At the end of the year, it’s easy to look back and recognize the high points and low points. But often the most memorable moments are neither high nor low — they’re just ridiculous.
Immigration, gays in the military, abortion — these are all weighty topics. But in the hands of politicians, these subjects get pretty wild and, in some cases, twisted.
And, nowadays, everybody is watching. Cameras fix an unblinking eye on lawmakers during committee hearings and floor debates, and ordinary people with videophones catch politicians in awkward moments.
For politicians, there is little room for mistakes or gaffes. But that didn’t stop them from producing a few whoppers during the past year.
“We have did what was right for Arizona.”
—Gov. Jan Brewer, Sept. 1
This was probably the worst opening remark of any debate in Arizona during the 2010 election cycle. Brewer was, of course, ridiculed for her awkward, back-woodsy grammatical style, but even more embarrassing was the 13 seconds of silence during her only televised debate with other candidates for governor.
Let’s face it, the entire debate was a debacle for Brewer, who began by defending her administration: “I have, uh, done so much and I just cannot believe that we have changed everything since I have become your governor in the last 600 days. Arizona has been brought back from its abyss. We have cut the budget. We have balanced the budget and we are moving forward. We have done everything that we could possibly do.” Then she lost her train of thought, stared down at the papers in front her and laughed nervously before finally recovering with this little gem of wisdom: “We have did what was right for Arizona.”
The video clip went viral almost immediately, and comedians went wild on national television. Brewer later called it the “longest 16 seconds of my life.”
In the end, however, the gaffe made little difference as Brewer cruised to election without any serious resistance from the field of challengers, including Democrat Terry Goddard.
“I am not Brock Landers.”
—Ben Quayle, Aug. 10
Landers, a fictional porn star from the 1997 film “Boogie Nights,” became a campaign issue this year after Ben Quayle, son of former Vice President Dan Quayle, was accused of using the name to write for a voyeuristic website that was a precursor of TheDirty.com.
The website’s founder, who claimed to be a friend of Quayle’s, said the two of them were regulars of the Scottsdale club scene. He described nights involving casual sex and ecstasy, portraying Quayle as a hardcore partier.
The problem for Quayle: He was running for Congress as a conservative Republican with strong family values.
Quayle initially denied any involvement with the website, saying the whole thing was a smear campaign orchestrated by political rivals. Later, though, he admitted that he had a hand in starting the website and had written “a couple of comments” to drive some web traffic to the site.
“That website doesn’t exist anymore. It was a different website, different content and different focus,” Quayle said.
That’s true, but misleading. When Quayle wrote for the site it was all about sex and drugs in Scottsdale, and it was called dirtyscottsdale.com. The name was later changed to TheDirty.com to reflect that it would from that point forward showcase naughty stuff from all over the world.
Democratic candidate Jon Hulburd tried to capitalize on the issue by running repeated television commercials on the topic. At one point, Hulburd’s campaign spokesperson said: “This election is now between Jon Hulburd and Brock Landers. It’s between a young man who fabricated a family, degraded women, and then tried to lie about it, and a small businessman and father of five who has been dedicated to his community.”
Quayle won anyway.
“Our law enforcement agencies have found bodies in the desert either buried or just lying out there that have been beheaded.”
—Gov. Jan Brewer, June 16
Brewer’s claim that headless bodies were turning up in the Arizona desert was widely discredited, but it took her a few months to admit she was wrong.
She first made the claim in June, and was raked over the coals first by Democrats and then from members of both parties. Newspapers from across the country investigated her claim, as did Fox News. County sheriffs said they knew nothing of headless bodies in the desert. Nobody, in fact, could figure out what Brewer was talking about.
Finally, in September, she told the Associated Press: “I misspoke, but you know, let me be clear, I am concerned about the border region because it continues to be reported in Mexico that there’s a lot of violence going on and we don’t want that going into Arizona.”
“We had problems from the beginning because we decided that we would not turn in somebody who is openly serving in the military who was a homosexual — who we knew to be a homosexual.”
—Sen. Jack Harper, Jan. 28
Early this year, Harper, a Republican from Surprise who served in the U.S. Army in the late 1980s, told colleagues it was a mistake for President Barack Obama to advocate for changes to the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, which has kept gays and lesbians from openly serving in the U.S. military.
The discussion on the Arizona Senate floor got even more interesting when Harper drew upon personal experience to back up his view.
Harper recalled that that he had been asked to share a room with a soldier who was gay. Harper objected and was assigned to a different room. Everyone in his unit was aware the man was gay, Harper said, but nobody made a big deal out of it.
Looking back, Harper said that sort of thing shouldn’t have been tolerated. “We tried to be tolerant. It didn’t work. It didn’t work for our platoon. It didn’t work for the First Infantry Division. And it will not work for the United States of America,” he said.
Sen. Paula Aboud, a Democrat from Tucson who is lesbian, responded sarcastically: “I’m just delighted to hear that this person just didn’t attack Senator Harper and that it wasn’t a horrible gay experience.”
“These people aren’t homeless, they’re houseless.”
—Steve May, Sept. 3
That’s not the quote that got May, a former state lawmaker, into trouble. What did was his recruitment of several “houseless” people to run as Green Party write-in candidates for various state offices.
Democrats cried foul and went to court, saying it was meant to take away votes from Democratic candidates for legislative and statewide offices. And May, who was running for the Legislature in District 17, found himself in the national spotlight for his unorthodox strategy, attracting the attention of The New York Times.
May eventually decided to end his campaign in September, but not before announcing that “probably” he has driven his Segway on Tempe sidewalks while drunk.
“Now, they can’t resurrect these dead bodies out of the grave. So they have to import them. They have to bring them in from outside the country and make Democrats out of them, and that’s why they are pushing so hard for amnesty for the illegals.”
—Rep. Ray Barnes, May
You can always expect the most colorful — ‘colorful,’ by the way, is extremely generous — comments from Barnes, a Republican from Phoenix. And this year he lived up to his reputation.
In an interview last May, Barnes gave an unusual take on the illegal immigration debate, saying Democrats continue to push for amnesty as a way to replenish a voter base that has been decimated by the effects of Roe v. Wade.
By Barnes’ Freakonomics-esque calculation, there have been 40 million post-Roe v. Wade abortions. Had the 1973 ruling never occurred, Barnes said some 20 million of the resulting births would have yielded adults who would now be of voting age. Three-quarters of the adults, he reckoned, would be voting Democrats.
Anyway, here’s Barnes’ official tally:
“OK, that means there would have been 15 million abortions of Democratic babies and 5 million abortions of Republican babies who could have voted in 2004,” he said. “All right, now, what would Al Gore have done with 10 million more votes?”
Afterward, Barnes revealed that his calculations weren’t scientific, but were derived from the reasoning that most Democrats support abortion while Republicans do not. Therefore, he said, the post-Roe v. Wade losses have forced Dems to look for voters in other places, which is why they want amnesty for illegal immigrants.
“If he asked me for my papers, I’d flip him off.”
—The late Democratic leader Sen. Jorge Garcia, May 12
Garcia, who died Oct. 15 after suffering from a rare disease that led to heart failure, was known as one of the most agreeable, placid Democrats in the Arizona Legislature. But he couldn’t hide his disappointment with SB1070 in an interview shortly after the 2010 legislative session.
Garcia said the past decade has seen the “unleashing of Mr. Pearce’s hate.”
When the Arizona Capitol Times asked him what papers he carried to prove he’s a citizen, he raised his middle finger and said: “That’s what I would tell a cop. He’s going to ask me for my license, and my license is going to show that I’m a citizen. But if he asked me for my papers then I’d flip him off.”
Though Garcia was roundly criticized for the defiant statement, he stood by what he said.
“Don’t be giving credit to a pandering crybaby.”
— Incoming Senate President Russell Pearce, Dec. 1
So much for a unified Republican caucus. Sen.-elect John McComish complained to the Arizona Capitol Times in November that while some of his colleagues’ workload would be heavy next year in the Senate, he was being “underutilized.”
McComish, who had eyed the Senate presidency, was assigned initially to two committees, while most caucus members would serve on at least three and others were appointed to as many as five. “It’s not fair to the voters of District 20, who assumed that I was going to come down here and do my fair share of the workload,” he said.
The complaint didn’t thrill Pearce one bit. “I’ll buy him a box of Kleenex. The whining has got to stop,” Pearce said.
The incoming Senate president also refuted claims that plum committee assignments were given to those who supported his bid for Senate president, while those who didn’t weren’t given what they wanted.
“Good grief. I did the best I can do without creating 47 committees,” he said. “Don’t make up a story here. Don’t be giving credit to a pandering crybaby.”
Pearce later assigned McComish to a third committee.
“Knowing that my father died fighting the Nazi regime in Germany, that I lost him when I was 11 because of that … and then to have them call me Hitler’s daughter. It hurts. It’s ugliness beyond anything I’ve ever experienced.”
— Brewer to The Arizona Republic, April
Brewer was criticized last June for implying that her father, a worker at a Navy munitions depot in Nevada, died fighting the Nazis in Germany. She was talking about how hurt she was by criticisms that likened her to a Nazi because of her decision to sign SB1070.
As it turns out, though, Brewer’s father, Wilford Drinkwine, died of lung disease many years after the war as a result, the governor said, of long exposure to “hazardous chemicals and toxic fumes” while working at the Nevada military base.
Democrats said Brewer lied. Brewer said she would never lie about something like that, adding that she’s proud of her dad.
“He was a financial con artist years ago and he’s a political con artist now.”
—Former Maricopa County Attorney Andy Thomas, June 22
“He charges people without any basis. You cannot trust Andrew Thomas.”
—Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne, June 22
Horne and Thomas made it to our list, not because of how colorful their comments were but because they waged the most bitter primary campaign this year.
The whole campaign between the two was pretty ugly. But their animosity was on full display during a Clean Elections debate on KAET’s “Horizon” program.
As the Capitol Times wrote then, Thomas accused Horne of being a con artist in his opening statement and the debate never got more civil than that. Horne won the Republican primary by a slim margin and went on to defeat Democratic nominee Felecia Rotellini in the general election.