Both men ran the family newspaper, the Arizona Informant, and both were elected by south Phoenix communities to serve in the Legislature.
But the son’s role at the Capitol now is much different than the father’s fight during the 1960s, and Campbell is the first to point that out. His late father was Arizona’s first black state senator and fought for racial equality during a time of segregated lunch lines, restrooms and educational programs.
Those battles were fought and won decades ago, but Campbell says the country has yet to strike a balance in which black people have the same opportunities as white people. He says the pendulum is swinging in the right direction now that laws have changed to recognize the rights of minorities, but he fears it will take many more years for black people to build the same social and financial foundations
that lead to true equality.
The way Campbell sees it, information is key to the continued progress of the black community, and he considers himself a sort of conduit between the people who live in his south Phoenix district and the political elite at the Capitol.
Campbell, who was elected to the Arizona House in 2006, says his top priority is to make sure his constituents know what is happening at the Capitol. To make sure he had the best vantage point, he worked his way onto the House Appropriations Committee. After all, Campbell believes following the money will reveal the true motivations of those who make some of the state’s most important decisions.
The avid golfer and former football star spoke with Arizona Capitol Times about his unique perspective as both an elected official and a member of the press.
You grew up in a newspaper family and apolitical family. That has to give you an outlook no one else down here has.
It’s kind of nice, but at the same time it gives you a different perspective and you appreciate what (the media) does. You also appreciate the politician’s point of view, as well, so you kind of know where that area is to say, the guys on the news side are just trying to do their job to get some information from you.
It’s in our best interest to talk to you guys as much as possible, because then you get information out and people can understand where we’re coming from.
At the same time, I’m sure you can also better see where there’s an advantage to not talking to us.
Oh, definitely. Sometimes, you just have to make that distinction.
It’s kind of fun watching you guys, especially with some of these people who are just being blatant (jerks). Sometimes, I don’t know why you even bother, but I guess you’ve got to get a story from somewhere.
Do your colleagues ever ask for your opinion about how something will be presented in the media, or whether they should be open about an issue?
I tell them that, if they’re honest, they shouldn’t have a problem. Now, sometimes you may have something that’s an honest mistake or you may say something that gets taken out of context, but in most cases, just be honest.
Your father was the state’s first African American legislator. Is that a hard legacy to live up to?
No, because I don’t try to live up to it. I just try to continue on some of the things he’s done in the past and hopefully expand on some of the opportunities that are out there for us in the future.
Of course, it was a different atmosphere when he was here. They were talking about basic opportunities for African Americans and minorities. The aspirations were making sure people could go to a lunch counter to eat, that we had equal bathrooms, equal educational opportunities.
Now, we’ve expanded past that, though sometimes I feel like we’re going backwards around here. My goal is to get information that, first of all, my community normally doesn’t get.
That’s one of the reasons why I really wanted to be on the Appropriations Committee. When I’ve talked to legislators in other states, they always say to follow where the money is, because that’s how to find out where people’s real interests lie.
What do you think of Ward Connerly’s ballot measure that the Legislature has put on this fall’s ballot to end “affirmative action” programs in the state. Is their pitch misleading in your eyes?
Definitely. Ward doesn’t remember, but when this effort first started in California, I was president of the West Coast Black Publishers Association. I wasn’t really keen to how much it would affect the community at the time — the pitch is that this is going to open up opportunities to everyone.
But it was a little more complicated than you realized. It was going to impact the way people are able to go to college, the way minorities could do business with California.
I don’t like it. It really disturbs me that they got Steve Montenegro to introduce the bill for them because he really doesn’t understand what the consequences of it are.
What are the consequences?
It’s supposed to take away so-called “advantages” for minorities or those groups that have been discriminated against. But who’s to say when enough is enough? Who’s to say when the scales have been balanced?
If you take a 100-yard dash, but you hold one kid by the back of the pants while the other one takes off, and then you let him go, there’s that big of a gap between them.
To say that, all of the sudden, because we’ve got this black president that everything’s supposed to be great and everything’s equal, it’s not happening. I think even more so now, you’re finding more people are discriminating because they don’t like seeing a black president.
I think there should be an opportunity for those who were held back to give them a chance to catch up. When you look at people who have money — people who live off of trust funds — very few of them are African Americans. A lot of those people who live off trust funds, their families made the money on the backs of African Americans who were slaves.
That gap hasn’t been filled just in the little bit of time from the civil rights movement to now.
You’re looking at about 40 or 50 years.
Exactly. We’re talking 50 years as opposed to 400 years. I don’t think it’s time yet. Nobody can really say when it’s time, but we’ll see when things start to equal out.
Initially, you were a very vocal supporter of payday lending, and I know the industry does a lot of business in your district and in the black community. Where do you stand on the issue now?
Payday loans have found a market they can serve. They found that banks and other lenders haven’t filled that niche. The problem is that, instead of trying to improve their product and their relationship and make people understand how to use the product, they just continued to exploit them.
They were approached and told to do various things to limit loans — we asked them to do things two or three years ago. We told them, do more community outreach. Don’t just take from the community. They said, “sure, sure.” But nothing happened.
Then, as we got closer to the sunset date, they came knocking on the door. But they went to the ballot and like 70 percent of voters said no. That speaks louder than any lobbyist knocking on my door.
Did they come forward with anything this year that you thought would have been a good compromise?
Initially, they were saying they wanted to add the things we had asked for — the database, limiting loans, the community investment. But when we looked at the legislation, nothing was there.
I told them, let me put these amendments on, but they said they couldn’t let me do that.
You can’t trust them. Unfortunately, they have a product that people do need, and that’s my biggest concern. Where are those people going to go?
The industry’s only been around for 10 years. Where did people get the money before that?
Unfortunately, there were people in the neighborhoods who would loan you the money, but if you didn’t pay it back, you’d get beat up. You had loan sharks — they’re still out there. Hopefully, they won’t go back to them.
In March, you stood up and made a speech about the altercation that involved Phoenix City Councilman Michael Johnson and a police officer. How do you think the city and the police department have handled that situation?
That was an incident that should have been handled a lot differently.
In the last 15 to 20 years, the police have done a good job in creating a working relationship with the black community and south Phoenix as a whole.
I was pointing at one individual person who needed to be fired, because I think he did his job wrong. It was a blatant abuse of authority. I don’t know what his problem was, but I don’t care if you’re at (the scene of) a fire, you don’t take anybody who’s standing there, push him to the ground, throw him around, handcuff him and threaten to drag him across the street — especially a decorated 25-year veteran of the police force.
I think they should have admitted that he did something wrong and said they want to continue to have a good relationship with our community. This adds fuel to the fire, and now a lot of people are coming out with cases talking about abuses. To waste all that goodwill on one knucklehead I think is a mistake.
Isn’t there an investigation process that’s warranted to see what happened? The officer has since said that the councilman assaulted him.
Officers in those situations have always written down that they’ve been assaulted, as well.
Case in point, there were some college students in Maryland recently who were beaten by police. The students were arrested, beat up and the police put on their reports that they were assaulted. But the video tapes showed that they did not assault the officers. How many times do we have tape?
Rodney King was accused of assaulting police officers, but he was beaten down by 15 officers, and he still got thrown in jail.
For them to say that Councilman Johnson assaulted this police officer I think is really stupid because he’s a past police officer who’s been there for 25 years and knows the procedures in that kind of situation.