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Some in Arizona GOP Angry at Elder Statesman Goldwater

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Some Arizona Republicans are turning on their elder statesman.

Still smarting from former Sen. Barry Goldwater’s unprecedented endorsement this fall of a Democratic congressional candidate, a number of Republicans want to strip his name from the party’s state headquarters.

Jay Nenninger said he and several fellow GOP members believe Goldwater’s name should no longer grace the central office of a party they feel he has betrayed.

“Goldwater has not been nearly as good for the Republican Party as the local media wants to make people believe,” Nenninger said. “I don’t think we should promote him as the great savior of the Republican Party.”

Nenninger and others were furious over a series of Goldwater actions before the November election: his criticism of the party’s national platform and President Bush, his appearance in advertisements opposing an anti-abortion initiative, his lukewarm support of incumbent Rep. John J. Rhodes III and his endorsement of Democratic state legislator Karan English in the race for a new congressional seat.

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The target of their wrath is the 83-year-old former senator who in 1964 was the Republican nominee for President. He lost to Lyndon B. Johnson. A nationally prominent conservative, Goldwater retired in 1987 after serving in the U.S. Senate since 1952.

Griffin Merkel, executive director of the state Republican Party, said the building in central Phoenix was named the Barry Goldwater Center shortly after it was purchased in 1982.

“He’s given his heart and his soul to the Republican Party. He’s done more for Republicans than any man that I know,” Merkel said. “And to put a black eye on his name in this state would be an absolute travesty.”

Merkel acknowledged that Republicans statewide were upset when Goldwater supported English in her bid for the District 6 congressional seat. “But they know that Barry speaks his mind . . . that’s Barry,” he said.

Goldwater, who has refused comment on the latest controversy, said at the time he believed English had more experience and more familiarity with the state’s needs. Republican opponent Douglas Wead, a former White House aide, moved to Arizona two years ago.

State Republicans were further miffed when Goldwater broke with the party platform and campaigned against the state’s anti-abortion initiative. Nenninger, a former GOP party activist who is executive director of the Arizona Right to Life group, called the move a slap in the face to abortion foes who had helped Goldwater in his 1980 Senate race after securing a pledge of his support for their cause.

After the election--in which English and Rhodes lost and the anti-abortion measure failed--there was talk that a name-change resolution should be introduced at the party’s annual meeting in Phoenix on Jan. 23.

But now, Merkel said, cooler heads are prevailing. He said he knows of no organized attempt to take Goldwater’s name off the building. But Nenninger said he believes a resolution to that effect is still a possibility.

Passage needs approval of a majority of the 1,600 committee members.

Elsewhere here, a high school, a street at a shopping mall and a terminal at Sky Harbor International Airport also are named after Goldwater.


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