Drinks. Secret Fundraisers. Bipartisan Ski Retreats.
The incredible but true secret story of behind-the-scenes civility in Arizona politics.
Jack August is the former Executive Director of the Arizona Historical Foundation, and author of several political biographies
Last winter, back when they were just two of many candidates considering a run for Arizona governor, Fred DuVal and Doug Ducey went skiing together in Utah – a not-unexpected circumstance, given the men were attending the same annual networking retreat in Deer Valley, Utah. Informally known as “the Eagle's Nest,” the invitation-only retreat gathers Arizona political veterans and would-be leaders to engage in policy debates, go skiing, eat food and have fun. The duo got along well. They were friends.
On the way up the mountain, Ducey and DuVal struck up a conversation with a pair of fellow skiers who happened to be sharing a ski lift with them. When the politicians – by all outward appearances, good buddies – mentioned to their lift-mates that they were possible rivals for the Arizona governor’s chair, the couple “looked at us as if we were pulling their leg,” Ducey recalls.
Amused by the encounter, the future adversaries spent the remaining part of the trip dropping their chestnut into unsuspecting laps. Sharing a cab to the airport for their return flight to Phoenix, they bantered good-naturedly with a fellow air traveler before casually informing him that they would likely battle for Arizona’s highest office. “The guy was dumbfounded,” DuVal remembers, chuckling.
A century ago, such bipartisan, off-the-clock fraternizing might not have caused such bemusement. But these are the turbulent, post-Citizens United ‘10s, where dark money rules and attack ads are the order of the day. “Going negative” is such a fait accompli, in fact, that when Ducey and DuVal secured their respective parties’ nominations last August, Father Eddie Reese – the president of Brophy College Prepatory, where the sons of the nominees were classmates – inveighed they keep the campaign at a level of decorum that would make their children proud. “Make sure the campaign debate is dignified and substantive,” Reese advised. Easier said than done, unfortunately. Within days of the August primary, one TV ad dinged DuVal for singlehandedly raising tuition rates while he served on the Arizona Board of Regents, followed by another that attempted to paint former Cold Stone Creamery CEO Ducey as an unscrupulous predator of Cold Stone franchisees.
So much for the friendly banter, right? Or maybe not. As a longtime Arizona historian, I’ve occasionally been privy to a different Arizona – one where civility and bipartisanship are part of the state’s basic political DNA, and crossing party lines to work for common goals isn’t just a platitude. Often, such stories are obscured by thick clouds of partisan rancor and runaway hyperbole, but you can still see them – dim but hopeful – if you know where to look.
Sometimes it’s just a ski retreat. Sometimes it’s something more.
A Day with Goldwater
Shortly after he retired from the U.S. Senate in 1987, conservative icon Barry Goldwater summoned me to his hilltop home in Paradise Valley. I was writing a book about longtime Arizona Senator Carl Hayden at the time (Vision in the Desert: Carl Hayden and Hydropolitics in the American Southwest, Texas Christian University Press, 1999) and Goldwater wanted to say his piece about the Democrat he served with, and against, for the better part of two decades.
As soon as I sat down, Goldwater leaned across the table, jammed the stop button on my tape recorder and announced he wanted “to go off the record,” adding that he did not want his Republican supporters “to know this.”
“Don’t worry, Senator,” I assured him. “I’m not a Republican.”
“Good,” he continued, laughing. “Young man, I have more bipartisan political genes than you think,” and began to reminisce about Hayden – specifically, about raising money for Hayden. I honored Goldwater’s off-the-record request for more than a quarter century, but I have a feeling he wouldn’t have shared the story with me if he didn’t want the public to know about it down the line, after his passing. So here goes.
Goldwater emphasized one stunning example from the 1962 campaign – the then-84-year-old Hayden’s last – against upstart ultraconservative Republican Evan Mecham, who at the age of 38 had mobilized a potent force of true believers. Mecham had upset Republican candidate and Goldwater favorite Stephen Shadegg – father of former Arizona Congressman John Shadegg – in the primary, and was looking to unseat Hayden, the venerable public servant who served under 10 presidents and was widely credited for wresting Arizona’s water rights from California.
To prevent such an outcome, Goldwater raised $50,000 for the general election campaign, then brashly directed the funds to Democratic Party coffers and Hayden’s campaign without the media knowing. “I always raised money for Carl Hayden’s reelection to the U.S. Senate because it was so damned important,” Goldwater thundered. “Mecham was kind of a nut, and Hayden, who was chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee... [was indispensable] to Arizona.”
Keep in mind, when Goldwater shared this anecdote with me, Mecham was 63 years old and the sitting governor in Arizona, still a few months away from public humiliation and impeachment. Which partly explains why Goldwater wanted it off the record.
When it came to helping Democrats, Goldwater did not reach across party lines lightly. But Hayden was a special kind of political creature, the kind of effective, pragmatic pro worth the risk. Hayden outgrew party personality early in his political career, Goldwater asserted, despite entering the U.S. House of Representatives as a Woodrow Wilson Progressive and a staunch proponent of the programs embodied in the New Freedom. He later supported Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal, Harry Truman’s Fair Deal, John F. Kennedy’s New Frontier and Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society. If it was a costly social-betterment program, he was behind it. Still, Hayden never let political partisanship interfere with friendship or helping a constituent. “I have friends in both political parties,” Hayden often said, “and I do not forget that fact when there is an opportunity to be of service to them, regardless if they are Republicans or Democrats.”
Goldwater noted he had known and admired Hayden since his boyhood in the early decades of the 20th century. The former Republican presidential standard bearer grew emotional, even teary-eyed, and stated, “Carl Hayden did more for Arizona than any other person. He was the guiding light to all this water, and most importantly, the Central Arizona Project.”
“Old Carl was a Democrat – sometimes too damned liberal on issues,” Goldwater continued. “But our families went back a long way together and in many ways, the Haydens and the Goldwaters turned a raw territory into a state of growth, modernization and progress.”
True to his economic principles, Goldwater’s willingness to reach across the aisle created a “trickle-down effect” of extra-partisan cooperation for policy makers who succeeded him. The most notable case is that of former U.S. Senator Dennis DeConcini (1977-1995), a Tucson-based Democrat who worked effectively with Senate Republicans, voted for President Ronald Reagan in 1980, and earned high praise from Utah Senator Orrin Hatch, a staunch Republican, as “one of the few Democrats who could reach across the aisle and work with us.”
As was the case with Hayden, Goldwater’s willingness to work with DeConcini had a lot to do with family connections. At
DeConcini’s swearing-in ceremony on January 5, 1977, “a smiling and waving Goldwater” acknowledged the freshman senator’s family and took special note of DeConcini’s mother-in-law, Peggy Hurley, a longtime Republican activist. DeConcini recalled that Goldwater told him, “Denny, you are going to be our new Carl Hayden!”
In one instance, the two worked together to bring federal funds for infrastructure and related development to Downtown Phoenix. DeConcini – after rebuffs from President Reagan’s Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Samuel Pierce – asked Goldwater for help. “You get Pierce on the phone and I will talk to him right now,” Goldwater snapped. From the Republican cloakroom at the Capital, DeConcini called Pierce’s administrative assistant and, refusing to identify himself, announced that Goldwater wanted to speak to Pierce. Pierce picked up the phone immediately, and
DeConcini raced back to the Senate floor, corralled Goldwater and hurried back to the cloakroom. Goldwater got on the line and, with a few well-chosen profanities, unloaded on Pierce.
Within a week, according to DeConcini, Pierce approved millions of dollars for the Downtown Phoenix project. DeConcini’s office generated a self-congratulatory press release, and the junior senator walked it over to Goldwater. “Oh, it’s fine, Denny,” the Republican said.
It was just one of many times Goldwater helped with “Democratic legislation,” DeConcini, now splitting his residence between La Jolla and Tucson, recalls. “Yes, Goldwater was a conservative,” the Democratic senator allows, “but a very practical representative for his state of Arizona.”
A Justice for all
In the best tradition of the pay-it-forward principle, the healthy and productive Goldwater-DeConcini relationship later redounded to the benefit of a Republican, Sandra Day O’Connor, when she was nominated to replace retiring Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart during the first Reagan administration. DeConcini had known O’Connor, a graduate of Stanford Law School, from her years serving in the Arizona State Senate (1969-1975), where she became majority leader in 1973 when Republicans took control of the upper chamber. Governor Bruce Babbitt, a Democrat, ultimately nominated her to sit on the Arizona State Court of Appeals in 1979. The Republican-controlled state senate easily confirmed her, and Babbitt received much good press from the inspired appointment.
Two years later, in the midst of Stewart’s retirement, DeConcini issued a statement to the Arizona press corps and wrote a letter to President Reagan urging him to nominate Sandra Day O’Connor to the Supreme Court.
The Arizona press gave substantial column inches to DeConcini’s suggestion, though at first it attracted little attention beyond Arizona. DeConcini then met with Goldwater in his office and informed him that he had written a letter to the president and told his senior colleague he thought O’Connor would be an excellent choice. Goldwater embraced DeConcini’s suggestion and said he would call President Reagan to second the idea. Soon, DeConcini learned the White House had decided to interview O’Connor.
Photos courtesy The Dennis DeConcini Congressional Collection, Special Collections, University of Arizona Library; Despite their across-the-aisle rivalry, Senators Barry Goldwater (left) and Dennis DeConcini worked together to secure the appointment of Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor (center). In 1981, Democrat DeConcini lobbied hard for Republican SCOTUS nominee O'Connor.
The interview left an outstanding impression with Reagan White House operatives, DeConcini remembers: “Reagan’s advisors were extremely impressed with her.” But O’Connor didn’t share his enthusiasm. When DeConcini spoke with O’Connor after the interview, she predicted being passed over for SCOTUS because fellow Arizonan William Rehnquist already sat on the court, and two justices from the same state seemed politically inopportune.
Much to her surprise, President Reagan nominated her for consideration. DeConcini, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, took her to meet every Democrat and most of the Republicans on the committee. Ironically, those most skeptical about O’Connor were Republicans. Some of the most conservative committee members – old Southern lion Strom Thurmond, along with Jeremiah Denton and Charles Grassley – had questions about whether or not she was sufficiently pro-life. But as DeConcini took her to visit Senate Democrats, he could see they were impressed and that she was not beholden to any particular ideology.
“I had little problem lining up Democratic support for Sandra,” DeConcini recounts with a tinge of irony. Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Ted Kennedy later credited DeConcini with winning Democratic support for O’Connor. Without her Arizonan ace-in-the-hole, she might never have risen to the highest judicial seat in the land.
After many political mixers and cocktail parties and hand-holding sessions, the Republicans also fell into line. She was confirmed on September 21, 1981, and served on the court for 25 years.
DeConcini spent the remainder of his two-decade career in the Senate performing similar acts of party-blind largesse. In 1985, he helped facilitate the nomination of John R. Norton III as Deputy Secretary of Agriculture in the Reagan administration, hosting a reception at his home, where he introduced Norton and his wife, Doris, to Democratic U.S. Senators on the Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry committee. Norton, a native Arizonan, was an agribusiness titan, amassing an irrigated agricultural empire stretching from New Mexico to Arizona to northern and southern California. Norton later told me, “Dennis introduced me to every Democrat and Republican on the committee and helped seal my confirmation.”
Though contrasting ideologies and partisanship existed in the 1980s, the political atmosphere was less venomous, those who served in the era agree. Differences were noted, respected, and after 5 p.m. ideological fealty remained at work. Congressmen and Senators from disparate parties socialized and dined together. As DeConcini notes: “I often saw Goldwater and Ted Kennedy having dinner or a drink after they left their offices at night.” The spirit of bipartisanship also had a perilous side for DeConcini: Along with fellow Arizona Senator John McCain, he was part of the Keating Five ethics investigation during the Savings & Loan crisis of the mid-1980s. Both he and McCain were officially exonerated. DeConcini, who later served on the Arizona Board of Regents, retired from the Senate in 1995, choosing not to seek a fourth term.
At the level of state government, Arizona’s bipartisan heyday may have peaked in the 1970s when her political poles shifted, and a longtime Democratic state turned decidedly Republican. Democratic Governor Bruce Babbitt (1978-1987) and Republican House Majority Leader Burton Barr (1965-1987) – along with their sometime political putting partner, Minority Leader Alfredo Gutierrez, a Democrat – cultivated a largely unheralded political partnership that got things done without triggering partisan alarm sirens within their own parties. Few knew that Babbitt and Barr were north Phoenix neighbors who, on most Sunday afternoons during the legislative session, visited each other’s homes, bearing coffee or food, to touch base in a private setting. According to Babbitt, “Neither of us were fervently ideological, so few moral crusades or other distractions from the challenges we faced got in the way of working together.”
Babbitt and Barr had an ingenious system. Conferring in their off-hours together, they determined which issue, policies or law they had to “win” to mollify their own parties. Tit-for-tat. You win one, I win one. Babbitt and Barr also choreographed their public communication; both would criticize the other on occasion in order to maintain standing with their respective bases. This vital political dance built trust between the two leaders. It was a marriage of mutual interests. “Without this carefully scripted political choreography,” Fred Duval, then Babbitt’s legislative liaison, notes, “the progress made during Babbitt’s years in office could not have happened.”
Gutierrez’s role in this partnership was like that of Huggy Bear to Starsky and Hutch. He gave them street cred, providing Babbitt much-needed political leverage with Barr and excoriating Babbitt if his accommodations to the Republican majority leader went too far. In effect, Babbitt and Barr were obliged to consult with Gutierrez if they needed Democratic votes. As the late General Manager of the Salt River Project, A.J. “Jack” Pfister, once told me, Babbitt and Barr had to “go shopping at Alfredo’s store” if they needed things. Only after this process was complete could budgets or other matters emerge from the legislative gauntlet.
The Modern Condition
Former Governor Fife Symington’s email hit my inbox the morning after his August fundraiser for Ruben Gallego, candidate for Congress in Arizona’s District 7. Symington, no stranger to off-putting press accounts, expressed disappointment about morning news reports that cast a negative pall on the campaign event. The Arizona Republic coverage, for example, devoted space to Symington’s past legal and political struggles rather than focusing on the bipartisan nature of the event. (Full disclosure: I co-organized the fundraiser, and am authoring Symington’s biography.)
“It should be a proud moment in the state’s history,” Symington ruefully observed, “when a former Republican governor openly supports a rising star in the Democratic Party.”
At the time, Gallego was locked in a primary battle with Valley political veteran Mary Rose Wilcox, the former Maricopa County Supervisor who drew national headlines – and, ultimately, a seven-figure civil judgment payday – in the wake of her spurious prosecution by former Maricopa County Attorney Andy Thomas for political corruption. Gallego needed a leg up in his fight against Wilcox, and Symington was happy to provide it. Party affiliation aside, the two shared several things in common. Each graduated from Harvard College and served in the U.S. military; Symington in the Air Force during Vietnam, and Gallego as a Marine in the Iraq War. They first met at a luncheon last spring, bantered and argued a bit, but found they shared many points of consensus. They agreed on the U.S. maintaining an active and strong military, the need for increased support for public education, especially the universities, and the critical need to attract business to Gallego’s central Phoenix district.
As a political risk, the fundraiser – held at Franco’s Italian Caffe in Scottsdale, which Symington co-owns – was hardly an all-in for the former governor. Gallego was competing for District 7, a rock-solid Democratic district in which no serious Republican politician would dare run. So Symington stood little risk of interfering with GOP political machinery by backing Gallego. But the affiliation was nonetheless a rebuke to cynics who bristle at any attempt to cross party lines. Symington simply liked the guy and backed him. “Ruben has a future and he has the right combination of smarts and a work ethic,” he says.
But in our current era of extreme political polarization and the marginalization of moderates in both major parties, such courtesies seem the outliers. Through a political ally, Wilcox had previously moved to disqualify Gallego from the primary election based on the filing status of his surname, which the candidate had changed several years prior. It was hardly, you might say, civil.
And maybe that tells us something about politics and civility. Cooperation and harmony are rare enough mid-term, but they’re practically nonexistent during the campaign cycle, when the already toxic American political atmosphere achieves its maximum corrosiveness. You won’t find Ducey and DuVal on the ski slopes. Instead, their campaigns will be making dark money-driven assertions that distort the records and leadership abilities of the other. Some will be true, others not so much.
But Arizona can look back upon a long history of political evolution and change, and – in several significant instances – bipartisan cooperation as an exemplar for the future. I’m not proposing that Congressmen Trent Franks and Raul Grijalva hit some night spots in Georgetown after voting on the immigration bill, but hopefully the worst acrimony – the Thomas/Arpaio/Wilcox fiasco, the legislative adventurism of SB 1060, etc. – is behind us. You might have negative feelings about mining, or maybe not, but it’s interesting to note that Republican Congressman Paul Gosar and Democratic Congresswoman Ann Kirkpatrick have joined forces in support of the land exchange that would enable Resolution Copper mine near Superior to move forward. And my colleague, Symington, just announced his support for Democratic Attorney General candidate Felecia Rotellini in her race against Republican Mark Brnovich.
And regardless of what happens November 4, I have a feeling Ducey and DuVal will ski once again.
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