No courts, no conspiracy: A race decided by a game

NAPCO Editorial Note: E.J. Montini is a columnist for the Arizona Republic, a daily newspaper circulated throughout that state. This story appeared in the Sunday, November 20, 2022, edition, and tells of a time, 30 years ago, when Arizona wasn’t the epicenter of election deniers and unfounded voting conspiracies. The story centers around a Republican Party legislative primary election that resulted in a tie between two contenders (one eventually became a judge on the Superior Court in Maricopa County) and the interesting, honorable way such disputes were handled in the past.

The long, disquieting days after the recent election ended and the votes were being tallied forced us to do something that is despised by Democrats, Republicans, independents and everyone else: Wait. The
hours dragged, and downtime led to daydreaming, which led to nostalgia, which led a reader named Carolyn to remind me of an Arizona election from 1992 that ended in a tie and was ultimately decided with grace and magnanimity, by a hand of five-card stud.

“I thought to share a reminder about an election past,” Carolyn wrote, “and how – carrying on traditions of Western pride and integrity and honesty – two individuals handled a tie. Not with a runoff. But as gentlemen of their word, who respected themselves, each other, and democracy.”

It began in the 1992 Republican primary for Legislative District 6. When all of the votes were counted, two of the candidates, John Gaylord and Richard Kyle each had received 3,760 votes.

A recount was ordered, after which it was determined that each had received 3,762 votes.

Imagine the nastiness that might ensue these days should such a thing occur. The unfounded claims of tampering. The promise not to concede under any circumstances.

Even then there was talk of getting the courts involved.

But Gaylord and Kyle came up with a better idea. As Gaylord told a reporter from The Arizona Republic, “Oh, it’s the West. I can’t help but remember that Show Low got its name from a card game. And I’d prefer a good, solid game of five-card stud, high hand wins.” [Show Low is a city in Arizona’s highcountry on the Mogollon Rim. It was named after a marathon poker game played between two early settlers in 1876. They decided there wasn’t enough room for both of them in the community and agreed to let a game of cards decide who was to get a 100,000-acre ranch and who was to move on].

So that is what Gaylord and Kyle did. Then House Speaker Jane Hull (who would later become governor), wearing a green eyeshade, served as the dealer.

Kyle wound up with a pair of sevens. The best card Gaylord had was a 10 of hearts.

“I think Mr. Kyle has won,” Gaylord said. And that was that. Afterward, Gaylord told a reporter, “I can take away from this election the fact that I know I had the same number of voters who believed in me, but it wasn’t meant for me this time.”

I cannot imagine a finer concession speech.

Politics being what they are, Kyle would say later that Gaylord got the better end of the deal.

Gaylord, a longtime Marine and lawyer, went on to work for the Arizona Attorney General’s Office. He became a Maricopa County Superior Court judge in 2000.

Seven years later, he died in a motorcycle accident.

At a memorial service for Gaylord, Judge Barbara Rodriguez Mundell recalled the losing card game that altered Gaylord’s career path, saying, “He may have lost but the judiciary won. He didn’t hide any part of his soul. He never took himself too seriously even though he had a serious job. He wasn’t afraid to do the right thing – that’s why he made this world a better place.”

All of which highlights another problem with downtime. It leads to nostalgia, which reminds us of events and people from the past, which can lead to ruefulness.

As in, damn we could use more people like John Gaylord today.