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O’Connor: Arizona’s ‘great statesmen’ a model for handling today’s challenges

Sandra Day O’Connor, a former U.S. Supreme Court justice, speaks Oct. 9, in Phoenix at the State of Our State Public Policy Conference organized by Arizona State University’s Morrison Institute for Public Policy. (Cronkite News Service Photo by Jennifer Johnson)

Sandra Day O’Connor, a former U.S. Supreme Court justice, speaks Oct. 9, in Phoenix at the State of Our State Public Policy Conference organized by Arizona State University’s Morrison Institute for Public Policy. (Cronkite News Service Photo by Jennifer Johnson)

As they address the state’s daunting challenges, leaders should follow the example of “great statesmen” who built Arizona by valuing cooperation, collaboration and compromise, former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor said Oct. 9.

“Compromise does not have to be viewed as a weak word,” O’Connor told those attending the State of Our State Public Policy Conference. “Rather, it can be a strong commitment to moving forward instead of standing still or, worse yet, going in opposite directions.”

O’Connor said that U.S. Sens. Barry Goldwater and Carl Hayden and U.S. Rep. Morris K. Udall, among others, used compromise to secure the Central Arizona Project, double the state’s national parks and advance the interests of Native American tribes, among other accomplishments.

“Let’s leave the shouting to hooting and hollering when we’ve reached some worthwhile goals, such as leading the nation in innovation and rediscovery,” O’Connor said.

The conference, organized by Arizona State University’s Morrison Institute for Public Policy, brought community leaders together to discuss solutions to challenges such as financing schools, reforming taxes, providing a better quality of life and creating jobs.

It came as leaders grapple with a state budget deficit of $1.5 billion and face an even larger gap projected for next fiscal year. That’s left many programs facing deep budget cuts.

“If ever there was a time to turn civil talk into civic action, now is that time,” O’Connor said.

She recalled how her Paradise Valley home was a place where politicians, policymakers and other leaders sought answers to Arizona’s challenges.

“We understood it was in everyone’s best interest to work together,” O’Connor said. “That’s because it’s about policy, not politics.”

That adobe home is being moved to the Arizona Historical Society Museum in Tempe, where it will serve as the O’Connor House and Center for Civic Discourse.

O’Connor, who in 24 terms on the high court earned a reputation as a moderate consensus-builder, said she learned the importance of working as a team despite differences.

“We never lost respect for one another,” she said.

Saying that “deeds mean more than talk,” O’Connor urged participants to create concrete goals and fulfill them.

“Arizona is more than a state; it is a state of mind,” she said. “It is the mindset that together, we can do anything.”

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