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Today is Arizona's 99th birthday. The way the yahoos at the legislature are going, one wonders what there will be left to celebrate for next year's Centennial. One piece of good birthday news we received this week is that Senator Jon Kyl will not seek re-election in 2012. Yea! Party on, Garth! In some ways Kyl has been a worse senator than John McCain. Sure, McCain got most of the national spotlight, but Kyl's voting record was every bit as bad -- probably worse. There was a time, before McCain ran into Rove's South Carolina primary buzz saw in 2000, that he really was somewhat of a maverick, a Republican who might buck his party, especially on educational, cultural, religious, and environmental issues. Not so Kyl. Never, nada, zilch, nein, fuck no.

Since Jon Kyl entered the US Senate in 1995, few office holders have been more connected at the hip to the financial, healthcare, defense, agricultural, oil, and mining industries. That $15 million he spent to win his seat in 2006 did not come from Sierra Club members, and he consistently rewarded his benefactors. There are few bills that helped the mining, lumbering, energy, and other extractive and development industries rape Arizona's landscape that don't have Senator Kyl's name on them.

Nationally too, Kyl's been a good Republican foot soldier. He never saw a failed Bush policy or a Wall Street deregulation he didn't like, and witness the very visible role he played last year in the effort to stall the vote on START. Given the strong bipartisan support for the treaty, Kyl's was a futile move that was a razor's edge away from treason -- a transparent attempt to make Obama look bad by undermining international peace. Yeah, country first.

So, Kyl's retirement announcement comes as a tremendous relief. It feels like Arizonans can finally exhale the noxious fumes we've been breathing since he entered the US House in 1987, straight from one of Arizona's largest lawyering-lobbying firms. His departure also sets up a crazy-ass game of dominoes that could really benefit the state and the nation, or send us even deeper into Looney Land.

The Sunday edition of the Arizona Republic featured a front-page story about Kyl's retirement and possible office seekers, so I won't repeat that long analysis of names. Rep. Jeff Flake (R-CD6) has already announced today , setting up a possible showdown with another Republican Congressman, Trent Franks (R-CD2). In case there's any doubt as to the kind of Senator Flake would be, here's what he said this morning:

"Senator Jon Kyl has given all of the eventual candidates in this race an excellent model of how to best serve Arizona and the country. He’s set the bar extremely high, and I’ll do my best to meet that standard."

Excellent model indeed. Both Flake and Franks have courageously upheld the proud tradition of Arizona wackatude, but anyone who's followed politics here for even a week knows Franks would be a catastrophe. He was swept into Congress during the 1994 Gingrich revolution running on one issue, abortion, and since then his Christian fundamentalism has embraced every other far right Looney Tune, especially the anti-immigration and anti-Islam dog whistles. He wants to use the 14th Amendment to grant pre-borns citizenship status, but of course Mexican children born here wouldn't qualify for the same.

The slightly less crazy Flake is the nephew of longtime state legislator, Jake Flake. The town of Snowflake in northern Arizona is not named after white flurries; it's named after two pioneering Mormon families -- Snow and Flake -- and Jeff springs from those historic loins. His John-Boy good looks and near anonymity make him a less controversial choice than Franks, who is not shy about parading his spiteful stupidity about Moslems or Mexicans on CSPAN and the Sunday talk shows. Few in Arizona can name one thing Jeff Flake has done or said, other than the fact he's never requested an earmark, a reputation he touts. Thanks Jeff, for not even trying to bring our tax dollars back to Arizona.

Flake is former director of the Goldwater Institute, the state's version of the Cato Institute, where he nearly drove the think tank into bankruptcy. Like the libertarian Goldwater Institute, Flake's GOP ideology is not as party-pure as Franks'. Flake was one of a handful of Republicans who voted to repeal Don't Ask Don't Tell, and he's also expressed a desire for immigration "reform," which, in Tea Party lingo, translates as "amnesty."

Other Republican names have emerged -- former AG Grant Woods; Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu, the Joe Arpaio wannabe who's obviously running for something; and former Rep. J.D. Hayworth, whose ego probably won't let him not run. All carry baggage. Too many here don't remember Woods and he's probably too moderate for today's GOP. Babeu had his bullet head handed to him when he backed a deputy who was eventually fired for lying, and his interviews on white supremacist radio stations just might come back to haunt him. Hayworth, widely regarded as a Foghorn Leghorn blowhard jerk, couldn't hold onto a Republican district in 2006; there's no way sportscaster boy ("Boy, I say boy") wins the state.

I'm betting Flake will be the nominee, unless the Tea Party and other far right groups mount a lunatic charge against his DADT vote and immigration policy, similar to their fight to unseat McCain in last year's primary by backing Hayworth. I'd love to see that. Trent Franks would be their man, and he'd join a list that starts with Sharron Angle and Christine O'Donnell. Jeff Flake could challenge the Dem candidate, whoever it is; Franks would be a disaster for the Repubs. Go Trent!

The Democratic ticket is more wide open and uncertain. Congressman Ed Pastor's name has already been bandied about. Ed's been around a long time, he's not as progressive (and therefore not as toxic) as Raul Grijalva (who I would love to see in the Senate), and his name on the ballot would energize the Hispanic vote, helping down-ticket races. I like Ed; he tiptoes too much into Blue Dog territory for my tastes, but he serves his district well, and he's a good behind-the-scenes worker. He just needs some dynamism.

Other names we'll hear include Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon, former AG Terry Goddard, former Governor and current Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano, and Rep. Gabriella Giffords. Phil's got a conflict of interest charge that dogs him around, his high-profile pissing matches with Joe Arpaio won't win him votes with the large anti-immigration crowd, and given the anti-Phoenix sentiment in the rest of the state, he might not be appealing outside the city limits. Terry's a nice, smart guy, and he was a good AG and Phoenix mayor; but he's lost too many big political campaigns, most recently the Governor's race to Brewer. We know why (SB 1070), but if you lose to a 13-second comatose dragon queen, your political career probably needs more than a year to recover. Word on the street is that Napolitano is not electable because of her link to the Obama administration, but I don't buy that for a second. In this very conservative state she managed to get herself elected Governor twice -- the second time by a 2:1 margin. Her successful record as US Attorney and Attorney General puts her in the "law and order" camp; she's no flaming liberal by any means, and she could clearly run on her accomplishments as Governor, which make Brewer look like the daffy nincompoop she is.

Gabby is in a category by herself. Before the tragedy last month, she expressed interest in the senate race, regardless of what Kyl decided. Like Napolitano, Giffords is no lefty; you can't be if you want to win in her district, and she came close to losing her seat last November to Tea Party darling and extreme wackjob Jesse Kelly (the guy who said Giffords was busing Mexicans across the border to vote for her). Since the days Gabby was in the Arizona legislature as a young 20-something, she's been a moderate, a Blue Dog before I ever heard the term, but somebody you at least respected. I don't imagine the US Senate race is something Giffords, her family, and her staff are even thinking about as she recovers; but if it's at all possible for her to campaign next year, given her moderate record and the love many here now have for her, she'd waltz into the Senate.

As great as that day might be, here's another scenario I welcome: Now that Jeff Flake has announced today, his Congressional seat is up for grabs. One name being tossed around is State Senator Russell Pearce, the author of SB 1070 and our Hater in Chief, who is currently facing two recall drives. Pearce has said more than once that he'd like to run for Congress, and Roll Call just reported that he was already "making endorsement calls Thursday evening." Why might that be a good thing? For one, even though Flake's District 6 is a large conservative stronghold, I don't think there is any way Pearce's bigotry wins outside of his tiny Mormon enclave in Mesa. Secondly, as Stephen Lemons writes in today's New Times about a Pearce candidacy for Congress:

[i]n doing so, he'll have to relinquish his power as state Senate president. Also, he may end up losing. Which would be grand. But even if he doesn't lose, he'll be far less influential as one of 435 U.S. House members than he is now as president of the state Senate.

Pearce out of the Arizona legislature regardless. Happy Birthday, Arizona!

Originally posted to Maggie's Farm on Mon Feb 14, 2011 at 11:38 AM PST.

Also republished by Pure Politics.

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