Saying state is in 'horrible condition,' Symington considers return to politics

Capitol Media Services file photo
Fife Symington, center, was one of four former governors in attendance in January when Jan Brewer was sworn in as governor. Now Symington said Brewer is doing a bad job and is weighing running against her in next year's Republican primary. With Symington are Jane Hull, left, a Republican, and Democrats Rose Mofford and Raul Castro.

Capitol Media Services file photo Fife Symington, center, was one of four former governors in attendance in January when Jan Brewer was sworn in as governor. Now Symington said Brewer is doing a bad job and is weighing running against her in next year's Republican primary. With Symington are Jane Hull, left, a Republican, and Democrats Rose Mofford and Raul Castro.

PHOENIX -- Saying he can do the job better than the incumbent, former Gov. Fife Symington said Friday he is weighing a bid to get his old job back.

"The state is just in horrible condition,' he told Capitol Media Services. And Symington said he thinks he knows who's responsible for all that.

"I've been watching the slow motion train wreck at the Capitol,' he said, saying the problems have been "led by very poor decisions on the governor's part.'

That governor is Jan Brewer, a Republican like Symington, who became the state's chief executive in January when Democrat Janet Napolitano quit to take a job in the Obama administration.

Brewer has said the state's problems, led by a gap of about $4 billion between spending and revenues, are largely leftovers from the Napolitano administration.

But Symington said that's no excuse, saying the state was facing similar financial problems when he became governor in 1991, though he admitted they were nowhere of the same scale. Symington said he was responsible for creating a large surplus and pushing through several tax cuts.

This isn't the first time that Symington, forced to resign in 1997 following a fraud conviction in federal court unrelated to his political life, has floated his name for governor. But he ultimately opted to sit out the 2006 race, with the GOP nominating Len Munsil to lead the party's unsuccessful bid to deny Napolitano a second term.

Several other Republicans already have made noises about challenging Brewer in a Republican primary next year. They include state Treasurer Dean Martin who said he definitely intends to run for governor, if not in 2010 then in at some future time, and Paradise Valley Mayor Vernon Parker who Symington called "a friend.'

And there is once again talk of Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio making a bid despite the fact that similar comments by Arpaio in previous elections have never actually led to a candidacy.

But Symington said he would step aside for none of those if they actually got into the race. And he said a primary with four or five candidates, including Brewer, is a good thing for him, saying his experience will help him get the necessary plurality to become the GOP standard bearer to face off against Attorney General Terry Goddard, the anticipated Democratic nominee.

If that match-up sounds familiar, it should: Goddard and Symington faced off in 1990, with a third-party candidate resulting in neither getting the necessary 50 percent of the vote. Symington bested Goddard in a 1991 runoff.

He won reelection over Democrat Eddie Basha in 1994.

While Symington is counting on his experience getting him some attention, he conceded that the way he left office in 1997 also will dog him.

A federal jury found him guilty of defrauding his creditors in a real estate venture. That conviction subsequently was overturned after a federal appeals court concluded that a juror had been improperly dismissed during the trial.

"As you know, at the end of the day I won,' he said.

The actual outcome, however, was a little less clear-cut: Symington never faced a new trial because Bill Clinton, in one of his last acts as president, issued an executive pardon -- a pardon that leaves him without a criminal record and keeps his political hopes alive.

Symington said, though, he doubts Clinton issued the pardon because, back in the late 1960s, Symington may have saved Clinton's life by getting a boat and pulling him out of a riptide.

Anyway, Symington said anything he did as a developer is pretty much irrelevant. He said all of the activities at the heart of the trial, including charges of deliberately lying on financial disclosure statements, occurred before he ever took office.

Symington now does some political and business consulting as well as owns a cooking school, the follow-up to a post-conviction change of career where he decided he wanted to become a chef.

Calls to Brewer spokesman Paul Senseman were not immediately returned.

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