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At Arizona centennial, some things haven’t changed

Constitutional attorney Paul Eckstein (File photo)

Distrust of the federal government in far-away Washington and a desire to rein in officeholders closer to home — those widely held views were just as prominent at statehood 100 years ago as they are today, according to a prominent Phoenix attorney who is co-authoring a book on Arizona’s formation as a state.

As Arizona celebrates its centennial Tuesday, here is an interview with the attorney, Paul Eckstein, in question-and-answer format and edited for brevity:

Q: How did the timing of Arizona’s statehood influence what was included in the Constitution?

A The Arizona Constitution was written at the height of the movement called the Progressive movement or the Progressive Era. The Progressive movement emphasized good government issues like initiative, referendum, recall, direct election of senators, women’s suffrage and issues like that. So those issues were very much in the forefront of politics in 1910 when the Arizona Constitution was written and the Progressive movement was the greatest influence on what was included in the Constitution.

Q: How do you see that manifested in Arizona government today?

A: The most important feature of the Progressive movement that was included in the Arizona Constitution was the provisions for direct democracy — initiative, referendum and recall. That’s a different kind of direct democracy, and initiative and referendum have been used a whole lot in the history of Arizona.

Q: We still see an awful lot of ballot measures both from the Legislature and the citizenry or groups that have championed them. Why do you think that is in this modern era 100 years later?

A: There are a lot of reasons. The primary reason is that from the popular initiative perspective, people are dissatisfied with what the Legislature has done or has not done. And initiative and popular referendum — that is where the people can refer a matter adopted by the Legislature — are safety valves that allow people to express their views, get votes on issues that they think important, and once you have a tradition of it, it kind of gains momentum and cycles along.

Q: We talk now about a lot of distrust of government, but it sounds like back at statehood there was a lot of that then as well.

A: Even more. They were very distrustful of experiences that they had during territorial days. When you are a territory, the governor of the territory and a number of the officials are provided by the federal government and while Republicans were in office the governor was a Republican and Republicans controlled some of the major offices. The territorial legislature was elected by the members, the citizens of the territory, but there were limits to what they could do. There were concerns about Washington really dictating to Arizona what ought to be done and not being able to elect the governor. Of course that was a big impetus to statehood.

Q: And at the time, Arizona was a Democratic leaning state, correct?

A: Even though Republicans controlled the White House and for most of the years the Senate and the House between the time Arizona became a separate territory in 1863 through 1910, Arizonans who elected members of the territorial legislature elected Democrats and so, yes, it’s fair to say that Arizona was essentially a Democratic state in contrast to New Mexico, which came into the Union a month before Arizona.

Q: More generally, going beyond the Constitution, as a longtime Arizonan and a near-native as much as you’re going to get without being a native, what makes Arizona unique to you?

A: Arizona is prepared to experiment in governmental practices notwithstanding its conservative reputation and I’ll give you three examples. The experiment in Clean Elections, which provides for public funding of elections at the state level and at the legislative level. I think the Independent Redistricting Commission is definitely an experiment that is nearly unique. And third, our form of term limits. Now there are number of states that have term limits, but ours is pretty generous because it allows someone to switch from the House to the Senate. So even though we’re recognized as conservative politically, the state has been prepared to experiment. Now each one of those experiments was done by popular initiative. The Legislature, I don’t think, ever would have done any of them.

I think we are a mix of a lot of different views, like a lot of states, but we have disproportionately elected people in Congress of great reputation and who have gone on to be leaders at the national level. And one can start with Carl Hayden, Ernest McFarland, who was the majority leader in the Senate, Barry Goldwater, a candidate for president, John McCain, a candidate for president, Mo Udall, a leading congressman of his time, and I could name a whole bunch of others.

Third, I would say in terms of what makes us unique is just a very good place to live, notwithstanding the summers. It’s a place that’s very attractive and the northern part of the state is mild pretty much all year around. Our scenery is spectacular as any and so people want to live here and smart people and enterprising people come here.

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