Upset of Establishment Candidates Set Stage : Offbeat's the Norm in Arizona Governor's Race

Times Staff Writer

Bill Schulz, an independent candidate who now leads both major party candidates for Arizona governor in some polls, gives out campaign buttons that read simply: "Bill Will."

The question to many Arizonans is: "Bill Will What?"

Schulz, 55, a multimillionaire who has been both a Republican and a Democrat in a political career marked mainly by its unpredictability, does not seem to have made up his mind what he wants to do if elected. In appearances with the other two candidates he frequently appears to change position on the issues in the middle of a sentence, and answers many questions by pledging to form a commission to study what his policies should be.

Reflects Disenchantment

That he is being taken seriously in the unusually offbeat governor's race is a reflection of how unhappy many Arizonans are with both the official Democratic candidate, state schools Supt. Carolyn Warner, and the Republican candidate, ideologue Evan Mecham. Both won their nominations by beating Establishment-backed candidates in upsets after divisive campaigns.

Schulz, an apartment magnate who now is a registered Democrat, got on the ballot when supporters gathered 32,000 signatures on petitions to qualify him as an independent. According to his personal financial statement, he has a net worth of $57 million, $11 million of it in cash. He says he has poured $1.4 million of his own money into his bid for governor. His opponents contend that that is a considerable understatement.

Mecham, 62, an automobile dealer who has converted a showroom into his state headquarters, has run unsuccessfully for governor four times before. He first came to public attention 30 years ago with his charge that President Dwight D. Eisenhower was a socialist.

Mecham is a self-described "protege" of right-wing author W. Cleon Skousen, and his wife was for a while a member of the John Birch Society.

Beat Reagan Candidate

In the primary, Mecham defeated the Republican Establishment candidate, Arizona House Speaker Burton Barr, who had President Reagan's endorsement, after a campaign that charged Barr with enriching himself through public service and Barr's wife, Louise, with trafficking in state liquor licenses.

Barr has been sitting the election out, and the Speaker's wife is serving on Schulz's campaign committee.

Mecham, who has promised to be "first in the voluntary drug testing line" as governor, charges that Barr and Schulz long ago entered into a secret deal that one or the other would be governor. When Barr lost, he says, it was Schulz's turn to try.

Warner, the Democratic candidate, has inherited some Establishment support in the present campaign. The Phoenix newspapers, the Republic and the Gazette, both have endorsed her, but unenthusiastically. The Gazette editorialized: "Her performance as state superintendent of public instruction has not been impressive. . . . (She) does not hold out promise of greatness, but there is every indication that she would be a competent steward of the governor's office."

Noted for a good sense of humor and a generally orthodox liberal record of advocating more government programs to aid the disadvantaged, Warner proved very sharp-tongued in her own primary contest, in which she upset Tony Mason, a lawyer specializing in real estate development who had the backing of the outgoing Democratic governor, Bruce Babbitt, and other state Democratic leaders. She accused Mason of making his fortune on the margin and in questionable dealings.

Doubts Barr-Schulz Deal

Warner, 56, said in an interview that she very much doubts Mecham was right in saying there was a deal between Barr and Schulz, because both men have such egos it is unlikely they could have ever dealt with one another.

Such comments have riled Schulz, who said this week that while he had pledged to campaign only positively, "a man has to defend himself." He told of meeting privately with Democratic political leaders before he got into the fall campaign and asking them whether any of them felt Warner "had done anything that would qualify her to grapple with any of the problems we've got in this state."

The only response, he reported, came from one who said: "She's a good organic gardener."

Warner said she believes Schulz will spend between $4 million and $5 million--mostly his own money-- on his race, compared to the $1 million she has to spend. Schulz responded that he will spend $1.6 million, of which $175,000 has been raised from others. He said that if he wins he will pay himself back to some extent with money he raises later.

Schulz's campaign manager, Roger Meinershagen, said that Schulz might spend "a tad more" than $1.6 million.

Warner has a campaign brochure that points out that Schulz "in 1977 announced for governor. Withdrew in 1978. Announced for the U.S. Senate in 1979, then withdrew. Announced again in 1980, ran and lost (but only narrowly to Republican Barry Goldwater). Announced for the 1986 governor's race in 1983, withdrew in 1985, reconsidered a month later, announced that 'under no conditions would he be a candidate for any office in 1986,' then changed his mind again and re-entered the race following the primary elections."

Clarifies Position

Schulz, when asked about this summary, said it was accurate as far as it went.

He noted, however, that he had withdrawn from the governor's race in 1985 only because one of his three daughters developed a severe case of clinical depression and that he had plunged full-time into an effort to prevent her from committing suicide. He said her cure freed him to re-enter politics.

As in all other matters, Schulz is extremely outspoken about his daughter's illness. At a joint appearance with Warner in Phoenix this week, he told the audience that his daughter "was in a program in Boston involving 11 girls. Nine of them committed suicide, the 10th tried, and my daughter was talking about it."

On the way out of the forum, he apologized to one person in the audience who shook his hand for not being more certain on the campaign issues. "If I had that year I lost, I'd be better prepared," he said.

During the period he was out of the race, however, Schulz did issue a lengthy paper on what kind of governor he might be and what policies he would follow. The written paper has landed him in some trouble in the campaign for its suggestions that some military bases ought to be shut down in the state and the state hospital ought to be demolished if the properties could be put to more profitable uses.

Shifts Bilingual Stand

But Schulz's positions change so quickly that it is sometimes hard to keep up with them. Speaking, for instance, before a meeting of the Hispanic Bar Assn. in Phoenix, he confessed to changes in his position on bilingualism.

He said that he has originally supported bilingualism out of the thought it would prove a cost-saving measure for the state. "I felt, if we all learned both English and Spanish together, then there would be no need for bilingual ballots, because we'd all speak English, and we could save 20 to 25% in ballot printing costs," he said. "But then I learned some don't speak English, so I favor a bilingual ballot." And, besides, he added, regardless of costs, he supports "a bilanguage culture for the whole state." All Anglo schoolchildren, he said, should be required to learn Spanish.

For a candidate who is actively appealing for Republican votes as well as Democratic ones, such statements might appear to be politically disadvantageous. But the only reporter in the room when Schulz made those remarks was from out-of-state. There are so many debates and joint appearances between candidates in the Arizona governor's race--sometimes more than one a day--that the press doesn't cover all of them.

Both Schulz, and Warner's husband, Ron, are members of the Phoenix 40, a self-perpetuating civic group that is at the heart of the Arizona Establishment. Mecham, having defeated the Establishment candidate in the Republican primary, is now vocally making the point that he is not a member.

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World