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DeConcini & Goddard Democratic families rose to political heights

Evo DeConcini, Arizona Attorney General, 1948-1949; Arizona Supreme Court Justice, 1949-1953. (Photo courtesy of Arizona State Library, Archives and Public Records)

Two generations of two high-profile Arizona Democratic families — the DeConcinis and the Goddards — landed influential state and federal positions dating back to the mid-20th century.

Both families launched their political careers from Tucson, but it was the Office of the Governor in Phoenix that produced a close working relationship.

Evo DeConcini, the father of future U.S. Sen. Dennis DeConcini, was Arizona attorney general in 1948 and 1949, and served on the state Supreme Court until 1953. In Dennis’ 2006 book, “From the Center of the Aisle,” he notes that Samuel P. Goddard Jr., the father of future Attorney General Terry Goddard, was a close political confidant of the elder DeConcini.

Dennis campaigned for Sam Goddard in his only successful run for governor in 1964 — when Goddard became Arizona’s 12th governor, defeating future U.S. Attorney General Richard Kleindienst. DeConcini became Goddard’s legal adviser and chief of staff, a position that helped whet his appetite for politics. In 1962, Goddard was defeated by Republican Gov. Paul Fannin, lost his re-election bid in 1966 to Jack Williams, and lost again to Williams two years later. Goddard, a strong equal rights advocate for minorities and women, remained active in politics, serving as state chairman of the Democratic Party for 10 years and on the Democratic National Committee for 20 years. He died in 2006 at the age of 86.

Dennis DeConcini, Pima County attorney, 1973-1976; U.S. senator, 1977-1994. (Photo courtesy of Arizona State Library, Archives and Public Records)

At the time of Sam Goddard’s death, DeConcini was quoted as saying, “He’s a big part of Arizona history, and he was an outstanding guy. He gave me every break in the world to move ahead in my political career.”

Indeed, DeConcini did move ahead. After serving one term as Pima County attorney from 1973 to 1976, DeConcini ran for the U.S. Senate seat vacated in 1976 by Fannin, the former governor. Benefitting from a brutal Republican primary between two congressmen — Sam Steiger and John Conlan — DeConcinci won the first of three six-year terms in the Senate.

It didn’t take DeConcini long to make news. He was considered a key vote in ratification of the Panama Canal Treaty of 1977. As a freshman, he sponsored an amendment that allows the United States to take such steps as necessary, including the use of military force, to assure continued operation of the canal.

Sam Goddard, Arizona governor, 1965-1966; chairman of the Arizona Democratic Party, 1979-1989. (Photo courtesy of Arizona State Library, Archives and Public Records)

Though he won re-election in 1982 and 1988, he chose not to seek a fourth term in 1994, after he had become one of the so-called Keating Five — five U.S. senators who in 1987 were accused of improperly intervening on behalf of Charles H. Keating Jr., chairman of the Lincoln Savings and Loan Association. At the time, Lincoln Savings was being targeted by the Federal Home Loan Bank Board for suspected irregularities. Another of the Keating Five was Arizona Sen. John McCain. Lincoln Savings collapsed in 1989, and as a result, some 23,000 Lincoln Savings investors lost some or all of their life savings.

DeConcini, who had received about $48,000 from Keating and his associates for his 1988 re-election campaign, returned the money a year later. DeConcini said at the time that he considered Keating a constituent and a friend who lived in Arizona. The Senate Ethics Committee ruled that DeConcini and another of the Keating Five had acted improperly by interfering with the federal investigation of Lincoln Savings, but had not violated any Senate rule. McCain was cleared of acting improperly, but was criticized for having shown “poor judgment.”

Terry Goddard, Phoenix mayor, 1984-1990; Arizona attorney general, 2003-2010. (File photo)

DeConcini currently serves as a member of the Arizona Board of Regents, appointed by then-Gov. Janet Napolitano.

DeConcini’s brother, Dino, also saw some political action. He served as chief of staff to Gov. Raul Castro starting in 1975, and in 1978 lost a close race for attorney general to Republican Bob Corbin.

Terry Goddard, whose real name is Samuel P. Goddard III — his father called him Terry, since the Latin word for third is tertius — became politically active in 1982, when he led a successful drive to have Phoenix City Council members elected by districts instead of citywide. In 1984, he was elected mayor, and was re-elected every two years, until 1990, when he ran for governor in what proved to be a historic contest.

Because neither Goddard nor his Republican opponent, Fife Symington, garnered more than 50 percent of the vote, a runoff was held on Feb. 26, 1991, which Symington won by more than 40,000 votes. The constitutional provision requiring the winner to receive at least 50 percent of the vote, plus one vote, was only in place for the 1990 election. It had been approved by voters after Evan Mecham won a three-way race for governor in 1986, with just 40 percent of the vote. But after 1990, voters decided to remove the 50-plus one provision from the state Constitution.

Shortly after his defeat, Goddard was appointed state director of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, a position he held until 2002, when he successfully ran for Arizona attorney general. As AG, Goddard focused mainly on consumer protection issues, predatory lending and false advertising. Eight years as the state’s chief law enforcement officer led Goddard to take another stab at becoming governor.

Alas, it was not to be. Arizona’s controversial anti-illegal immigration law, SB1070, propelled Republican Jan Brewer back to the Ninth Floor. Brewer, as secretary of state, ascended to the Governor’s Office in January 2009, after Napolitano resigned to join the Obama administration as director of Homeland Security.

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