The person responsible for the Phoenix Coyotes being on the verge of a move to Winnipeg - and people ranging from politicians in Arizona to NHL boss Gary Bettman grinding their teeth in frustration - believes the United States is the land of opportunity, not for opportunists.
Darcy Olsen, the 39-year-old CEO of the Goldwater Institute, sees the Coyotes disaster in simple terms: If a legitimate hockey market existed in the Phoenix area, the Coyotes would work as a business.
Handing $100-million of taxpayers' money to Chicago businessman Matthew Hulsizer to buy the Coyotes from the NHL, and to commit a further $97-million for him to manage the taxpayers' arena, to her reeks of illegitimate opportunism.
"Millions of Americans go out and scrape together whatever money they can, borrow on their credit card, borrow from a brother or sister to get a business started," said Darcy Olsen, president of the Goldwater Institute, a public watchdog group. "That is how you start a business in America. You don't do it through taxes.
"A lot of people would love to see the Coyotes stay but any buyer needs to buy the team with his own funds."
The Goldwater Institute is a conservative public-policy advocacy group focused on educational reform and tax-revenue spending. Goldwater vowed to sue if the suburban city of Glendale went through with a municipal bond sale that would have provided $100-million to Hulsizer. The mere threat of litigation chilled the bond deal, left Glendale and NHL officials fuming.
Both Glendale and the NHL made the mistake of underestimating Olsen, who acts with the effectiveness of a lawyer without having a law degree. She earned a science degree from Georgetown and a master's in international education from New York University before joining the Goldwater Institute 10 years ago. She reportedly first became interested in public policy while growing up in Utah, when she submitted a petition to Greenpeace to protest the clubbing of baby seals.
Those familiar with the negotiations say Hulsizer feels blindsided by Goldwater's intervention, and frustrated because Glendale officials long assured him the institute was not a serious threat to the deal.
Yet not even public pressure from John McCain, a disciple of the institute's namesake, the late Senator Barry Goldwater, swayed Olsen from fighting Glendale's strategy.
"I asked him point-blank, 'John you have done a great job fighting pork, where government gives money to one person to benefit them. How can you support pork in Glendale where one guy from Chicago gets money to buy the team?'" Olsen said. "He said, 'I like hockey.' "He's a good man but it doesn't make this deal legal."
Glendale Mayor Elaine Scruggs, Hulsizer and Bettman see it differently. Bettman, with the condescension flowing during yet another trip to Glendale last month to deal with the two-year-old crisis, said, "In light of their conduct in this matter, I question whether this is really an organization that is concerned with the public interest."
Also questioning Goldwater's motives is political consultant Chuck Coughlin, a top adviser to Arizona Governor Jan Brewer and a long-time foe to Olsen.
"What I object to is the damage the institute does is not necessarily in the court room but in the finance world," Coughlin said. "Even the threat of litigation in any development project, particularly in this economy, will dry up revenue sources.
"If there is hair on it and somebody's going to sue, most of the bankers run for the exits."
Coughlin said the opposition to the Glendale bond sale is just the latest example of an out-of-control think tank.
"Darcy is a soldier in the libertarian brigade over there," Coughlin said of Olsen and the 25 staff members at Goldwater. "She's a true believer."
What they believe in, according to Coughlin, is "the libertarian view of less government, no taxes. They hijacked Senator Goldwater's name and what he truly believed in and how much he loved the state."
Olsen laughed at the notion and said, "Two per cent of the population identifies itself as libertarian so they try and slap a label on us to marginalize us."
What Olsen and her colleagues are, she said, "are constitutionalists. We believe in the founders' vision of limited government; that government is best which governs least."
Coughlin said Olsen, a native of Bennington, Vt., whose family moved to Utah when she was 10, "morphed the organization from a think tank into a litigation institute."
Olsen readily agrees.
"You can talk to governments until you are blue in face about what is constitutional and what isn't but sometimes what it takes is a good attorney," she said. "Ronald Reagan had an expression I love: 'When you can't make them see the light, make them feel the heat.' "A lot of these government bureaucrats, they thumb their noses at the law. They believe they are above the law. They operate as if they are above the law. It is important that taxpayers have a voice."
That voice is funded by private donations, some from wealthy Republicans to the tune of $3.2-million a year. That sum is modest next to the fees charged by a team of lawyers, which is why the Goldwater staff is a youthful mix of researchers, journalists and lawyers.
"People are here because they want to change the world," Olsen said. "If you want to get rich, go to Wall Street."
However, there are prominent people on Goldwater's board of directors, such as Randy Kendrick, the wife of Ken Kendrick, who owns the Arizona Diamondbacks baseball team. This led to charges of hypocrisy from Coughlin and others.
"The taxpayers paid for Ken's team's stadium in downtown Phoenix, $390-million," Coughlin said. "But here the institute is bitch-slapping the city of Glendale for doing what Maricopa County did for her husband Ken's ball stadium. There's a little irony in all of that."
Olsen points out there is no shortage of hypocrisy from the other side. There are the Glendale officials who say they have nothing to hide but have been evading or responding slowly to Goldwater's demands for access to public documents about the Coyotes sale.Report Typo/Error