As a journalist, the story intrigued; as a citizen, it outraged.
For seven years, Michael Duniho—a quiet, determined, and dignified man—had been sending quarterly or so e-mails, quietly seething about the conduct of elections in his new home of Tucson (Pima County), Arizona. Though I never have, Michael (we all call him Mickey) has a poker face of steel one would not wish to play against, yet the warmest, most genuine of smiles one could ever hope to be on the receiving end of.
Mickey worked for decades in the NSA (“no such agency” or National Security Agency, you pick) and lived a few miles away from their enormous facility in the town of Laurel, Maryland. His wife, Dani, was mayor of that small town (much bigger than Wasilla and I’d have more faith in her on any ticket, but that’s another story). We attended the same church for the year before I moved to California and they to Arizona soon after.
Mickey always reminded me of the old EF Hutton telly commercials: “When EF Hutton talks, people listen.” He would take in every syllable around him, allow his computer of a brain to process it, and when Mickey finally spoke, everyone in the room shut up because you knew he had synthesized the perfect solution, taking all sides into account.
So when another e-mail arrived in July, I decided to begin the journey that became this article. I wrote him an e-mail explaining that because of our association I needed to talk to those around him on this story so his name does not appear until here.
When Margaret Mead wrote, “never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has,” she was speaking of AUDIT AZ and Mickey specifically.
Passionate local activism is alive and well in Tucson. There was always a keen, deeply personal sense of not wanting to “let the story down” hanging over my head. Right wing talking points network FOX News uses the slogan “Fair and Balanced” like a birthright without a shred of truth to it, so this story had to be truly fair and balanced. I had to know in my being every word was factual. For three months, I never spoke to Mickey out of a sense of journalistic integrity. When I called Bill Risner for the third or fourth time to back check our discussion and dig for more, it was clear to him I was taking this very seriously.
In the UK and most of the US, journalism has been reduced to two opposing quotes front and back with an expert comment in the middle—500 words, tops. Reporters are lazy and if my so-called colleagues invested good old-fashioned leg work we’d have real news instead of the noise passing for news today. When getting to the pub is more important than getting it right for far too many, we end up the losers.
It’s 6:50 a.m. Sunday morning here in Wales. The sun is rising behind me and this e-magazine gets about 80-hours a week of my time because it is both a labor of love and this time it is too important for our world for anyone to sit on their hands.
Working with wonderfully thoughtful writers like Charley James and Dorret Groot Wassink has been a joy. This story took about 50-hours of time. Charley and I slaved back in forth in e-mails over the lead to get it just right.
I originally was going to write four articles or one massive article of 7,000 words. Charley, the much recently maligned former Business Week pro (he broke the “So Sambo Beat the Bitch” story that ran worldwide about a pattern of racism and cronyism with Sarah Palin) kept beating me up online and over the phone to “stop burying the lede!” and for which I was the ever grateful student.
The end result is a tight piece on the challenges facing us to ensure this election is a test between two candidates who have endured an epic battle that is decided by your vote, correctly counted, vs. some computer hacking thief: “It’s The Ballot Count, Stupid! Florida Déjà Vu in Tucson.”
That’s how important it is.
And for this we all have Citizen Mickey and his small band to thank.
Denis Campbell is a US journalist based in the United Kingdom. He contributes to newspapers and magazines, is a BBC Radio election commentator and publishes the daily e-magazine The Vadimus Post from the Latin Quo Vadimus – where are we headed and do we know why?