howardbabydyatihi.jpgWe’re not eager to step into primaries unless it’s a case of an exceptionally bad reactionary — a Lieberman or a Jim Marshall — against a surefire progressive. After Rahm Emanuel’s term as DCCC Chairman ended I was under the impression that the bad old days of the DCCC getting their right-of-center, insider candidates in at the expense of grassroots progressives had ended. Alas, from every part of the country I’m starting to hear that the bad old days were just sleeping, not dead.

And that’s the other thing that gets us to jump into a primary. The race in Arizona’s first CD is a slightly Democratic-leaning district where Republicans have done well. It offers a unique opportunity in 2008. Before we meet an exceptional candidate, Howard Shanker, let’s take a look at the district.

It’s the largest district in the whole country that isn’t an entire state (Alaska, Wyoming and Montana) — as big as Illinois, which has 19 congressional districts. It’s mostly rural and includes Flagstaff, Prescott, Sedona, Casa Grande and the Navajo Nation. The district is almost a quarter Native American. Since 2002, it’s been represented by Rick Renzi, who is under investigation for a variety of criminal activities by a variety of law enforcement agencies, and who is too occupied with figuring out how to stay out of prison to run for re-election again. The Republicans are trying to decide between far right-wing mining lobbyist Sydney Hay, a self-financer, and the guy with all the McDonald’s franchises in the area, a local right-wing legislator named Bill Konopnicki, who is favored by the GOP Establishment but can’t make up his mind about running.

The Democratic side has drawn three candidates so far and could attract more. Mary Kim Titla is a former TV anchor who is outspokenly anti-choice. Ann Kirkpatrick is a former state legislator who seems to be the choice of the Insiders — including the ones Inside the Beltway. At a closed door meeting last month of Democratic precinct committee members she was asked to explain her positions on the most consequential issues of the day. Her response — regarding things like the occupation of Iraq and women’s choice — was that she had “people” working on position statements for her and that she would get back to them.

And then there’s our guest today, Howard Shanker.  He doesn’t need anyone working on position papers for him.

Take two and a half minutes and watch this video of Howard making his own case. It’s compelling:

When we spoke last week he had just gotten back from serving as the Grand Marshall of the Western Navajo Fair and Parade in Tuba City. He does a lot of work with the Navajo. They voted for Renzi in the past. They’re firmly committed to Howard now. He has a masters degree in public administration and a law degree from Georgetown. At one time he worked for the Department of Justice and more recently President Clinton appointed him to serve on the National Environmental Justice Advisory Council Enforcement Subcommittee. His law firm specializes in civil rights, natural resources and environmental work and he’s an adjunct professor at ASU Law School where he teaches courses on environmental justice and environmental litigation.

“You need someone qualified– someone who understands the intended and unintended ramifications of legislation that’s being drafted,” he told me. “My vision for Arizona, a place that should be the solar and wind power capital of the country, plus a healthy sense of outrage over what has been going on in the past 7 years, influenced me to run…I’ve had a tremendous impact on this district as a private person, probably more so than any elected official– at least in regard to preserving the quality of life and the environment.”

Before we get started with Howard, just to give you an idea of where he stands on the issues that are important to this community, the first one he brought up was the occupation of Iraq.

“It was unjustified to begin with and we have no business being there. We need to get our troops out of there as quickly as possible– obviously in a reasonable manner but the status quo is unacceptable. They should begin withdrawing the troops as soon as possible, tomorrow if they could.”

Howard’s is a people’s, grassroots campaign. If you like what you hear today, please consider helping him out at his Blue America ActBlue page.