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The Washington Connection: Four Arizonans figure big on Capitol Hill

(From left) Carl Hayden, John Rhodes, John McCain and Jon Kyl (File photos)

Since statehood, the Arizona-Washington D.C. political connection has been unbelievably strong and uncharacteristically influential, especially for a state with a relatively small, though growing population.

Arizona has sent many outstanding individuals to Congress who made their mark in the nation’s capital, but four stand out for their longevity and dedicated leadership qualities. They are Carl Hayden, John J. Rhodes, John McCain and Jon Kyl.

Carl Hayden was Arizona’s very first representative in the U.S. House of Representatives, serving from 1912 to 1927, when he won the first of seven consecutive six-year terms in the Senate, retiring in 1969. Actually, Hayden was active in political circles even before Arizona became a state, including stints on the Tempe Town Council, as Maricopa County treasurer and then sheriff, and as head of the Arizona Territorial delegation to the 1904 Democratic National Convention in St. Louis.

Early on, Hayden saw the absolute need for Arizona to acquire and maintain an adequate supply of water. He played an active role in Western reclamation projects, including the authorization for construction of the Glen Canyon Dam and three other water storage dams, and was embroiled in a lengthy dispute, especially with California, over the rights to water from the Colorado River. In 1946, he co-sponsored legislation to build the Central Arizona Project, which eventually would bring Colorado River water to Phoenix and Tucson and irrigate large swaths of farmland. It was, however, the first of several failed CAP attempts. Not until September 1968, months before Hayden retired, did CAP win final approval.

Twice in Hayden’s illustrious 56-year congressional career he advanced to second in the presidential line of succession — first in 1961 after the death of House Speaker Sam Rayburn, and on Nov. 22, 1963, after the assassination of President John Kennedy.

Though John J. Rhodes served in the U.S. House of Representatives for 30 years — from 1953 to 1983 — including seven as House minority leader, he never attained the post he really wanted, that of House majority leader. During his time at the helm of House Republicans, the GOP was unable to seize control from the Democrats.

Well respected on both sides of the aisle, Rhodes is best remembered for his role in two monumental events. Working closely with Hayden, a Democrat, Rhodes successfully led the fight in the House for congressional approval of the Central Arizona Project. Of more national significance, Rhodes was one of four Republican members of Congress, including then-Sen. Barry Goldwater, who met with embattled President Richard Nixon on Aug. 7, 1974, to inform Nixon that there were not enough GOP votes in the Senate to prevent impeachment. Nixon resigned the next day.

Rhodes was succeeded in the U.S. House by John McCain in 1983, who himself was succeeded in 1987 by Rhodes’ son, Jay, when McCain began a stellar Senate career that continues today. A self-proclaimed maverick, McCain twice entered the presidential derby, losing the Republican nomination to George W. Bush in 2000. His name surfaced as a possible vice presidential nominee that year and even as VP on the Democratic ticket in 2004, but McCain remained in the Senate. He won the GOP presidential nomination in 2008, only the second Arizonan to achieve that status — Barry Goldwater did it in 1964 — and was soundly defeated by Democrat Barack Obama.

Throughout his five terms in the Senate, McCain has worked well with Democrats, including Massachusetts Sen. Ted Kennedy. For example, they teamed up on an unsuccessful comprehensive immigration reform measure. A Navy hero whose fighter plane was shot down during a bombing mission over Hanoi, McCain spent five and a half years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam. He continues to be a hawk on national defense.

When he settled in Arizona and burst on the political scene, he was accused of being a carpetbagger. His response: “Listen, pal. I spent 22 years in the Navy. My father was in the Navy. My grandfather was in the Navy. We in the military service tend to move a lot. We have to live in all parts of the country, all parts of the world. I wish I could have had the luxury, like you, of growing up and living and spending my entire life in a nice place like the First District of Arizona, but I was doing other things. As a matter of fact, when I think about it now, the place I lived longest in my life was Hanoi.”

McCain’s political career was marred briefly in 1987, when he was one of five senators accused to attempting to influence federal regulators who were investigating Charles Keating and the failing Lincoln Savings and Loan Association. McCain was cleared by the Senate Ethics Committee of any wrongdoing in his relationship with Keating, but was cited for having used “poor judgment.”

Jon Kyl, who will retire from the Senate in January 2013 after completing three terms, has held the No. 2 Republican office — Senate minority whip — since December 2007. Before taking office in the Senate in January 1995, Kyl served in the U.S. House, representing Arizona’s 4th Congressional District from 1987 to 1995.

In 2006, Time magazine rated Kyl one of America’s 10-best senators, and in 2007 the National Journal ranked him as the fourth most conservative U.S. senator. His father, John H. Kyl, was a member of Congress who represented Iowa’s 4th District.

As minority whip, Kyl was responsible for lining up Republican votes on major issues, and was available to serve as acting floor leader if the minority leader was unavailable. Among the most respected and principled members of the Senate, Kyl in 2011 was appointed to a congressional “super committee” that was tasked with recommending at least $1.2 trillion in budget cuts. Partisan politics, however, kept the committee from coming to any sort of compromise or agreement.

Carl Hayden
H U.S. House: Feb. 19, 1912 – March 3, 1927.
H U.S. Senate: March 4, 1927 – Jan. 3, 1969.
H U.S. Senate president pro tempore:
Jan. 3, 1957 – Jan. 3, 1969.

John J. Rhodes
H U.S. House: Jan. 3, 1953 – Jan. 3, 1983.
H U.S. House minority leader:
Dec. 7, 1973 – Jan. 3, 1981.

John McCain
H U.S. House: Jan. 3, 1983 – Jan. 3, 1987.
H U.S. Senate: Jan. 3, 1987 – present.
H Republican candidate for president: 2008.

Jon Kyl
H U.S. House: Jan. 3, 1987 – Jan. 3, 1995.
H U.S. Senate: Jan. 3, 1995 – present.
H U.S. Senate minority whip:
Dec. 19, 2007 – present.

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