John McCain is known to his minions as the “stand-firm”, “straight talk express” candidate whose integrity just simply can’t be challenged. But, all politicians are human. McCain is no different, and we are beginning to see cracks appearing in his shining armor. The cracks will, inevitably, split apart that armor and expose a flawed candidate who is not the leader many think he is and who should not be the leader of this country.
The Washington Post writes about one of those cracks today – a land swap of public land for private land that will benefit tremendously one of McCain’s donors. Land swaps between private entities usually do not draw attention; however, when that land is our land – the public’s land – transactions are scrutinized to ensure that the public is not being cheated by not receiving fair value for its land.
The process began several years ago. In 2005 McCain pushed through a piece of “land swap” legislation that will benefit Steven Betts, a McCain fundraiser and contributor. Betts runs SunCor Development, a Tempe, Arizona, firm that was given the job to build as many as 12,000 homes on the swapped land. Of course Betts denies any discussion of the swap with McCain – even though according to Betts it was discussed “casually” before the bill’s passage.
The 2005 deal is the granddaddy of Arizona land swaps – the largest such swap in Arizona history according to the Audubon Society. More than 55,000 acres were involved, including rare expanses of desert woodland and pronghorn antelope habitat.
The owner of the private land, rancher Fred Ruskin and his Yavapai Ranch Limited Partnership, arguing that the process was too complicated for the standard regulatory process governing land swaps, took the matter directly to Congress. Ruskin convinced Arizona Representative J.D. Hayworth to draft a bill proposing the exchange.
When those efforts failed, Ruskin hired lobbyists to “open communications” with McCain. Those lobbysits included the following:
- Mark Buse, a former McCain staff director at the Senate commerce committee
- Michael Jimenez, another former McCain aide
- Wes Gullett, an aide in McCain’s Senate office and deputy campaign manager for his 2000 presidential run
Ruskin’s efforts using former staff members and aides were successful and McCain introduced his land swap legislation in April 2003. The legislation was signed into law by Bush in November 2005.
McCain continued to spout platitudes about protecting the environment while pushing legislation to complete the largest land swap deal in Arizona history – legislation that will result, ultimately, in potential development ranging in the area of $250 million to Fred Ruskin.
But Ruskin isn’t the only one to benefit. Steven Betts, a McCain donor, will benefit – despite all the denials by Betts and McCain. And just when did Betts decide to express interest? After the legislation was passed by Congress and just one month before it was signed into law by Bush.
Betts will capitalize by constructing subdivisions located on prime Arizona property sitting astride a major interstate. Despite public outcry and opposition, McCain failed his constituency by caving in to pressure from lobbyists and politically powerful Arizona figures.
When questioned about the lobbyists, true to form, McCain simply states that he does not recall being lobbied by his former aides and staffers. Isn’t that what his pat response was to the allegations in reference to Vicki Iseman, the lobbyist who had become very close to him?
I have watched him on the Sunday morning political programs, and his answer to many questions is, indeed, becoming “I don’t recall.” Perhaps McCain should now carry the moniker of “I don’t recall” McCain instead of the laudatory labels attached to him. McCain’s armor is cracking, and soon it will fall apart.