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Opinion

What the Devil won't tell you

Death of ex-Az AG Grant Woods has lonely eyes looking for somewhere to turn

The death of Grant Woods has me wanting to quote Paul Simon and wistfully ask about Joe DiMaggio and lonely hearts.

Where have they gone, those honest Republicans, and how the hell did we get Paul Gosar ... and how do we send him back?

Woods died Oct. 23 of a heart attack. He was 67.

Now our state is lesser for it.

Woods served as Arizona attorney general from 1991 to 1999. During that time, he had a novel idea. The law applied to everyone. No one was above it.

So when Gov. J. Fife Symington ran into trouble with a couple of contributors who said he illegally took their money, Woods  investigated.

Crazy, huh?

Now, the governor was never prosecuted at the state level. Woods decided Symington did not violate the law. His reputation was such that people responded with a "well ... OK..." 

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However, Symington was eventually convicted of federal bank fraud. The conviction is similar to what Donald Trump is facing out of the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office. He told creditors he was worth a lot and the tax dude he was broke. It was on official documents.

Once Symington was convicted, he had to go because state law said so. The governor wanted to stay on pending appeals but Woods enforced the law. 

Imagine that. A Republican holding another Republican accountable to law just as much as a Democrat or independent. That was when everyone knew looking up required everyone to lift their chins, because up wasn’t down and freedom wasn’t slavery.

Sword crosser

He and Symington crossed swords over tobacco and tort reform, with Woods taking the contrarian position to the general Republican Party line. One could give him more leeway, when Woods came down against the Endangered Species Act and for the payday loan industry. That's politics for ya.

Boy, those were the days. When the GOP took real positions on real issues, where there were two sides to explain.

The other thing I remember about Woods was how he helped lead the campaign to provide death row inmates the option of choosing lethal injection as the method of their execution.

Now, it’s easy enough to make the case that the state making such an offer is a Hobson’s Choice where (again, Paul Simon) any way you look at it you lose. The state can’t morally take a life. So giving the condemned the option about what’s going to kill them isn’t exactly a philosophical win.

But Woods watched the execution of Donald Harding by deadly gas. Apparently, it was grisly. I remember reports of him telling the press afterward “we gotta find a better way to do this.” He meant more humane. So voters approved a measure in 1992 to make lethal injection more available.

Woods didn't act as if he was calibrating: "How extreme can I be at all times to prove I’m alpha enough to be the kind of horrible person leadership requires."

He had this cockamamie idea of seeking justice and making it “just” at that.

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This is also the guy who helped push the constitutional amendment barring the Arizona Legislature from undoing citizen’s initiatives.

I’m down with having a Burkian argument about if direct democracy is bad for society. Voter-approved provisions have created real budget problems during times of poverty (but more so is the constant roll of tax cuts stripping revenue). But if we are going to empower the people to pass their own initiatives, the Legislature shouldn’t have the power to pretend they didn’t happen.

Woods helped give us that.

Party split

So clearly, he and the Republican Party were heading for trouble with each other.

Woods left the GOP in 2018, and endorsed then U.S. Rep. Kyrsten Sinema over Rep. Martha McSally and had previously broken with the GOP base endorsing Hillary Clinton over Trump in 2016. He thought about running for the U.S. Senate as a Democrat in 2020 but decided against it.

The truth is, he had started to cleave off from the GOP in the mid-2000s and definitely as the Tea Party movement began to rise. He endorsed Fred DuVal over Doug Ducey for governor in 2014 and Felicia Rotellini over Tom Horne for Attorney General in 2010.

He was never particularly popular with the GOP fringe when it was dismissed as 1990s "wing nuts," whom today are often derided as moderates, themselves (John Boehner, Joe Scarborough).

The party left him much the way it left his mentor John McCain, though McCain stuck with the GOP. Woods served as McCain's first chief of staff in the U.S. House of Representatives. 

Service is in the details

He was a top-notch trial lawyer and involved in the community, having done the heavy lift to start the Boys & Girls Club of Mesa.

His service was vast.

Woods and his wife, Marlene Woods, were among the early forces behind the Phoenix Children's Museum and the Woods family sponsors a permanent construction exhibit there. He has won the top awards from the American Cancer Society, American Lung Association, the Salvation Army, Chicanos Por La Causa, the Children's Action Alliance and won the 2014 ASU Gold 'n Gavel Award for Public Service.

When was the last time a Republican attorney general earned an award from Chicanos Por La Causa?

I highly doubt they are going to be asking for a correct spelling of "Brnovich."

One of the things about being involved in community projects is gears need to be turned for the projects to get done. People can’t just say the need for a building’s foundation is a Deep State Lie and wait for the applause. People have to work together. Differences must be smoothed over. Community service often means working in parts of the community that are broken and that requires keeping an open mind about why they are broken.

Details involve facts and facts only have a bias if one side avoids them.

Moderate, schmoderate

Sure, he was a moderate but I don’t buy (and neither should you) that moderation is necessary for accommodation or integrity. A person can be a wall of granite when it comes to personal integrity and can be a true ideologue (see Udall, Morris and Goldwater, Barry).

In fact, moderates and centrists today are described as people who will hold to their ideals when it’s bad for their party. When a guy like Louisiana Sen. Bill Cassidy believes in democracy more than Donald Trump, he’s a moderate. Mitt Romney believes in the rule of law more than party loyalty, and suddenly he’s a moderate.

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The right-leaning partisans today believe in one reality for themselves and one for their opponents. Laws apply only to Americans who believe in higher tax rates. Those who believe in tax cuts are all but above it.

The Democrats will be driven to the same end. They can’t keep holding themselves accountable while Republicans don’t. Voters will just hear “Republicans swear they were framed but the Democrats confess. They must be the corrupt party.”

Voters aren't rewarding them for it and aren't punishing Republicans for bad behavior.

Once, not too long ago, we lived in a time when both parties policed their ranks to try to uphold the integrity of elected office.

It was a Republican State House of Representatives that impeached a Republican governor right here in Arizona. Gov. Evan Mecham was removed for office under charges that he used state and campaign funds to prop up his auto dealerships.

OK, the state GOP was faced with being pulled under by a governor who was also under a federal investigation and faced a recall effort that gathered 6,000 more signatures than Mecham got votes. Even Bono called him out on stage. Still, they did it.

Woods was a moderate with principles. Today, moderates are defined by the fact that they have any at all. The only principle the Republican Party cares about now is its own power to establish dominion over anyone who disagrees with them. Accountability is reserved only for those who challenge that entitlement to power.

Of course I think Woods was wrong on a host of issues. I hope readers think I am, too. But I also hope readers know what inspires my opinion. It’s not like I fail to provide enough words.

On the fundamentals of service, justice and the rule of law, Woods was a true believer.

Now he's left and gone away. 

Things are going to get worse without more like him.

Blake Morlock is an award-winning columnist who worked in daily journalism for nearly 20 years and is the former communications director for the Pima County Democratic Party. Now he’s telling you things that the Devil won’t.


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Grant Woods died as one of the last of a vanishing breed.

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