President William Howard Taft signs the bill admitting Arizona as the 48th state in 1912.
If our advanced high-speed rail system backward dependence on overcrowded airliners works, I'll be on a panel next Friday at the national convention of Netroots Nation in Phoenix. The topic: How Progressive Arizona Became Tea Party Arizona.
Because panelists never get to say as much as they'd like, I'll set the table here.
Arizona indeed began as a capital-P Progressive state. This included a weak, almost figurehead of a governor and a strong Legislature, as well as the initiative and referendum where the people could essentially legislate on their own. Statewide officials were required to stand for re-election every two years. They could also be recalled.
Importantly for a state where mining interests and railroads exercised enormous power, the state constitution created a Corporation Commission with wide-ranging regulatory power over the capitalists.
All these were hallmarks of the Progressive Era, which developed as a response to the robber barons and inequality of the Gilded Age of the 1880s and 1890s.
Theodore Roosevelt busted the trusts and more vigorously applied tools that had been passed by Congress earlier, such as the Sherman Antitrust Act and Interstate Commerce Commission. He signed the Pure Food and Drug Act, which, like many Progressive measures, was a result of horrors exposed by muckraking journalists
Had TR won in 1912, he would have gone much further, enacting reforms that had to wait for his cousin, Franklin.
Woodrow Wilson oversaw creation of the national income tax, the Federal Reserve (so the nation would no longer be at the whims of J.P. Morgan and his banker cartel), the Federal Trade Commission and stronger antitrust legislation, as well as an eight-hour day for the railroad industry.
The Progressive Era was also distinguished by a host of social and economic reforms at the state level, such as workers compensation and abolition of child labor. These years also saw the unstoppable movement for women's suffrage.
In Arizona, Frances Willard Munds pushed for the state constitution to give women the right to vote. Rebuffed, she used the referendum to bring the matter to a vote — it passed overwhelmingly soon after statehood (Munds went on to serve in the state Senate).
There were Republican and Democratic Progressives (the tragic Herbert Hoover was a Roosevelt Progressive). But the movement also had its blind spots. For example, Jim Crow had a home among Democratic Progressives. Wilson, the first Southern-born president since the Civil War, fired all the African-American federal employees hired by TR. Most Progressives supported Prohibition.
George W.P. Hunt, the state of Arizona's first governor, was a Progressive Democrat (as was Carl Hayden, its U.S. congressman and then long-serving Senator). He fought for elimination of child labor, restrictions on lobbying, and creation of workers comp and old-age pensions. He was friendly with the radical union, the International Workers of the World or "Wobblies."
Hunt was out of office by July 1917 when the infamous Bisbee Deportation took place, with Phelps Dodge forced 1,300 striking miners onto railroad cattle cars and boxcars, to be taken without food or water into the New Mexico wilderness. A similar act of corporate criminality was carried out in Jerome.
These were pointed reminders that the forces of reaction never rested and Progressive Arizona had its limits.
This was also true in matters of race. Arizona was (is) a Western and a Southern state. De jure segregation lasted for half of the 20th century, as well as anti-Asian laws. Antipathy against Mexicans, for example, didn't start with SB 1070. American Indians didn't get the right to vote until 1948, even though Cherokees had been recognized as U.S. citizens in 1817 and the Indian Citizenship Act became federal law in 1924.
Arizona and small-p progressivism is another matter. Arizona's constitutional progressivism was populist. Most Arizonans were conservative. The local term "Pinto" applied to the majority conservative Democrats.
Many powerful Arizonans fought making the Grand Canyon a National Park. Later, Phoenicians dithered as the Papago-Saguaro National Monument languished; Papago Park is nothing like the wonder it could have been. The Corporation Commission was soon captured by the utilities, a situation that continues today. In 1945, Arizona became the first state in the West to pass a "right to work" law.
The contradictions were abundant, with many Arizonans celebrating the "rugged individualism" of their frontier state, and yet being indebted to federal investments to force peace on the Apaches, provide land grants as incentives for railroad construction, and especially with water reclamation projects.
In the Great Depression, Arizona and Phoenix took a disproportionate share of help from the New Deal (it helped make Del Webb a millionaire). Later, federal money underwrote the military bases, defense industries, FHA loans, Interstate highways, and flood control that helped create urban Arizona.
In her book Sunbelt Capitalism, Elizabeth Tandy Shermer argues that Barry Goldwater and his businessmen friends in Phoenix actually created the modern conservative movement that would lead to the election of Ronald Reagan. I wouldn't go that far, but from the 1950s on, the contours were evident and turned what had been a solid Democratic state into one that was first competitive and then nearly solid Republican.
This process took decades, and was helped along by
- The Big Sort of like-minded people moving here;
- Sprawl severing civic connections;
- Lower-than-average levels of college-educated citizens;
- A huge cohort of retirees who vote and Hispanics who don't.
- Withering of advanced industries dependent on talent with a liberal bias;
- The rising political involvement of conservative Mormons (as opposed to the Udalls),
- And the staggering ineptitude and cowardice of the state Democrats.
One could argue the building bricks of the Kookocracy were always there. I wrote about the Phoenix City Council race of 1961, when right-wing extremists gave Charter a scare. Evan Mecham received a shocking high level of votes against Hayden in 1962. The right has been much more successful in using initiative and referendum than have progressives.
But over the past three decades Arizona politics have been nationalized. There is hardly anything in the Kookocracy today that is grassroots or original, even the willful stupidity or bigotry of its elected officials. Tax cuts, the Charter School Racket, Private Prison Racket, low funding for education — it could be Kansas or Mississippi in the desert.
The only novelty is the level of embarrassment caused by such things as SB 1070, the guns-in-bars law, Joe Arpaio, and a Superintendent of Public Instruction who acts as if she has never received any. Yet even here, national groups such as ALEC, NRA, the Family Research Council, Club for Growth, and abundant dark money are at work.
As a result, Arizona is now a solid part of the New Confederacy.
Progressive Arizona was never, say, Wisconsin. Thanks to this successful nationalization of reaction and oligarchy, the channeling of resentments and anxieties of the white working class to vote against their interests, Wisconsin isn't even Wisconsin any more.
Here's the link for the panel.