‘When you meet him, you won’t like him very much.’
That was the prediction made to me by Steve Twist, a candidate for Attorney General in 1990.
Twist was referring to his primary challenger Grant Woods, a former top aide to Sen. John McCain.
I had been elected the youngest Republican County Chairman in the nation in 1989, and the 1990 GOP primary in Arizona was shaping up to be competitive, especially in the attorney general race.
Woods had developed a reputation among activists of being rude, arrogant and a bit mean.
Twist was out of the gate early, traveling the state before Woods officially announced, attempting to get rural county officials on board his campaign.
I liked Twist, he had been the right-arm of longtime Attorney General Bob Corbin, but there was no way I was endorsing anyone as a neutral county chairman.
When Woods finally visited the county months later, on his first campaign swing, there was no reason to believe I would like him – or support him.
Seated next to each other at the annual dinner of Teen-Age Republicans (and their parents and teachers), Woods and I barely spoke before the meal was served. (Neither of us ate much, agreeing that rubber chicken and leafy salad was not our thing.)
When I got up to welcome everyone, I spoke of the usual GOP talking points – Reagan had saved America, Bush was the leader for our time, we needed less government and more individualism – and then slipped in this quote from one of my personal heroes:
“Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”
The quote is from Robert Kennedy, the brother of former President John F. Kennedy, and a progressive icon who, even as a young conservative activist, I found inspirational in so many ways.
As the youngest GOP county chairman in the country in 1990, I found racism, and the irrational fear and anger it generated, to be one of the most distasteful things in our country.
As I sat down, Grant quickly brought up the subject of Kennedy.
It turned out we had both just finished reading one of the latest books about RFK’s life, this one about some of the best speeches he had delivered during his career.
This was 1990 and Woods and I, both ‘Big Tent’ Republicans, were sharing our sense of compassion for the disadvantaged, and a passion for civil rights.
“Robert Kennedy’s real attribute was a deep-felt sympathy with the disadvantaged, and this is something we should all share, whether conservative or liberal,” he would say many times during the campaign. “The Republican party has done a lousy job at that. I hope the Republican party in the Nineties will use its great strength and position to tackle some of our social problems.”
So, here we were, the youngest GOP county chairman in America, and a leading candidate for state attorney general, discussing our admiration for Bobby Kennedy.
“For people in our age group in Arizona, I find that racism and sexism as it has been known in the past is just so abhorrent it is not even considered,” he said in 1990. “I think the Republican party can be a leader in the areas of civil rights. Many Republicans do not go there naturally, but I think they will go there, because it is right.”
I agreed with him then, and now readily admit how wrong we both were about the GOP embracing anything resembling civil rights in the following three decades.
At the end of the dinner, I hadn’t found Grant to be rude, arrogant or mean at all.
Quite the opposite.
He was direct with a quick wit, and had a solid core of conviction for what is right.
Mohave County in 1990 was one of only three counties in Arizona with a registered Republican edge, and prior to the September primary, I formally endorsed Grant Woods for Attorney General.
So much for remaining neutral. I felt strongly that he was the right person for the job.
Grant won Mohave County in the primary, and went on to win the General Election in November.
When I heard the news that Grant had passed away over the weekend, my heart sank a bit.
Although I had re-registered as an Independent over 20 years ago when I started my broadcast journalism career, Grant had recently – what I had hoped other Republicans would do during the rise of white nationalism and racism during the Trump years – left the GOP.
He did it on absolute conviction and character, and it didn’t surprise me a bit.
As I think of Grant today I’m reminded of another quote made by Bobby Kennedy, about his fallen brother John, used at the 1964 Democratic National Convention. From Shakespeare:
“When he shall die take him and cut him out into stars and he shall make the face of heaven so fine that all the world will be in love with night and pay no worship to the garish sun.”
Thank you for your leadership to our state, Grant, and thank you for our friendship.