Political Passion

From his early days as a conservative editor in chief in a liberal in a liberal college newspaper environment, to his current bid for governor against Democratic powerhouse Janet Napolitano, Len Munsil has stayed true to his values. How a love for Arizona

by Kristi Eaton published on Thursday, March 30, 2006

Republican gubernatorial hopeful Len Munsil hits the campaign trail with his wife Tracy and their eight children, who range in age from 9 to 19. If Munsil wins the Republican primary in September he will advance to face incumbent Democrat Janet Napolitano. Munsil and his wife are both State Press alums.

Sitting in an office in his campaign headquarters in Scottsdale, Len Munsil looks like the consummate politician. He wears a black suit, with a navy tie over his white collared shirt. Every hair on his head is in place. He crosses one leg over the other as he leans back in his chair. He slowly taps his fingers on the desk as he thinks, planning out the precise order of words before he speaks.

Looking around the office, there is no indication Munsil is gearing up for the biggest race of his life.

Munsil, 42, hopes to win the Republican nomination for governor of Arizona. If he wins the primary in September, he will face current Democratic governor Janet Napolitano in November.

A Passion for Arizona

It's clear Munsil has a love for the Grand Canyon State. He is a third-generation Arizonan, who attended Pima Elementary School and Scottsdale High School. His adoration for all things Arizona is what kept him here after he graduated high school in 1981.

He says attending ASU was a no-brainer.

"My parents are both graduates of ASU. It was kind of the culture I grew up in," he says.

Studying journalism was also an easy decision, Munsil says.

In high school, he wrote sports stories for the school newspaper. Immediately after he graduated high school, he was hired by the Scottsdale Daily Progress, now the East Valley Tribune.

Munsil recalls the time fondly.

"Seventeen years old, right out of high school and getting paid to cover sports events and write about them," he says with a smile on his face.

Attending ASU to study at the Walter Cronkite School seemed the perfect plan to further his journalism career.

That is, until Munsil was offered a scholarship to play tennis at Scottsdale Community College the second semester of his freshman year.

He decided to put ASU on the backburner and head to SCC.

"I was going to study journalism either way. I knew I could get the same credits," he says.

While at SCC, Munsil was editor of Campus News, the school newspaper. During his time as editor, he changed the newspaper from bi-weekly to weekly. He also won several awards, including an award from the Rocky Mountain Collegiate Press Association.

After a year and a half at SCC, he graduated with an associate degree in journalism and returned to ASU for his junior year, a move he says changed his life.

Love and Hate Relationships

Upon his return to ASU, he applied for a position with The State Press and became a copy editor.

At the interview, he was introduced to the editor-in-chief Tracy Fletcher, who he would later marry.

Munsil says he didn't really get to know Fletcher until winter break, when State Press staff members were still at work on the Centennial edition, commemorating the University's 1885 founding.

They continued to get to know each other over the spring semester of his junior year when he was named news editor, a job that required him to edit stories and lay out page designs. As news editor he received extra responsibilities, and also garnered an office next door to Fletcher's.

"That's where we really began to talk and she kept disrupting me when I was trying to lay out the pages," he says, chuckling.

Fletcher, now Tracy Munsil, says she knew very early on that they shared similar conservative values and principles.

"The State Press had ongoing political debates," she says. "You could see very clearly where people stood."

The pair played basketball for their first date, something Tracy says she always enjoyed.

"Len has a great jump shot. I noticed that right away," she says.

During the spring semester, Munsil also decided to apply for the position of editor in chief for the following year.

He made the decision after becoming interested in other issues outside of sports, he says.

He began to learn more about foreign policy, the economy and other national issues.

"I liked to write editorials and discuss those issues," he says on his decision to apply for editor in chief. "I also enjoyed management directing."

Although he decided on his own to apply for the position, Munsil asked Tracy for her advice.

"I told him to work one year as a reporter before applying for editor," she says.

Munsil decided not to follow her advice, and applied for editor-in-chief without previously holding a reporting position at The State Press.

Doug Anderson, who was a professor at the Walter Cronkite School at the time and is now the dean of the College of Communications at Penn State, wrote a letter of recommendation on behalf of Munsil for the position.

"I think Len was one of the most talented journalism students I had while I was there," he says. "He was always well prepared and was a first rate writer."

Munsil was awarded the position of editor-in-chief in a unanimous vote by the student media board of directors. The State Press was placed under the board of directors in the 1970s, when it became independent from the University. "People were looking at me on the merits at that point," he says.

As The State Press editor, he made changes similar to ones he made as editor of Campus News at SCC.

One of his changes was moving The State Press from publishing four days a week to five, a move he's very proud of.

"I feel like it was a long-term accomplishment," he says. "We had to work out all of the kinks."

Those kinks included changing the advertising revenue from four days to five days, he says.

But there are some people who might not be grateful for the change, he adds.

"Generations of State Press people afterwards have cursed me for that because it messes up Friday and Sunday," he says laughing.

As the editor-in-chief, Munsil not only changed the way The State Press ran, but he changed some of the content it ran as well.

"Becoming editor you are expected to write opinion pieces," he says. "I wrote a lot of things -- ASU football, parking structures and a lot of generic things. But I also wrote about abortion, about foreign policy, about economics."

Such topics, as well as his pro-Ronald Reagan pieces often made him "sort of a lightning rod on campus," he says.

So much so, he says, that a journalism professor, who Munsil declined to identify by name, got himself appointed to the board of directors and rallied other faculty members to get Munsil fired.

For a while it looked as if the professor might win out. The deciding vote came down to a liberal professor, who was a Jesuit priest.

"He couldn't stand anything I said. They thought for sure they had the votes. Basically [the professor] said 'This is a railroad job and I believe in the First Amendment. I don't agree with him politically, but he's clearly the best qualified candidate,'" Munsil recalls.

Munsil remained as editor in a 6-5 vote.

"In my mind justice prevailed, but it made for an interesting year," he says. "It was the first time I got used to a lot of criticism because of what I believed."

Some of that criticism came from within his own staff.

A liberal opinion writer, whom Munsil also declined to name, wrote a piece saying he wasn't a good editor, he says.

"To read that in the newspaper as a 20-year-old kid and go, 'Oh these are the consequences of my political beliefs,' was a hard lesson, but a good lesson to learn given to where I ended up going and doing," he says.

It was a lesson he encounters often.

"A lot of times when people disagree with you politically they don't want to just take you on the merits of the arguments of the issues, so they'll find other things to say," he says.

Tracy says her husband handled the criticism well.

"[College is] a time in life where you're discussing ideas. Len was always very reasonable on his positions," she says.

Anderson agrees with Tracy.

"I always admired his thoroughness and rational manner in explaining his position on issues," he says.

Munsil says he began to thrive on criticism and sought out controversial topics to write about.

"If I wrote something provocative and didn't get a real strong response, I would be disappointed," he says.

The Race for Arizona

After graduating from ASU in 1985, Munsil took a step back and re-evaluated what he wanted out of life. All through college, he believed he would continue to pursue a career in journalism once he entered the real world. But he soon realized that wasn't what he wanted.

"Honestly, I looked at it and realized, to have as much influence and fun as I had as editor of a daily paper, it would probably take me 20 or 30 years grinding it out as a reporter and that didn't really appeal to me," he says.

Instead, Munsil attended law school at ASU, where he received his degree in 1988. During his stint at law school, he married Tracy.

After law school he held a couple of jobs, including a position with the National Family Legal Foundation, a public policy group.

As part of the Foundation, Munsil worked with prosecutors and city attorneys "helping them understand First Amendment law as it relates to prosecution of child pornography and obscenity," he says.

Munsil says he enjoyed the job, but left it because he disliked the amount of travel the job entailed. The traveling kept him away from his growing family, he says, which is now comprised of eight children ranging in age from 9 to 19.

Luckily, another job offer was on the horizon.

In 1996, Munsil co-founded and presided over The Center for Arizona Policy, a nonprofit organization that focuses on lobbying the legislature on behalf of family and children.

"I had some folks approach me and say 'We'd like to start this organization that would work on a broad array of conservative issues in the state of Arizona,'" Munsil says.

CAP was a very good fit for Munsil because it was similar in nature to the National Family Legal Foundation.

"I basically left a nonprofit national group that was more single issue for a state-based group that worked on a broad array of issues that affect family and children," he says.

Some of the issues CAP lobbies for are anti-gambling, parental rights for education, religious freedom and anti-pornography bills.

CAP also focuses on pro-life bills and defining marriage as a union between one man and one woman.

At the end of 2005, Munsil decided to step down as president of CAP and focus on the 2006 gubernatorial race.

Munsil says his strong beliefs make him an ideal candidate for governor.

"I believe in the family, the centrality of the family unity. And I believe those core values better represent the people of Arizona than the values of the current governor," he says.

As a Reagan-era conservative, Munsil believes in limited government and economic freedom.

As governor, he wants to secure the borders, something he says Napolitano has failed to do.

"This governor, on her watch, 5 million illegal immigrants have crossed the border into Arizona. She's had 11 years [as United States Attorney for the District of Arizona, Arizona Attorney General and Governor] to address the issue and not really done anything of substance, and hasn't started talking about the issue until this year when she's up for re-election," he says.

Munsil says he can do a better job than Napolitano when it comes to immigration and border security.

"I just believe the people of Arizona, especially those of southern Arizona, whose property is being overrun, whose health care systems are being taxed, whose jails are overcrowded as a result of this influx, are ready to see a governor take action to secure the border," he adds.

A spokeswoman for Governor Napolitano says Napolitano will not respond to Munsil's claims because she is focusing on running the state of Arizona.

Back in his office, Munsil thinks back to how his family life has changed in the last few months since he decided to begin the campaign process.

"I don't think [the family] fully understands the level of commitment yet," he says. "But it's really hard for anyone to understand until you step into it, even as a candidate."

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