Arizona Centennial: Arizona’s Progressive Constitution

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ASU Morrison Institute for Public Policy Senior Fellow David Berman explains why Arizona has one of the most progressive state constitutions in the nation.

Ted Simons: Tonight we focus on Arizona's centennial with a look at the state's constitution drafted in 1910. The Arizona Constitution was considered a progressive attempt to emphasize popular control over Representative democracy. Here to explain what went into the framing of Arizona's constitution is David Berman, senior research fellow for ASU's Morrison Institute for Public Policy. Good to have you here, thanks for joining us. One of the most progressive constitutions in the country. I think a lot of people would be surprised by that.

David Berman: I think so too. It was a product of the time. The progressive movement was really at its height, and the ideas were just floating around in the air, but they were very appropriate for Arizona. They came off a fairly difficult time in territorial times. There was a failure in Representative government, it wasn't working. They were looking for solutions.

Ted Simons: Well, what were they aiming for, and what were they reacting against?

David Berman: I think they were reacting against corporate control of the legislature, territorial legislature, primarily. The feel was the legislature wasn't performing in the interests of the people, it was performing in the interests of the dominant corporations, the large corporations that had recently emerged. We're talking about big four, the two railroads, the Southern Pacific and the Santa Fe, and two giant copper companies, the united verde and Phelps Dodge. Between them they pretty much had their say. The government was more responsive to them than, say, to the average person. They were responding to that. But there was a general belief that the people should rule, damn it. Who else should rule? Why not? Is this a bad idea? They thought the initiative, referendum and recall would be a perfect way to do that. Initially allow them to just make their own laws and not worry about the corrupt legislature, just do it. The referendum would give them an opportunity to protest what the legislature had done and force them to go before the voters and stand whether they wanted them or not. The recall could get them out of office before they do any more damage as soon as possible.

Ted Simons: Especially the initiative and referendum process. How was that developed? I mean were other states looked at was something in history considered?

David Berman: You can go back to the Swiss on the initiative. You can go back to a number of reform movements. It first became popular in Arizona with the populists the O'neil fame back in the 1890's as part of the populist movement as it sorted blended into the progressive movement. They were at that time complaining about pretty much the same thing that, corporate control -- they were more concerned about the railroads than just about anyone. But it had that Genesis in Arizona. It was designed to -- with certain assumptions that the people were really able to do that sort of thing. And that it was sort of a gun behind the door. If you don't pass this legislation, we'll do it ourselves. It was a way of getting around a legislature that wasn't responding.

Ted Simons: How unique it was and is, that much referendum and initiative?

David Berman: In Arizona, there were -- and the west, I should say, this was fairly common. It was something the old eastern governments didn't do in New York and all these places really lagged on the initiative, referendum and recall. Oregon became the very strong state in pioneering the use of the methods. Arizona came maybe second or third among the western states. We were in the -- we were a territory much longer than any other territory. In part because they thought we were sort of wild, and we would do things like this. You know, they weren't going to give us statehood after they gave to it Kansas and all the populists took over Kansas you know too many nuts out there already in congress we can't let more come in from Arizona. There was a frustration with territorial government that built up. The corporations didn't want us to become a state necessarily, because they were having a field day out here. So that they would -- they thought keeping us a territory was in their interests. There was a lot of resentment going up. In Arizona you had a growing labor movement, and you had women who wanted the vote. And you had people who wanted prohibition who could never get anything through the legislature. They all sort of got together and said, let's push this initiative. The initiative was what they were after, although the recall was very important to labor, too, because they were having judges who were issuing injunctions against unions trying to organize. They couldn't get rid of the injunctions, but they could get rid of the damn judges if they had the recall.

Ted Simons: That was something at play with President Taft, as far as granting Arizona statehood. He basically said, you can't be recalling judges. Arizona said okay, and then we go to be a state nine months later, we did what we wanted to do anyway.

David Berman: We put that provision right back in the constitution, after having taken it out about a year earlier. But the recall was never really -- it was important to Taft and important to labor, because they wanted it. But the issue, nobody really thought there were going to be a lot of recalls. One of the things the framers did, too, is instituted two-year terms, so you were electing and reelecting people constantly. When would you have time for a recall in there? It wasn't going to be that often. And Governor George Hunt, who was president of the constitutional convention, said we're not going use the recall. It's only going to be used against the most grievous injustice. Oddly enough, he was the first one the recall targeted against. But he played it down. Most people played it down. Taft stood on principle because he felt the courts really should be protected. They have to be. He didn't like the idea that the judges were being elected, either.

Ted Simons: Last question: What should Arizona be most proud of regarding our constitution?

David Berman: I think they should be proud of the direct democracy. That was an important innovation and something we pushed. There have been some problems. I think it also had provisions in there that were very progressive, and this notion of equal rights for all, special privileges for none, they banned a lot of things. And also they have created a corporation commission which had a mission in the economy. So they were sort of a forward-thinking progressive thinkers at that time. They put their document together. It's not been altogether honored, but it has been I think a significant contribution in political theory and application.

Ted Simons: Great information. Good to have you here. Thanks for joining us.

David Berman: Well, I enjoyed it.

Ted Simons: Thank you.

David Berman:Senior Fellow ASU Morrison Institute for Public Policy;

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