Negative Politics in Arizona


J. Fife Symington III has been elected governor of Arizona in a runoff election. He is from Lutherville, and his Maryland upbringing may help him in his tough new job.

Arizona is to this era what Maryland was in a previous one -- best known nationally for high-level political high-jinks. The last elected governor was impeached, both its U.S. senators are under investigation for ethical lapses in connection with the savings and loan scandals, and seven members of the state legislature recently got caught in a televised "sting" operation involving bribes and campaign contributions. Shades of Spiro Agnew, Marvin Mandel and Danny Brewster.

Republican Symington was linked to some of the Arizona scandals by a congressional probe of savings and loans failures. He attacked his Democratic opponent for having violated state campaign finance laws. Such charges and counter-charges dominated the run-off campaign. Arizona journalists dubbed it "the campaign from Hell."

Mr. Symington, a businessman who has never held political office, may have defeated former Phoenix Mayor Terry Goddard in part because his low road was seen as not quite as low as the Democrat's. A late poll showed about twice as many Arizonans thought the Goddard campaign was "more negative" than the Symington campaign.

But ethics was not the most pressing issue in Arizona politics. This boom state has fallen on hard times. The new governor faces a half-billion-dollar deficit. Mr. Symington promised to deal with it by cutting the cost of government, not increasing taxes. He's facing the same challenge that governors in most states -- Sun Belt, Rust Belt -- face in the '90s. Those that meet the challenge may become players on the national stage.

That may be especially true for a governor in a state which is likely to need replacements for one, if not both, of its senators in the next few years.

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