Eugene C. Pulliam had great power. He would have unleashed an old-fashioned newspaper crusade against Arpaio, something today’s chain-owned Arizona Republic has been afraid to do. Evan Mecham was removed from the governor’s office in 1988 thanks to a business community that no longer exists — big headquartered companies, some developers, local business leaders who cared about the community, along with the old political elite and the Republic. Compared with Arpaio, Mecham was a schoolboy. But he had become an embarrassment to the state and they acted. And they had clout.
Old Arizona saw heroes in abundance: Cochise, Geronimo, Father Kino, Gen. George Crook, along with the Apache scout Elsatsoosu, Frank Luke Jr., Silvestre Herrera and Ira Hayes, this latter group all winners of the Medal of Honor. It was the birthplace of Cesar Chavez. Although without traditional power, one can imagine a battle between Chavez and Arpaio. The Salt River Valley bloomed thanks to heroic acts, and the farmers, including my great-grandparents, who pledged their land as collateral to build Theodore Roosevelt Dam under the Newlands Act. In some cases, of course, heroism is in the eye of the beholder. More on that later.
Arizona still cherishes Barry Goldwater as an unalloyed hero. It was not always so. Pulliam didn’t endorse him for president in 1964, and I was one of only two students at Kenilworth School, his alma mater, who openly supported him. In reality, Goldwater was an archetype Arizona flawed hero. He opposed civil rights, a position he later regretted but by then it didn’t matter. JFK was actually concerned about a very tight presidential race against Goldwater because the South was solidly behind him because of his position on civil rights. Still, the man in full represented much of the best of us, individualism but also concern for the commons (as a city councilman and even later, he never met a bond issue he opposed). As the GOP grew more extreme, Goldwater became a pariah (“I will be remembered as a liberal,” he said). Barry’s race problem was not uncommon. Carl Hayden, the father of the Central Arizona Project, was a reliable ally of the Southern segregationists. Ernest McFarland, father of the G.I. Bill and Senate majority leader, may come the closest to a genuine Western white hat. Arpaio would have wilted under any of these men.
Today much of Arizona admires and cherishes Sandra Day O’Connor, the first woman named to the Supreme Court. The retired Justice recently lamented the loss of civility in the public square. I have yet to see her use her position as elder stateswoman to directly confront the brutish behavior and racism of Arpaio. Centrist and liberal Arizona forgets that O’Connor usually voted with the conservatives on the court. Worse, and this will taint her once the hagiography wears off with the years, she voted with the majority in Bush v. Gore, likely to be seen by future historians as a critical turning point in the loss of the American republic. She never stopped being a partisan, even though she wasn’t a Kook.