A year ago, Don Goldwater was the state’s special events coordinator, a position that put him in charge of three employees and a budget of $140,000.
This year, he wants to be Arizona’s governor. In contrast to Goldwater’s political experience, the governor of Arizona oversees a budget of more than $10 billion, 43,000 workers and an additional 20,000 university employees.
But Goldwater, who has never held an elected office, said he isn’t worried about his political résumé or any perceived lack of experience. He believes work histories give only a small glimpse of a person, and said he’s more of an ideas man.
“I’ve got 51 years of life in me. I’ve got a wide variety of experiences from business to politics. And I bring all that to the table,” he said.
And so far the numbers show GOP voters are on his side. Since the beginning of the year, most polls show Goldwater holding a comfortable lead over his three opponents — Len Munsil, Mike Harris and Gary Tupper.
Most political experts agree that’s because he was born with something only a lot of money can buy in politics — name recognition.
As nephew of former Sen. Barry Goldwater, who lost a bid for president in 1964, he carries a last name that many Republicans believe sets the standard in Arizona politics.
But even Goldwater knows his name alone won’t carry him to victory in the Republican primary on Sept. 12.
“My last name only goes as far as a handshake,” he said. “Sure, if my last name was Jones I wouldn’t be so high in the polls. But still, my message resonates with the people.”
And that message is immigration, immigration, immigration. Sure, he also talks about abolishing the state income tax, reducing crime and cutting state spending. But it has been tough talk on immigration — which includes building labor camps on the state’s border with Mexico — that has shaped the Goldwater candidacy.
And he’s using his rigid stance on immigration to try and carve out his own name in Arizona politics.
NAME YOU KNOW
Goldwater’s campaign slogan is simple: “The name you know. The name you trust.” But political experts say his name won’t take him all the way to the state’s top office. He’s also going to have to connect with voters on the issues.
So far, Goldwater hasn’t had a lot of money to get his message out. But last week he filed nearly 4,800 individual $5 contributions to qualify for public campaign financing.
Goldwater will get $453,000 to fill his coffers and spread his message once state officials verify the signatures.
Republican political consultant Bert Coleman said Goldwater now needs to show voters he’s more than a name.
“Now that he has the money, I would hope he takes a stand on issues other than he’s Barry Goldwater’s relative,” he said.
Even though Goldwater has never held elected office, he touts a record of working behind the scenes in politics for the past three decades.
“People know that I’m the guy that can get things done,” he said.
Over the years, he’s volunteered on numerous political campaigns. In 1980, he worked on Ronald Reagan’s presidential campaign in Coconino County. That same year he also worked on his uncle’s Senate race.
Four years later, he worked as an intern on a U.S. Senate subcommittee, which was led by former Sen. Bob Packwood, R-Ore.
However, in 1992, he attempted to come out from behind the political curtain and run for a seat in the state Senate. But he was soundly beaten by current Sen. John Huppenthal, R-Chandler.
Like his political career, Goldwater’s business affairs haven’t generated many headlines. On his Web site, Goldwater lists himself as a real estate developer. But he admits he hasn’t cut any major deals.
“I haven’t built any major department stores or malls,” he said. Instead, he’s focused on building houses here and there, he said.
But his supporters say his lack of experience shouldn’t matter.
“Great leaders always surround themselves with good people,” said Rep. Russell Pearce, R-Mesa.
He went on to say that Goldwater was the best candidate to deal with illegal immigration — an issue that has shaped both men.
MORE THAN ONE ISSUE
As far as Goldwater is concerned, nearly every major problem facing Arizona stems from illegal immigration. He says it has caused Arizona’s high crime rate, pushed state spending to more than $10 billion a year and dragged down the state’s education system.
Goldwater believes tightening border security and taking aggressive measures to fight illegal immigration would solve other problems throughout the state.
For starters, he would shore up the state’s porous border by building a wall. He also wants to arm the National Guard troops stationed along the border — even the ones doing clerical work.
He’s also called for building work camps near the border where illegal immigrants would work on public projects such as cleaning up trash.
The proposal drew the ire of many prominent politicians across the state, including Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.
“That Mr. Goldwater is either unaware of or indifferent to the loaded symbolism, injustice and un-Americanism of his ‘plan’ to address the many serious issues caused by illegal immigration reveals his flaws as a candidate, and a stunning lack of respect for the basic values of a generous and decent society,” McCain wrote in a statement on June 23.
But Goldwater stands firmly behind his proposal.
“Why is it OK to force American citizens to do these things, but it’s not OK to make immigrants who are here illegally do the same?” Goldwater said.
But Goldwater isn’t the only candidate taking a hard line on immigration. Gubernatorial hopefuls and fellow Republicans Harris and Munsil also have taken a get-tough position on immigration. Yet Goldwater is clearly the most outspoken.
He has also vowed to abolish the state income tax and reduce crime, but he hasn’t defined his strategy on those issues as clearly as he has on immigration.
Arizona State University professor Kim Fridkin, who specializes in political campaigns, said she doubts any candidate can win on a single issue — particularly in a race against a governor as popular as Janet Napolitano, a Democrat.
“A single-issue candidacy can only work if everything falls into place,” Fridkin said.
However, it’s not unheard of for a candidate with no political experience to take the state’s top job. Former Gov. Fife Symington was elected in 1991 despite never holding an elected office. In that campaign, Symington ran on his experience as a businessman.
Don Goldwater Education: Degree in information technology from the University of Phoenix. Attended Northern Arizona University and Phoenix College. Career: Real estate developer. Former special events coordinator for the state from 1998-2005. Political experience: Seeking first elected office. Family: Wife Lisa and two sons.