Arizona’s Attorney General and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Terry Goddard should know better.
When Arizona’s Governor-by-default Jan Brewer announced her opposition to Proposition 203 to legalize medical marijuana on Wednesday, she had little to lose in the way of votes or credibility. There is strong opposition to medical marijuana among conservatives. And since this is the governor who made up tall tales about headless bodies in the desert and rampant drug smuggling by Mexican immigrants, no one is really looking to her as a beacon of truth on the subject. So when she warned in her press conference that medical marijuana dispensaries could overwhelm communities– even though the proposition caps the number of dispensaries at 124 statewide — no one was surprised.
But Goddard is a smart guy who has built his campaign on being, well, smarter and more honest about the issues than Brewer. So that’s why Goddard’s factually-problematic statement this week opposing Proposition 203 — likely posted in haste to pull the issue off the table when Brewer announced her press conference — caught so many people by surprise. Among them, Democratic political operative-turned-medical marijuana champion Andrew Myers, who is running the Yes on Proposition 203 campaign: “What I thought was really disappointing was that his criticism wasn’t even rooted in fact,” Myers says. It was so “remarkably off base” it sounded like something coming out of Brewer’s camp.
The measure clearly requires dispensaries to grow their own marijuana and charges state officials with the responsibility to inspect them to make sure they are doing so. But Goddard joined the chorus of misinformation on the measure, contending that somehow it would enrich drug cartels:
“I have spent more than seven years as Arizona’s top law enforcement official cracking down on drug trafficking, unrelentingly working to keep Arizona children safe from the dangers of drug abuse. I cannot in good conscience advocate for a Proposition that encourages importing drugs into our country or that might result in drugs getting into the hands of our children.”
No one seems to know where Goddard got this. Sick people in Arizona who smoke marijuana already get their pot from drug cartels, and Proposition 203 would give them a legal alternative if they qualify. His statement came on the tail of published opposition by the state’s county attorneys and sheriffs — but even they didn’t make this ludicrous argument. And his campaign refuses to explain it. My emails and phone calls seeking an explanation — giving the benefit of the doubt that maybe the attorney general had found a loophole in the measure that I don’t see — have met with no response, even though I have a professional relationship with Goddard and several campaign leaders going back many years.
Not only is Goddard’s opposition not rooted in fact — it doesn’t seem to be true to his own beliefs. As Attorney General, Goddard has said in the past that legalization of marijuana is something that should be discussed. His statement opposing the measure garnered an incredulous response from one of his own employees on Facebook. In a post, since removed, the long-time Goddard loyalist blasted his boss for backing away from his beliefs. “I have never seen him, ever, do something politically expedient in the 5 years I have worked for him — until now,” the employee wrote.
And as for political calculation, where were Goddard’s strategists on this one? As the underdog in the race, Goddard needs to both distinguish himself from Brewer and motivate as many left-leaning (and independent and undecided) folks to the polls as possible if he wants to overcome the odds and defeat Brewer. By jumping on the opposition bandwagon this late in the campaign with a half-hearted explanation (a short statement compared to Brewer’s bells-and-whistles press conference), he didn’t win the issue or take points from Brewer: The Arizona Republic, for example, blogged about Brewer’s press conference but only mentioned Goddard’s opposition in passing in the final sentence.
Proposition 203 is polling far better than Goddard’s campaign. It is especially popular among Democrats and Libertarian-minded Independents: Myers says internal numbers (albeit from last year) found Proposition 203 to poll favorably among 75 percent of Democrats and 78 percent of Independents. Plus, polling in California has indicated that the marijuana vote there for Proposition 19 could be a big help to Democratic candidates.
Myers says he has received several calls from disillusioned Democrats, some of whom have said this cost Goddard their votes. I saw similar proclamations on Facebook. Myers’ campaign has asked Goddard for a retraction — reminiscent of Goddard’s own demands to Brewer to admit she was wrong about beheadings in Arizona. So far, no response. The worst possibility for Goddard is that medical marijuana supporters will answer the ballot question for governor the same way.