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Ex-GOP gubernatorial candidate explains why he’s not a Democrat

Matt Jette says he's not afraid to call our Republicans for their move toward what Jette calls extremist and fear mongering. (Photo by Evan Wyloge)

Matt Jette says he's not afraid to call our Republicans for their move toward what Jette calls extremist and fear mongering. (Photo by Evan Wyloge)

After a childhood full of intense treatments and surgeries for serious medical conditions, Matt Jette made a promise to himself that he would work toward advancing and improving health care in America.

When Gov. Jan Brewer made deep cuts to Arizona’s health care infrastructure in 2009, Jette, who always considered himself a Republican, saw an opportunity to continue his effort by running for governor.

He thought he had a strong message, but in the end Jette came up short. Very short. Jette earned only 4 percent of the GOP gubernatorial primary vote, trailing Buz Mills and Dean Martin, both of whom had dropped out of the race.

Though Jette admits one could chalk up the loss to his near-center political views that turned off conservative Republicans, Jette says his failure to attract more support was due to the fervor around immigration and the happenstance signing of SB1070 that boosted Brewer to the top.

Jette said he now thinks the Republican Party is leaving moderates behind, in favor of fear-mongering and xenophobia.

Where did you grow up?

Born in Seattle. Then 10 years in North Carolina. My dad was in the Marine Corps. Then we moved to Montana, which is where my parents are originally from. Then to Oregon. Then I moved here.

Tell me about your childhood. I hear you had cancer as a kid.

No, not as a kid. I had organ failure and kidney failure. So I grew up in a hospital. In fact, right from birth, I was having surgeries done all the time.

Then when we moved to North Carolina I spent a lot of time in Duke University’s children’s hospital. In fact, I grew up with more catheters in my closet than I did clothes.

Then when I was in Portland, they found a tumor in my parathyroid. Less than 1 percent of those cases are cancerous. Lucky me, mine was cancerous. They think all the previous surgeries and radiation led to it.

And those are all the reasons that I had my viewpoint on health care, which Republicans hated.

I heard a story about why you got into the race.

Yeah, there are several stories about that. What did you hear?

That there was a friend of yours who got really sick and asked you to run for office.

No. Nobody ever asked me to run for office. There are several reasons why I got into the race, but there’s one predominant reason. When I was about 5, in the hospital, we didn’t get our own rooms. So all the kids were lined up in the same long room.

So the kid next to me — I think he was 9 years old, which seemed old to me then — was always in a good mood. He was always jumping around, acting like a monkey. He was in there for cancer.

One day he left to get his sponge bath, and he never came back. He passed away. But ironically, the night before, we had a discussion on what we wanted to be when we grew up, as much as a 5- and a 9-year old can have about that. That night, I said that I’ll never stop giving people like us opportunities like other people have.

So, at the time, I didn’t know about governorship, but that’s not the point. The point is that I promised I’d never stop working for that.

So shortly after that I moved to Arizona, and I said I would fulfill that promise I made when I was 5. In 2009, Brewer said she’s going to cut health care, and drop 300,000 people. So I decided to get in because this Republican governor was removing people who actually need care. I don’t care if you’re a Republican or a Democrat, that’s just not right.

Any other reasons?

Another reason I ran, is because if some kid is watching me, maybe they can think about what they can do.

I said from the beginning that there are better people than me who should be running for office. But they don’t think they have an opportunity to, they don’t have the money, they don’t have the name ID, they don’t think they’re smart enough, whatever the case may be. But if I can show them that they can get into this, and do reasonably well, then I can show them they can participate.

Now I know only 4 percent isn’t so great. But you can do more than just being angry about it. You can do more than just cast votes. You can participate.

But health care wasn’t one of the main issues in this primary, so do you feel like you weren’t able to get your message out there?

It was one of the main issues early on, and then what happened April 23? Everyone went crazy over SB1070. I have one word for it: embarrassing. You can put that in your article.

So you mean you feel it’s embarrassing that that issue took over the primary?

I mean embarrassing for the state of Arizona. I don’t care what people think when I say this: It’s embarrassing that people voted on this one issue that shouldn’t be the main issue.

So is that how you summarize the primary race?

Let me give you an example: John Munger was the first casualty in June. He’s the one who started saying, “It’s the economy, it’s the economy, it’s the economy.” So we talked about the economy in the forums, but as the immigration bill drew closer to Jan’s desk, it all turned to immigration.

All of a sudden everything was blamed on immigration. If you lost your house, illegals are the cause. If you lost your job, illegals are the cause. If you stub your toe in the morning, illegals. You heard everything during the primary.

Never in political history has one issue pushed one candidate so far so fast. So Munger was the first casualty and he raised over $300,000. He could have run a good campaign against Jan.

Dean Martin left, but remember, his strategy was to become even more extreme than Jan. His strategy was to say that Jan didn’t sign the bill fast enough. Then he wanted to have tent cities full of immigrants building a wall.

Buz — and I still don’t get Buz — he spent over $3 million, and he said we accomplished two things with SB1070: San Francisco boycotted us — and people loved the fact that San Francisco boycotted us — and (Mexican President Felipe) Calderon wanted to boycott Arizona.

I looked at Buz and said, “You’re an idiot. You want a whole country to boycott us?” That doesn’t make any economic sense at all.

So the whole immigration issue sort of melted away any other issue. Every forum turned into being about immigration.

It’s embarrassing that we, as a state, have been hijacked.

One night we had a forum in Tucson, right when Jan Brewer signed SB1070. Buz, Dean, John and I were there at a forum. The number one question was immigration. As soon as I opened my mouth on what I think about immigration, 600 people booed and scorned me. On the next question, which was about something else, before I even got to the microphone, people started booing.

There’s no way that Matt Jette, who was against SB1070, had a shot in this election.

Who are you going to vote for in the governor’s race?

I can’t say.

Well, are you supporting Jan Brewer?

I can definitely answer that: No.

I’ll proudly say I’m not supporting Jan Brewer. I think she has used Arizona voters to propel her political career, and she knows it. The worst part about it is that I think she believes some of what she’s saying.

If you had a ‘D’ next to your name, would you have gotten more than 4 percent of the vote?

(Laughs) I’m a Republican. Maybe I would have gotten more than 4 percent, but who knows. Maybe Democrats would have hated me, too. On some things, I’m far to the right.

So what does it mean to be a Republican? To you?

I made this claim at that forum in Tucson. If Lincoln was alive today, you would call him a Democrat. I quoted Lincoln: “I would rather live in a country like Russia, where there’s no pretense for the love of liberty.” He was responding to the Know Nothing party on their treatment of Irish Catholics.

I said if Teddy Roosevelt was around, he’d probably be called a Socialist. He broke up monopolies using the Sherman Anti-Trust Act. And he saved national parks. You wouldn’t have the Grand Canyon without Teddy Roosevelt. He’d be called a Socialist.

And the hero of the Republican Party, Ronald Reagan, signed an amnesty bill in 1986. But everyone forgets that one.

So are you a Republican?

I think I’m a true Republican, based on certain principles.

First, health care. I believe you have to put medicine back in the hands of physicians, not into big business. But I also believe in a wellness program, where you decide how much you want to pay into your insurance, based on how well you live. For example, the three major illnesses that cost the most to our system are diabetes, cardio-vascular disease and obesity. Those things can largely be controlled by lifestyle choices. Why are we paying for your health choices when we have people who are born with lifelong illnesses? So I think my health care plan is a Republican plan. I think there has to be some patient responsibility to it.

On the military, I’m definitely a Republican, because I think we need a strong military and we should pay these individuals a lot of money.

Education, now that’s one where you can call me a moderate, or maybe even a Democrat. I have three words on education: spend, spend, spend. Nothing is equal to a good education. Arizona consistently ranks last.

On the economy, I don’t want to raise taxes. I want to reduce my taxes. But at the same time, there has to be a balance of how well we treat people like the mentally ill, those on welfare. If you want to bring businesses in, they’re keenly aware of how you treat your people. So there is financial and societal stewardship to how well you treat your people.

OK. A lot of people are going to read your description of why you’re a Republican and say that’s not what a Republican is, or at least not in Arizona, so…

So then let’s talk social issues. People sometimes say it’s the social issues that define what a Republican is. So let’s talk about social issues.

Gay marriage. A lot of Republicans say, “No, no, you can’t have gay marriage.” Honestly, I don’t care. I don’t care if two men and two women marry. In fact, life is hard enough to go through. If you’re lucky enough to find someone to share it with, I don’t care what they look like — male, female, black, white — I simply don’t care. But Republicans say it’s moral decay. I say moral decay is the 50 percent divorce rate in America. It’s not like heterosexuals are doing a great job with it.

Gays in the military. I simply don’t care. Now I know there’s some argument that it will break down the cohesion of the military. I simply don’t agree with that. Besides, since when does being gay have anything to do with loving your country? We’ve had people in the military who have happened to be gay, we’re still doing just fine. It’s not been a problem.

Abortion. I’m pro-life personally, but I’m pro-choice when it comes to society. I’m not going to take away someone’s choice to do with their life what they want. In my choices, I’m pro-life. I think we should stay out of people’s choices. I think that makes me a Republican.

So on those three issues people will look at me and say, “Matt, you’re a Democrat — no, you’re a liberal Democrat.” Fine. Label me all you want. My point is I want to keep government out of my bedroom, out of my marriage, out of my life. That makes me a Republican. If it doesn’t make me a religious Republican, then I’m fine with that. Keep that label. I’m not going to cater to them.

Ronald Reagan had the best quote on this. He said, “I didn’t leave the Democratic Party. The Democratic Party left me.” If I ever leave the Republican Party, it won’t be because I left them, it will be because they left me.

So what’s next for you? You’re teaching?

Yeah. I’m teaching at Thunderbird. So I do have a job. I’m not completely unemployed.

How many rumors are there out there that Matt’s unemployed, lives in a trailer?

Wait, I haven’t heard this. There’s a rumor you live in a trailer?

There’s a rumor that I live in a trailer because I live in Apache Junction. For the record, I do not live in a trailer. The biggest problem living where I do is that it’s so far away. I spend $300 a month on gas.

If people want to know I’m a Republican, just look at the gas-guzzler I drive. No Democrat would want me to drive that.

What is it?

A Range Rover.

Now that you have some time away from the campaign, what have you spent your free time doing? What do you do to unwind?

Really? That question sounds like it’s from a dating service. My favorite color is blue. I like long walks and sunsets on the beach. I’m a Libra. Seriously? I guess I read a lot and I write a lot. I’ll probably be getting on my bike a lot.

So you’ll be getting back into cycling?

Yeah. I may do something I wanted to do before the election, and make a ride all through Canada, and I may circle back and do a route my brother and I did before from Seattle to Oceanside. We did that back in ’95.

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