Sen. Jon Kyl (R)
Elected: 1994, term expires 2012, 3rd term.
Born: April 25, 1942, Oakland, NE .
Education: U. of AZ, B.A. 1964, L.L.B. 1966.
Family: Married (Caryll); 2 children.
Elected office: U.S. House of Reps., 1986–94.
Professional Career: Practicing atty., 1966–86; Chmn., Phoenix Chamber of Commerce, 1984–85.
Jon Kyl is Arizona’s junior senator, and although he’s often overshadowed by Arizona’s John McCain, Kyl is a political force in his own right. He was the unanimous choice of his colleagues in late 2007 for minority whip, the No. 2 ranking post in the Senate Republican leadership.
|Jon Kyl (R)||814,398||(53%)||($15,571,727)|
|Jim Pederson (D)||664,141||(43%)||($14,709,241)|
|Jon Kyl (R)||Unopposed|
Prior Winning Percentages: 2000 (79%), 1994 (54%), 1992 House (59%), 1990 House (61%), 1988 House (87%), 1986 House (65%)
Kyl (KILE) was born in Nebraska, but his family moved to Iowa when he was young. His father was a school principal who went on to become active in politics and was elected to the U.S. House in 1958 and again in 1966. He encouraged his son’s interest in politics and brought him to Washington with him during the summers. Kyl fell in love with Arizona when he did his undergraduate work at the University of Arizona, and then stayed to get his law degree there. He settled in Phoenix and practiced law while also working on Republican campaigns and heading that city’s Chamber of Commerce. Kyle won the heavily Republican 4th District seat in the U.S. House in 1986. In the decisive GOP primary, he defeated former Rep. John Conlan (1973-77), who had support from the Religious Right, 60%-28%. While in the House, Kyl had a solidly conservative voting record and developed expertise in missile defense systems. He was a vocal critic of fellow members who had overdrafts at the House bank, which grew into a major scandal in 1992, and that helped him establish credibility as a reformer. He was well positioned two years later to run for the Senate seat of Dennis DeConcini, a three-term Democrat who was retiring after being named one of the “Keating Five” senators accused of pressuring regulators on behalf of a shady savings and loan owner. Kyl had no primary opposition. His Democratic opponent was one-term Rep. Sam Coppersmith. With far more money, Kyl ran ads with a home-movie flavor showing him traveling through the Arizona desert, dressed in jeans and working on ranches, and talking about how he and his wife fell in love with the state. (He has climbed Camelback Mountain “more than 1,000 times.”) Coppersmith stressed his support for abortion rights. Kyl won easily, 54%-40%.
In the Senate, the unassuming Kyl quietly built a reputation for hard work, for his knowledge of the nuances of policy, and for his ability to play the inside game. Time magazine named him one of the 10 best senators in a 2006 feature story; Washingtonian magazine, after surveying congressional aides, said in 2008 that he was considered one of the smartest, most hardworking members of Congress. In December 2007, GOP senators unanimously chose Kyl to be minority whip, making him the chamber’s highest-ranking Republican after Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. Kyl also sits on the influential Finance Committee, where he is the senior Republican on the Subcommittee on Taxation and Internal Revenue Service Oversight. He started his rise in the leadership as chairman of the Republican Steering Committee in 2001. He became Republican Policy Committee chairman in 2003, and chairman of the Republican Conference, the third-ranking post, in 2007. (For a fairly reserved conservative, Kyl has a racy side: He is a big fan of fast cars and has been seen spotted driving the lead car around the track in warm-up laps at Phoenix International Raceway.)
In the leadership, Kyl did his share to promote President Bush’s agenda in Congress, but he sometimes took principled stands in opposition to the Republican president. In 2007, he was harshly critical of the administration’s ouster of eight U.S. attorneys around the country, which many viewed as retribution for their failure to aggressively prosecute Democratic officeholders. Kyl called the firings “ham-fisted” and told The Arizona Republic: “Everybody acknowledges that the attorney general and the president had the absolute right to dismiss any of these individuals. But the fact that they had the right to do that doesn’t necessarily make it a good idea.” Kyl’s generally positive reviews in the press took a negative turn in 2007 when he used Senate prerogatives to hold up a bipartisan bill to end the sometimes years-long delays in obtaining government information under freedom of information laws. Kyl said he was concerned that the law could force the release of sensitive Justice Department information about ongoing litigation or criminal cases. The Society of Professional Journalists dubbed him “Senator Secrecy.”
Kyl is a major player on defense policy. He was one of the staunchest congressional champions of a missile defense system to protect the United States from nuclear attack. In 1997, he and Republican Sen. Jesse Helms of North Carolina led the losing fight against the Chemical Weapons Convention. Learning from that experience, Kyl organized the winning battle to reject the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, an international agreement to halt all underground nuclear tests with a maximum force equal to 150,000 tons of TNT. President Clinton sent the treaty to the Senate for ratification in 1997. Kyl studied the details and convinced Republican colleagues that compliance by other nuclear-armed countries would not be verifiable and the terms of the treaty not enforceable.
Kyl told then-Republican Majority Leader Trent Lott that he had 34 solid votes against the test-ban treaty, enough to prevent ratification. Unaware of Kyl’s efforts, Democrats wrote Helms, the Foreign Relations Committee chairman, in July 1999 demanding that the treaty be brought to the floor for a vote. Democrat Byron Dorgan of North Dakota even famously promised to “plant myself on the floor like a potted plant” until the CTBT was considered. The Democrats believed that 25 Republicans could be persuaded to vote for the treaty, and concurred when Lott promised to bring it up in October. Only then did Senate Democrats and the Clinton White House discover that Kyl had done his work well: The CTBT did not even get a majority of votes, much less the two-thirds required for ratification, and was defeated 48-51.
Kyl strongly supported the Bush administration on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and defended Bush when no weapons of mass destruction were found in Iraq. “The reality is, no one was duped,” Kyl said. We were all working off the same data. Reasonable people reached different conclusions about what to do based on a commonly understood set of facts.” He is the ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee’s Terrorism, and Homeland Security Subcommittee. Before September 11, he and Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California co-sponsored a bill to prepare U.S. defenses for attacks by terrorists with chemical and biological weapons; in November 2001, they introduced a bill to establish a comprehensive lookout database that would combine information from the Central Intelligence Agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the State Department. In that period, Kyl continually pointed up problems with lax State Department visa policies—notably the Visa Express program in Saudi Arabia, which delegated visa issuance to travel agents and enabled most of the September 11 hijackers to enter the United States.
Immigration is Kyl’s other big focus on Judiciary, and it has brought him both success and great political pain. For years, Kyl was on the side of many Arizonans who favored a beefed-up Border Patrol, better tracking of legal immigrants, and reimbursements to states and localities for the costs of hospitalizing and incarcerating illegal aliens. He and his constituents took a generally dim view of bipartisan bills in recent years that attempted to address illegals already in the county by allowing them into guest-worker programs and giving them a path to citizenship. He was often at odds with his powerful home-state colleague, John McCain, who sponsored a bipartisan bill with liberal Democratic Sen. Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts. Kyl favored a guest-worker program only if it required immigrants to first return home and apply for work permits before seeking jobs in the United States. That proposal failed, but Kyl did succeed in attaching an amendment to a defense spending bill that provided $1.8 billion for 370 miles of fencing along the U.S.-Mexico border. In 2006, President Bush signed into law a bill that allowed construction to begin on a 700-mile border fence but provided no new money for the project.
Once he reached the upper echelon of leadership, Kyl came under increased pressure to find a compromise on immigration. In 2007, he surprised his supporters by backing a compromise immigration bill that established a temporary guest-worker program and a path to legalization for millions of undocumented workers. The bill ultimately died in Congress, but not before Kyl took a thumping. Fellow Republicans accused him of supporting “amnesty” for illegal immigrants, and one state senator said that the legislation would foster an “invasion by illegal aliens.” Another Republican state senator told The Arizona Republic that the bill had destroyed the party’s volunteer recruitment efforts. Describing the reaction back home in May 2007, Kyl said, “Yes, I have learned some new words from some of my constituents.”
Water is one of the most sensitive issues in Arizona. For years Kyl had worked mostly behind the scenes on settling American Indian claims to Colorado and Gila river water and an ongoing intergovernmental dispute about how much money Arizona should pay the federal government for the Central Arizona Project, completed in 1993 at a cost of $3.6 billion. With McCain as co-sponsor and with the support of the Arizona House delegation, Kyl succeeded in passing the Arizona Water Settlement Act in 2004, which resolved Indian lawsuits against Arizona and New Mexico and set Arizona’s reimbursement to the federal government at $1.65 billion. It was the most far-reaching Indian water settlement in history.
Kyl was the lead Senate sponsor of an Internet gambling ban and a bill prohibiting credit card companies from processing online wagers. The House in July 2006 overwhelmingly passed a similar bill, and later that year Bush signed legislation that included a ban on interstate and international online gambling transactions. (A group of hopping-mad poker players started an online fundraising drive to support Kyl’s 2006 re-election opponent.)
Kyl had no difficulty winning re-election in 2000: No Democrat filed to run against him, and he won 79% of the vote. His opponent in 2006 was former state Democratic Chairman Jim Pederson, a wealthy real estate developer who had revitalized the state party by pouring millions of dollars of his personal wealth into it.
Kyl portrayed Pederson as inexperienced and ran ads accusing him of attempting to buy the Senate seat and of supporting amnesty for illegal immigrants because he favored a guest-worker program. Pederson painted Kyl as a Washington insider and part of its “special-interest” culture, while also tying him to the unpopular president. Pederson called for the resignation of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and for conditions to bring U.S. troops home from Iraq. Surveys showed Kyl leading Pederson throughout the campaign but polling less than 50%. Pederson spent nearly $15 million on the race, $11 million of it his own money; Kyl spent slightly more. Five days before the election, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee poured $1 million into the state to boost Pederson. Kyl won 53%-43%, carrying all but four counties and the Phoenix metro area. He lost Flagstaff’s Coconino County and Tucson’s Pima County. Pederson won the Latino vote, but by only 54%-41%, and the African-American vote by only 53%-40%.
Kyl had signaled early in the 2006 election season that he would run for a third term, breaking a campaign promise to serve no more than two terms.