It isn’t easy being a politician. You not only have to remember names, speeches, and the important issues that affect your district, but you also have put yourself out there, for the public to cruelly scrutinize all of your mistakes and accomplishments.
It’s also not easy to live up to the expectations set forth by your parents. We have all been there. They simply want the best for us, and sometimes what they think is best is everything but.
That’s why I pity the two remaining candidates for Phoenix City Council’s fourth district. Here, we have two people, both who seem to care passionately about their communities, both who have fairly strong portfolios, and both who have pretty powerful, pretty well known political fathers.
There’s the teacher by day, political activist by night, Laura Pastor. Pastor, who’s father is Congressman Ed Pastor, has been called a “daddy’s girl” by Phoenix New Times, “Paris Hilton”on a mailer sent out by a concerned citizen, and even stupid by, well, me.
Meanwhile, there’s Justin Johnson. Johnson calls himself a contractor and a small business owner in his political literature, while his opponents call him a developer, ready to destroy a community near you. He has been accused of being a “carpet bagger” – accusations that suggest he has taken up residency wherever there is an open political seat. And above all else, he has been criticized by the Democrats in his district for keeping company with some of the worst Republicans in Phoenix.
I believed all the things that had been said about both of these candidates. I believed what everyone said because I liked neither Johnson nor Pastor since the beginning. I had supported David Lujan for the Phoenix City Council since basically the day he announced he was running. I like Lujan. A ton. I strongly feel like Lujan is a collected, calm guy who has a heart of gold. He is someone who has an understanding of what the City of Phoenix needs, and will go out of his way, even if it means political suicide, to make sure the city gets the very best.
Sadly for Lujan, and really for the City of Phoenix, he didn’t make it past the August primary. Johnson and Pastor, however, did, with Johnson surprisingly leading Pastor. As I said, I never really liked either of them, and after Lujan lost, I was more or less considering endorsing a “Vote of No Confidence” in this district’s general election.
That is, until last Thursday night. On Thursday night I was fortunate enough to see the two of them side-by-side, in a debate moderated by Arizona Republic writer, Eugene Scott.
Upon first viewing the two candidates, it was clear they come from different stalk. Call me gay, but I immediately noticed their attire. Johnson came in looking polished, pressed and professional. He was wearing a dark blue tie that looked to be perfectly matched by a fellow homo to his lighter blue shirt. He is less cute than his campaign literature suggests, but still a suave man, who, if he didn’t boast about his wife like Tom Cruise on Oprah’s couch, I would have mistaken as a man who bats for my team. Meanwhile, Lady Pastor, also professional looking – though less polished – was wearing an army green kind of suit, with the cute heels that had cheetah print on the top. Unlike her opponent, it looked liked she had picked out her outfit without the help of a stylist or a political analyst.
The debate was unlike any debate I had ever seen. Scott hadn’t moderated anything like this before, but I sure hope he continues. He is a reporter, not a politician, which means instead of having to beat around the bush and be politically correct, he can ask the tough questions and even offend a little. And he did. So much so that the first question of the night accused both of them of living in their father’s shadow, and demanded to know how they were independent of their fathers.
You can watch the entire debate online, so I won’t spoil all of the candidate’s answers here. But frankly, they are both Democrats and with the exception of their stand on the food tax and a handful of other issues, I think they have pretty similar believes and values.
Instead of looking at their answers, I looked at how they answered and how they came off in general.
With each answer, Johnson provided concise, rehearsed rhetoric like every politician before him. Meanwhile, Pastor appeared to be searching for answers. She took a moment to assess the question, make certain she knew what was being asked, and occasionally asked for clarification. This can, and has, come off as stupid. And what I originally misinterpreted as her being just plain dumb before, now has me thinking. Perhaps, Pastor isn’t stupid at all, but rather sincere when she says she cares about Phoenix. Simply, Lady Pastor has all of the political connections and fund raising means to know how to answer in such a way that is evasive but makes her sound like she knows her shit. Johnson obviously uses those connections, but not Pastor.
At the debate, Pastor did what politicians don’t do anymore. She took a moment and she thought about her response. She tested her response against her values. And then found the right words to articulate her response best. Johnson already knows the answers to the questions because they are already decided for him. They are vague enough to suggest he has compassion for the city, liberal enough to keep his Democratic base pleased, all in telling a story that you have to wonder is true or not. He does all this so you don’t realize that he isn’t answering the question at all. It’s a political strategy that we have all seen before.
I like the Lady Pastor isn’t politically rehearsed, and has to think before she speaks. I like that, because it truly illustrates that she is independent of her father.
On a more personal note, during the debate, Eugene asked the candidates if they supported the LGBT community. This was one occasion when Lady Pastor’s answer was easy for her. She simply answered “yes” – while Johnson proceeded to go into his politically correct jargon, and even attacked Pastor, saying that her “yes” answer is too easy on a complex issue. Well that struck a nerve with me, and Pastor did what I didn’t think she had in her. She fired back at him.
“The difference is I have been supporting the LGBT community since I was fourteen,” she said. She then went on to tell us about how she has marched with LGBT friends, and how she has the endorsement of Equality Arizona.
The candid attack was the first time I had seen the fire-in-the-gut that is driving Lady Pastor to run. It’s a fantastic strategy; one that I think she needs to continue to use if she is going to win this election. Above all else, however, Lady Pastor chose to do it on an important issue. That means something to me.
If you’re looking for a run-of-the-mill politician, look no further than Justin Johnson. He is exactly who his father is paying for him to be. But if you look for more in a candidate like I do, if you’re looking for passion, Laura Pastor is it. She maybe the daughter of Congressman Ed Pastor, but her lack of political know-how illustrates he is simply staying out of her campaign. She may not be David Lujan, and her political shyness might come off a stupid, but the more I get to know her, the more I feel comfortable in endorsing Laura Pastor for Phoenix City Council’s fourth district.