Tim Bee stunned the Arizona political scene with a completely unexpected announcement that he is challenging Gabby Giffords for the CD 8 Congressional seat.
Seriously, though, Tim made it official -- he's in. I know, I was there. And, no, I didn't get tazed, Bro.
It was the kind of non-news news event one expects in the kabuki dance of American politics. But there were a few interesting bits.
Much more after the flip...
First, Jim Kolbe was there to lend his support to Tim. It's kind of hard to say whether Jim was endorsing Tim, or if Tim was endorsing Jim. In a very real sense, Tim is in better odor with his own party than Jim. Jim's cross-over for an all-but-explicit endorsement of Gabby last go-round rankled more than a few folks on the more populist side of the Right. In a lot of ways, Jim's presence there was a coming in from the cold for him, and as much a favor to Jim as it was to Tim.
I think Jim's endorsement might still carry some weight with the money men in D.C., whom Jim said he would be tapping on Tim's behalf in coming months. I think Tim is going to find it a hard slog to get the RNCCC and reliably GOP interest groups to pony up in CD 8; they are looking at CD 5 as the main chance in Arizona, so Kolbe might help shake some Benjis loose. Lord knows Tim's gonna need 'em, I expect him to be running his campaign at a 2:1 money disadvantage, at least.
Kolbe might also have some sway over some of the all-important Independents among whom this race will ultimately be decided. This race is a battle for the middle ground. The populist base of both party organizations have been effectively shut out of this race; on the left by an incumbent that won't listen to her party's activists, and on the right by a strong-arm clearance of the primary field by Jim Click (who was prominently on display) and his money mavens threatening economic assassination of anyone who dared challenge Tim. Thus there is likely to be a lot of sniping within the parties this election (I am exhibit A in that regard), as well as between the candidates.
Bee seems very vulnerable internally on the issue of immigration: he has Jim in his camp, which doesn't help him, he supports a guest-worker program and thus, of necessity, some form legal normalization that will certainly be labeled as 'amnesty,' and he is squishy about enforcing the new state employer sanctions law as-is, claiming to support revisions to the law, including those suggested by the Governess, which many to Tim's right will see as pulling the law's teeth in deference to guys like Jim Click and Bill Koponicki. I just see it as inconsistent, demonstrating short-sightedness, and a willingness to damage Arizona's economy for political expediency, since Tim was a sponsor of that legislation.
Gabby has similar problems with her own party on the issue of the Iraq occupation and impeachment -- but you'll hear plenty more about that from me in coming months. Jim says that he has nothing bad to say about Gabby other than she has failed to provide leadership in her first year, though he concedes that Freshman Congresscritters don't have much opportunity to lead other than by speaking out strongly on issues. So, in that criticism, I would join Kolbe's lament that Gabby has failed to provide vocal leadership on key issues of concern to Arizona and America -- though we are likely to disagree as to what those issues are.
Second was a moment I found highly revelatory of the central problem of Bee's campaign - lack of contrast between the candidates.
I give a big tip of the hat to Dan Scarpinato for asking an excellent question. He asked Tim what really distinguished the two of them since Gabby was making very similar noises on immigration and her voting record on the Iraq occupation was one of firm support for funding the continuance of the whole mess (my phrasing, not Dan's).
Tim went silent for what I deem to be an extraordinarily long time for a guy who is normally so smooth, and then started into his canned reel on how Gabby voted with her leadership over 90% of the time. You could hear the gears grinding and slipping as he sought a contrast message that would really pop their differences.
He couldn't do it.
Hell, John Shadegg probably votes with Pelosi well more than half the time, it ain't the lion's share that tells the tale, it's that minor variance. In Gabby's case, what gives her one of the most conservative Democratic voting records in Congress is that 5 -10% of the time she votes against her caucus.
Ultimately, all Tim could come up with is that while Gabby might have voted in support of the occupation, she also voted against it, and she didn't really support the occupation's aims. Tim claimed that he, like his good friend John McCain, really supports the aims of the occupation, though, of course he wants the troops to come home as soon as possible. Though we may have to leave a substantial residual force there.
If he's really in McCain's camp on Iraq, I guess that means that Tim, too, is fine with our troops being hunkered down in Iraq for the next 100 years.
If this is a main point of contrast for Tim's campaign, he's doomed. He's picked the right side of the equation for a primary race, but he doesn't have one of those. Who's he trying to please? Certainly not the 70%+ and growing of American's who want the occupation ended. If Tim is hoping to out-warmonger Gabby, he's not only going to lose that debate, but he's going to lose the electorate, especially the Independents he desperately needs to turn the tide with.
The GOP is already on the outs with Independents. Tim has to find issues that will turn that around in CD 8 in order to win, and talking about the occupation of Iraq sounding like McCain, isn't it.
Ultimately, the reason Gabby will kick Tim's behind is that voters won't be able to tell much of a difference between them and they'll go with the flow of the Presidential race, which Democrats will certainly win soundly in Pima County, at least.
Has that been Gabby's campaign strategy from the outset? Most likely. And it'll win, most likely. But what was the opportunity cost to our troops, our constitution, and our values? And what ever happened to electing leaders, rather than bland, poll-driven position-straddlers and obsfucationists?
Finally, I was finally able to have a conversation with Tim about his Schroedinger's Cat act during 2007.
I reminded him that 1) he had filed campaign statements as a candidate with FEC, and 2) that someone who files such statements is a candidate under FEC rules, and 3) there are only two choices for status under FEC rules, 'testing the waters' (which does not have reporting requirements) and 'candidates'. I asked him how he squared the circle that he was, in fact, a candidate complying with FEC rules under federal law, while claiming not to be a candidate under state law.
Tim said that he took legal advice on the matter and filed a letter with the FEC establishing his candidate's campaign committee stating that he hadn't yet decided to run, but was simply complying with FEC rules to avoid any violations. In other words, he was admitting he was candidate by his actions, while denying it with his words.
He doesn't have any excuse other than he got away with it.
And he has gotten away with it. It's water under the bridge. I hope that Terry Goddard will issue a new AG's opinion clarifying this obvious absurdity of Federalism that allows federal candidates to baldly deny they are state candidates for the purposes of the resign-to-run law. But there will be no consequences for Tim -- other than those exacted by citizens at the voting booth.
Even if you can't slip a stick between Tim and Gabby on the issues during this campaign, remember that when the law was inconvenient for Tim Bee, he twisted it to suit his agenda. At least Gabby in seeking her seat was honest and resigned her seat to run.
I think when Tim says he didn't really know if he would actually declare, he's being honest. And I also think it doesn't matter. He was raising money and campaigning like a candidate, filing disclosures like a candidate, and was de jure a candidate under FEC rules -- his subjective mental intent is irrelevant.
Tim knew that he had to hit certain fund-raising goals to appear viable. He needed to raise between 250 - 400K according to GOP sources. He didn't know if he would hit that mark until very recently. I grant that he truly didn't know if he would have to just fold his tent and skulk away until very recently. He was unwilling to gamble his Senate Presidency on that throw of the dice, so he slimed his way through a loophole so that he didn't have to make that choice.
I won't even go so far as to say that's unethical. Maybe it does serve the greater good for Tim to remain in office. But the truest test of character is to do the right thing, even when you know you can likely get away with doing the wrong thing. In this case, respect for the rule of law would, in my view, lead one to resolve any ambiguity in the law by doing the most honorable and conservative thing: resign. Ambition, self-regard, even mere convenience to your purpose might lead one to do otherwise.
It is for the voters to decide how Tim's choice reflects on his character. I don't think he's a bad man. Just the opposite, in fact. Just look at the guy with his family. He's clearly one of the white hats in this world. But even good guys do bad things for what they think are the right reasons. Indeed, that how most the bad things in this world happen.
I don't think Tim was being honest with the voters, or even with himself, about what he was doing. It's certainly not the worst thing in the world one could do to bend a slight ambiguity in the law in a convenient direction. As a lawyer, that is a practice I engage in every day, so I can certainly recognize it when I see it.
But the duty we place on public servants to serve the rule of law and to serve the public trust is much different than the obligation placed on lawyers to serve their clients. Public servants should be held to a much, much higher standard than 'whatever you can get away with.'
It is exactly this overly-legalistic approach to governance that has found barely plausible justifications for torture, unlimited detention of prisoners, spying on Americans by their own government, and war crimes.
Plausible justifications are the main problem with American government today.
Good luck with your race, Tim. You're going to need a lot of it.
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