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Former Yuma lawmaker Guenther dies

Former Democratic state senator and representative Herb Guenther died recently, the Arizona Department of Water Resources confirmed. 

Guenther spent more than four decades working on water issues in Arizona and served in the House of Representatives from 1985 to 1992 and in the Senate from 1999 to 2002. He was appointed director of the Arizona Department of Water Resources in 2003 and held that position until 2011, when former Gov. Jan Brewer appointed then-assistant director Sandra Fabritz-Whitney as the agency’s acting director.  

In 2013, Guenther was recognized for his lifetime achievement as one of Arizona Capitol Times’ 2013 Leaders of the Year in Public Policy. 

Herb Guenther

At the time, he told the Capitol Times he was proud of his successful legislation associated with inter-state water transfers, intra-state water transfers, streambed ownership and the seven-state 2007 Colorado River Operational Guidelines Agreement.  

Guenther said that the quality that differentiates a successful leader from a failed one is “working to find compromise on issues without caring who gets the credit.” 

Legislators past and present and Guenther’s other colleagues noted that he took that attitude with his own work.  

Former long-time Democratic state Rep. Robert McLendon, who was Guenther’s seatmate while he was in the House, said Guenther spent many hours in the basement of the House meeting with legislators from both parties, water conservationists and water users to “come to make some sense about what was happening in our state because water is so, so important.” 

“I felt honored to be his seatmate, and I felt honored as a legislator at that time — we had, I felt like, a great team from Southwestern Arizona,” McLendon said. 

McLendon, who served nine terms in the House from 1983 to 2001 representing the Yuma area, remembered Guenther as someone who always “did his homework” and was respected not only for his expertise but also his “straight-forward honesty.” 

Sen. Lisa Otondo, D-Yuma, said Guenther was her longtime mentor on water issues. She described him as a statesman who worked across the aisle, had a wonderful sense of humor and was kind and intelligent. She had known him all her life, as he was a friend of her father’s. 

 “I remember when I started getting involved in politics my father said, ‘Lisa, if you ever want to learn about water, you go to Herb Guenther,’” Otondo said. 

In a written statement, Senate President Karen Fann, R-Prescott, said she had known Guenther for almost 30 years and that he was a big presence during her time in the legislature. She also learned about water from Guenther. 

“He was always my mentor on water issues, and I considered him a dear friend,” she said. “He was the salt of the earth and will be deeply missed. My thoughts and prayers are with his family during this difficult time.”  

In 2013, Guenther was asked if the legislature could grant him one request, what would it be?  

“Stop the partisan bickering and pass legislation that is in the best interest of the future of Arizona,” Guenther said. “I never knew whether I was a Democrat or a Republican or other and I still don’t and I don’t care. What I do care about is solving problems.” 


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