Antenori candidacy sees exodus of Republicans

2012-10-11T00:00:00Z 2014-07-08T17:09:11Z Antenori candidacy sees exodus of RepublicansTim Steller Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
October 11, 2012 12:00 am  • 

Republican Frank Antenori already faces a party-registration disadvantage in his run to remain in the state Senate. Now opposition within his own party is compounding the challenge.

Several people close to Republican Gov. Jan Brewer have contributed to Democrat David Bradley, Antenori's opponent in Legislative District 10. The governor herself is not endorsing either candidate, spokesman Matt Benson said.

And some Southern Arizona Republicans are working against Antenori, who's known as a conservative firebrand prone to angry rhetoric.

The latest episode, published Oct. 3 in the Phoenix-based Yellow Sheet Report, featured Antenori railing against Republican political consultant Bert Coleman and Southern Arizona businessmen Don Diamond and Jim Click. Diamond and Click have long been important contributors to Republican political campaigns, but Antenori said they don't like him.

"They know I cannot be bought, and they don't like that," the Yellow Sheet Report quoted Antenori saying. "I'm not their little butt-boy."

Diamond, who contributed $424 to Bradley's campaign in August, said the comment highlights Antenori's problem.

"He could do a better job representing us if he wasn't so abrasive," Diamond said.

Click said he supports Antenori over Bradley, and that he's phoned Antenori to talk with him, but he doesn't plan on contributing.

"I'm not mad at Frank Antenori, OK?" Click said. "If I was in that district, I would vote for Frank Antenori. He's going to caucus with the Republicans."

Democrats account for about 37 percent of registered voters in Legislative District 10, which includes a strip of midtown Tucson, as well as the east side and eastern areas outside the city limits. Republicans constitute about 34 percent, and independents, 29 percent.

In an interview, Antenori said he knows he sometimes rubs people the wrong way and he traced it to his 22-year Army career.

"It was a no-B.S. environment. I didn't have time for the pleasantries," he said. "I believe that the problem with government is we spend too much time blowing smoke up other people's skirts to try to get around the issue 'cause no one's got the guts to take the issue head on."

Three people from Gov. Brewer's inner circle have contributed to Bradley: Chuck Coughlin, president of HighGround Public Affairs, Doug Cole, vice president of HighGround, and Paul Senseman of Policy Development Group. Coughlin was Brewer's campaign manager. Cole and Senseman both served as her official spokesman. None would comment for this story.

Antenori acknowledged that "the governor and I are not exactly bosom buddies." Coughlin and Cole oppose him because he threatens their financial interests in private prisons and health-care reform, Antenori said.

"I guess we just have disagreements on our approach," he said of Brewer. "She was significantly advocating for increases in revenue where at the time I didn't think we needed them."

Antenori does count as supporters prominent Republicans such as Matt Salmon, a former congressman who is running for the House again, and U.S. Reps. Trent Franks and David Schweikert.

Resistance to Antenori, who won a House seat in 2008 and was appointed to the Senate in 2010, may be most widespread among moderate Southern Arizona Republicans.

Former legislator Pete Hershberger is working hard for David Bradley, he said.

"This is an election between a moderate Democrat and a far-right Republican," he said. "Antenori does bring out that split between what the Republican Party used to be a couple of decades ago and what it is now."

But Hershberger's greatest complaint is about Antenori's style.

"He's the bully of the Legislature," Hershberger said. "Everything is a fight to him, and you're either with him, or you're not."

Tucson City Councilman Steve Kozachik, who has considered switching from Republican to independent, is also working against Antenori. And Laura "Lolly" Almquist, a former Republican member of the Tucson Unified School District board, said she's supporting Bradley.

The Tucson Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce also voted to endorse Bradley.

In the same Yellow Sheet Report, Antenori called the chamber "squishy, whiny, crybaby, center-left people that don't have any connection to business."

"That's an interesting description for the biggest business organization in Southern Arizona," chamber President and CEO Michael Varney said. "Inflammatory statements like that really indicate to us who we can work with and who's slamming the door on us."

Many Tucson business people support Antenori and have donated to his campaign.

Joe Higgins, who hosts a morning radio show on KVOI 1030-AM and who also owns small businesses, said Antenori's been right on issues such as education reform, illegal immigration and reforming the state's Medicaid program.

"Frank is kind of frank," he said. "He doesn't cultivate those relationships with folks. That can be detrimental in politics."

On StarNet: Go to azstarnet. com/elections to find more coverage and election resources

Contact reporter Tim Steller at 807-8427 or tsteller@azstarnet.com

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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