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What the Devil won't tell you

Grijalva keeps resisting in Southwestern Arizona

CD3 debate gave little evidence congressman's about to cave

I'm not going to go into a blow-by-blow account of the debate between Democratic U.S. Rep. Raul Grijalva and his Republican challenger Nicholas Pierson.

Instead, I'm going to ponder physics.

The irresistible force meets the immovable object. Who wins?

I’ll tell you exactly who wins. The immovable object will resist displacement as the irresistible force pushes and pushes and pushes as hard as it possibly can (Grrrrrrr) on and on and on, month after month until finally … ugh … the irresistible force … triumphs … just as soon … as the immovable object … takes retirement.

Grijalva ain’t going anywhere. He isn’t just an eight-term congressman, he’s an eight-term congressman who started on Capitol Hill after three and a half terms on the Pima County Board of Supervisors and a tenure on the Tucson Unified School District Governing Board going back to the early 1970s.

The unabashedly liberal Democrat’s roots have gone through the caliche and into the bedrock of Southern Arizona politics but every two years the right thinks he's just about to go down.

Perhaps, if he’s resisting the irresistible, sustaining the unsustainable and stopping the unstoppable he can be moved from Congress. So one has to assume that Nick Pierson is the unstoppable force that can’t be resisted.

Oh, man. Is he ever not.

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And he showed it during Wednesday night's debate.

The Republican candidate, in over his head, called for a uniform federal standard for water quality, apparently forgetting about the Clean Water Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act or that the question posed was about a drought.

He said “The life and economy along the border are important” and that his plan is for an “impervious barrier” along the border but don’t call it a wall. It’s not a wall. It’s an impervious barrier. Perhaps a plasma field or a lake of fire.

He said he wasn’t sure what committees he might want to serve on, but thinks members of Congress have to buy committee assignments. Nooo, members have fundraising goals to meet and they can be based on committee assignments but no one straight-up writes a check for a spot on Ways and Means.

I’m not going to whack him around based on his debate performances. He may be a fine human being and a good dad and all. The guy is on a suicide mission, somehow convincing himself that a 2002 Geo Prizm is an irresistible force.

Don’t knock Prizms. I drove one. The thing’s got valves and balls. I’m just not going to put one into fifth gear, drop the pedal to the floor and drive it into Ayer’s Rock because someone tells me “that rock’s 1,100-feet of liberal sandstone nothing.”

Every two years someone jumps into the race to challenge Grijalva thinking the wall just might crumble. And every two years Grijalva stands there as November wind blows the dust away.

The one clean shot

Straight up, I’ve known Grijalva for 25 years and always liked the guy. After Board of Supervisors meetings, he and I would go down to the basement cafeteria and dish over a half-dozen cigarettes apiece.

Of course, he plays some hardball and rather enjoys his pater familias status among South Side Latinos but he’s smart enough not to piss off the nanas. Some would — do — call him corrupt, without pointing to anything specific.

I learned a lot from him about how the county board really works, just as I learned a lot from Scott Egan, Republican Ray Carroll’s aide at the time, about how staff really works.

I only saw him truly vulnerable once.

Back in 2010, it looked bad for him. After Gov. Jan Brewer signed SB 1070 into law, Grijalva was being interviewed and blurted out the line “I think the country should boycott Arizona.”

Apparently, his staff watched the words come out of his mouth and the blood fell out of his face. Had he just screwed himself? Yes.

Democratic polling showed him losing a race with a “generic Republican.” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi sent her staff down to Tucson to take over his flagging campaign.

I was working in the Glassman for Senate office where the Grijalva team was phone banking. Every conversation I couldn’t help but overhear went like this:

“I’m calling on behalf of Raul Grijalva and he’s running for re-election to Congress. We’re wonder....”

“He did say boycott … but he’s been a leader in the – OK, I’ll shut up … uh-huh … uh-huh … uh-huh … I get that you are mad but....”

And then there was a nails on the chalkboard-sounding parse of what Grijalva meant versus what he intended.

This was during the get-out-the-vote phase, so those were his voters volunteers were calling. He should have been dead. He won by five points.

If he was going to lose, he was going to lose in a Republican wave year when he did something politically suicidal. He faced both. The only thing he didn’t have to contend with was a moderate Republican. His challenger Ruth McClung was all Tea Party.

Nick Pierson's no Ruth McClung. And he's certainly no Joe Sweeney, the bonkers perennial candidate who ended up the GOP standard-bearer in the district more times than anyone could remember because nobody else could be convinced to dream the impossible dream. But Pierson's still trying to pop-start that Geo toward the rock face.

From the beginning

Back in 2002, Grijalva's district was all but drawn for him because Democrats were going to get another safe district after wild growth in the 1990s. Grijalva’s former buddy Salomon Baldenegro pushed the Independent Redistricting Committee and carved up voters so Grijalva could make the jump to the U.S. House of Representatives.

Baldenegro didn’t make much of a secret about it at the time.

Still, the smart people who knew what they talking about said Grijalva was too liberal for the district. About 1,486 Latinos jumped into the race along with one white woman: state Sen. Elaine Richardson.

I was told Latino voters would melt away among the various Latino candidates and Richardson would cruise. Everyone who was known to know things knew this. To not repeat it was proof of ignorance. Those that were known to know things knew that I was crazy. Grijalva was too liberal for a district where Democrats outnumbered Republicans 2 to 1.

I thought they were nuts. Grijalva wasn’t just some Latino running on Latino issues. He had bona fides with environmentalists he won during Arizona’s growth wars of the 1980s and 1990s. 

Grijalva won the Democratic primary with 40 percent of the vote to Richardson’s 20 percent.

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The general election was never in doubt.

After 32 years of winning office, people might get the idea that Grijalva's not going to give way with a good, honest Republican effort, with a serious, experienced candidate.

If I were advising the GOP, I'd say put your time and effort elsewhere and don't go looking to distract your people with a race that won't be won with the tide ripping against your party.

Hey, redistricting is coming up in 2021. The Republicans may do better this time and they can get him out the same way that he got in. They can draw him out.

There's always retirement.

Blake Morlock is an award-winning columnist who worked in daily journalism for nearly 20 years and is a former communications director for the Pima County Democratic Party. Now he’s telling you things the Devil won’t.
Correction: Baldenegro was not a member of Arizona’s first IRC, but presented draft maps and lobbied it.


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Grijalva and Pierson during the AZPM-produced debate Wednesday night.

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