It’s not exactly life imitating art.
But a real life state senator from Mesa decided to air the fictional “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” Tuesday for colleagues and staff, saying the movie will educate them about the nature of politics, corruption in government and “swamp creatures” that wear suits and ties at the state Capitol. Republican Sen. David Farnsworth told called the movie a lesson in caution.
And he’s convinced there’s not just corruption in state government in Arizona but also a swamp to be drained here, just like in Washington, both in 1939 and now.
“The message is, there’s a lot of influences that we deal with,” Farnsworth told Capitol Media Services of the classic Jimmy Stewart movie
“Some of them are positive and some of them are negative,” he said. “And I think as legislators we need to be aware of those influences and have our eyes open and not be naive.”
Farnsworth said he does not fancy himself as a latter-day Jefferson Smith, the Stewart character in the Frank Capra movie about a naive innocent who finds himself in the U.S. Senate doing battle with corrupt lawmakers.
“The character in the movie was a very pure-minded individual,” the senator quipped. “And I wouldn’t claim to be as good as he was.”
But he said there are parallels between his own decision to get involved in politics and what’s going on in Washington right now.
It started, Farnsworth said, with the impeachment and conviction of Evan Mecham in 1988 by the Arizona Legislature. Among the charges was that Mecham was guilty of obstruction of justice for telling the director of the Department of Public safety not to cooperate into an investigation of death threats involving two aides.
Farnsworth said what happened to Mecham is “similar to what they’re doing to Trump in Washington right now,” with some members of Congress saying that the Mueller report left open the question of whether the president engaged in obstruction.
So how does Farnsworth believe that a movie about a do-gooder sent to Washington where he confronts political corruption helps explain to Arizonans the politics here?
“I think that, as has been stated, there’s a swamp in D.C. and I believe there’s a swamp in Arizona,” Farnsworth said. “It’s difficult to drain the swamp because you don’t know who the swamp creatures are because they all wear suits and ties and big smiles.”
So does he believe there’s corruption in Arizona?
“Absolutely,” Farnsworth said.
“If I knew where it was, I would clean it up,” the senator explained. “Thus, the film to remind us.”
And Farnsworth said his analysis of the situation here should be no surprise.
“Any time there’s big power and big money it’s common sense that there’s a certain amount of corruption,” he said.
“We don’t know who the players are,” Farnsworth continued. “But we need to be continually vigilant to see if we can root that corruption out.”
One of the pivotal scenes in the movie is when Stewart’s character, having been framed for corruption himself, stages a one-man filibuster on the Senate floor to delay a vote on an appropriations bill. Stewart goes nearly 24 hours before collapsing.
There has not been a true filibuster in the Arizona Senate for decades. But Senate President Karen Fann, R-Prescott, one of a handful of lawmakers who attended the screening, said she’s not concerned that one thing the movie will teach current lawmakers is how just one of them can bring the legislative process to a halt to make a point or get a specific concession.
“You have missed the entire point of the movie,” she said.
And that is?
“Understanding how we can all have good, debatable conversations about the topics that are important to all of our people,” Fann explained. “It’s not about the filibuster.”