcohol may have been involved.

Rodney's willingness to destroy another person's reputation over something he himself had said just jarred me. I mean, the only reputation he was going to destroy was his own but he didn't know that. It also happened so fast. He was on board for peace talks and then a half-hour later was ready to go nuclear.

I started as the deputy communications director on Glassman's Senate campaign. It ate up a lot of my day. One night I finished early — like 6:30 — and hoofed it up to Sullivan's Steak House, which had once been my watering hole of choice. My work was done and had cleared all the proper channels. I could decompress, get away from it all just for a drink or two.

So I'm in the parking lot, hoofing it up toward the front door when I walk smack into Rodney himself. For all I knew he could have been anywhere between Page and Yuma; Safford and Parker. Not only was he in Pima County, he was on my part of town. Not only was he in my part of town, he was right in front of me.

It would be funny if it weren't for what came next. He pointed to P.F. Chang's and ordered me to fix a rift between him and former Pima County Democratic Party Chair Donna Branch-Gilby. Branch-Gilby was two years removed from a primary run versus incumbent Supervisor Sharon Bronson. Bronson wasn't liberal enough for Branch-Gilby. How would Rodney be liberal enough? Also, wrangling endorsements was the purview of the campaign political director. No need to send mixed messages. Also, her family was out to dinner and probably didn't want to be besieged by a campaign staffer trying to win an endorsement for a candidate that mom didn't particularly like. More importantly, Rodney didn't think it was up to him to be worthy of an endorsement. That was just a problem to be fixed. By a staffer.

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I really couldn't think of a compelling argument for why someone would endorse my candidate. This isn't partisan. I could be a gun for hire and make a case as to why a voter would support U.S. Rep. Raul Grijalva, Mayor Jonathan Rothschild, U.S. Rep. Martha McSally, and Gov. Doug Ducey. I could probably figure out a case for them running as a slate.

I've ranted and raved about how justice might be visited on Joe Arpaio, but I know an elevator pitch to support him: "He has been fighting for law and order his whole life and has never been afraid to say what's politically incorrect so the elites in the ivory tower hate him."

With Rodney? "He's got a Ph.D. and really seems proud of it."

I hope he's grown because this time, he just might win.

Blake Morlock is a journalist who spent 17 years covering government in Arizona and also worked in Democratic political communications. Now he’s telling you things that the Devil won’t.

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Brad Poole/TucsonSentinel.com

Glassman on election night, November 2010.


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