President Kennedy’s Arizona Connection

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The 50th Anniversary of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination is November 22nd. His influence was felt in Arizona on the Central Arizona Project and in the political career of former Arizona Governor Raul Castro. Visiting Scholar in Legal History at the law firm of Snell & Wilmer Jack August, will discuss Kennedy’s Arizona connections.

Ted Simons: Tomorrow marks the 50th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy's assassination. With that in mind, we thought we'd look at JFK's connections to Arizona, with Jack August, visiting scholar in legal history at the law firm of Snell and Wilmer. Jack, good to have you here on "Arizona Horizon."

Jack August: Great to be here.

Ted Simons: Let's talk about -- what kind of a relationship did JFK have with Arizona?

Jack August: Let's kind of approach it chronologically. It's kind of episodic, that might be the best way to put it. We know that in 1936, at the age of 19, Joseph Kennedy, Sr. thought it might be good that his kids take a "working vacation" in Arizona. He had a friend with a multi-thousand acre ranch just west of Benton, Arizona. So he and Joe, Jr., went out, some say they worked for four months, I think it was probably two months, but they worked hard I think comparatively. It's also mentioned it's the first paid job the boys ever had.

Ted Simons: Isn't that interesting?

Jack August: That's interesting and they visited some of the border towns as kids will do at the time. And then later jumping forward a little bit, in 1944, he comes to Arizona to recover after the PT109 incident, his back was hurt. He goes to the Castle Hot Springs, a little too slow up there. He wanted a little more action, so he came down to the Camelback Inn for a couple of days and I think there's some famous photographs of him recovering at the pool there.

Ted Simons: I think he even stopped at the Biltmore. And the Biltmore wasn't even fast enough for him.

Jack August: It wasn't fast enough for him. The Camelback Inn was a little maybe younger at the time.

Ted Simons: So from then, of course, on, his political career develops. In Arizona, how popular was John F. Kennedy?

Jack August: Well, I think, you know, Arizona was still in 1960 a democratic state in terms of registration. But by 1960, the so-called Pinto Democrats -- many democrats had origins with southern states rights democrats, a more southern than progressive democrats were registering, many of them were now by 1960 and 1970 as Republican. He was popular with the base but ultimately Barry Goldwater campaigned hard here, of course, and his name recognition is high and he did better than many people thought but he lost Arizona to Richard Nixon. Well, he campaigned here on November 3rd, 1960, five days before the election and he gave a speech, some of it is on tape in the University of California Santa Barbara archives, and it's a pretty amusing speech, he references Barry Goldwater and Nixon and how the elephants were all tied together and following each other, but, you know, Nixon couldn't follow Eisenhower. It was a typical campaign stump speech but he came here but did lose the election on November 8th.

Ted Simons: It was relatively close, if I'm not mistaken, and he was impressed by that to the point that he paid a little bit of attention to Arizona democrats, didn't he?

Jack August: Yes, he did. It was one of the great takeaways for Arizona, he appointed Stuart Udall, a Congressman he knew very well and liked and who campaigned for him. He appointed him Secretary of the Interior and he was the first Arizonan to hold a cabinet position in an administration.

Ted Simons: And future governor Raul Castro plays a part in this as well. Talk to us about this.

Jack August: It's a little bit of inside political baseball within the Democratic Party. At the time, Carl Hayden was a senior senator, the purse strings in the Senate, was institutionally very powerful, he had a very ambitious administrative aide, who was twice the candidate for the Senate in 1964 and 1968. In 1963, Roy wanted this young and up-and-coming and popular Hispanic superior court judge, Raul H. Castro, was making noise about running for the Senate. So Roy Elson and Senator Hayden had early discussions with president Kennedy to maybe appoint him to ambassador. Well, the assassination takes place, but nevertheless that talking point continued when LBJ took over, and sure enough, before 1964 election, Raul Castro was ambassador to El Salvador and Roy Elson has a free ride to the democratic nomination. It started with the Kennedy administration.

Ted Simons: And then, you know, it's interesting because you talk about the fact that he did not win Arizona but came close and he did celebrate the fact that the democrats helped him. He also courted the Latino vote, did he not?

Jack August: He did and his wife actually taped, as many historians know, President Kennedy was an early utilizer of this media, of television and he used it to great effect in 1960 and I'm sure he had plans for 1964. But also he did Spanish language commercials and his wife again, did several of them, and many people that grew up, I'm a native from here and growing up here, many of the Hispanic households I would go to, there would be a picture of Jesus and maybe the cross and a picture of John F. Kennedy who was a Catholic. So his Catholicism helped with that base. It may have alienated others, but probably was a wash in the end.

Ted Simons: Speaking of a wash, talk about the Central Arizona Project. While we're looking at his relationship with democrats and the state, he wasn't necessarily a friend of the CAP. Talk to us here.

Jack August: His term kind of bisects the longest Supreme Court case in American history, which is very important to Arizona: Arizona versus California. When he becomes president, it was such a complex and Byzantine case that they had to have a special master. Hearings and briefs and arguments were completed by 1960, eight years after it started, and several people died in the process. And Kennedy appointed again Secretary Udall but the Californians who were hearing noise that they were going to lose the case and indeed in 1963, it was handed down just after Kennedy was assassinated, Arizona versus California was rendered in Arizona's is in a position to say yes it's feasible to dig the ditch and build the Central Arizona Project. By '62, Kennedy is already looking at California to win California in 1964. And so it's almost pure politics. So what they do is well, California is going to lose the case, let's give them something and so the interior secretary and Congress, began working on a massive regional water plan and CAP was part of it. Carl Hayden had been working so long and he wanted that to be a priority. So the regional plan versus CAP go it alone, the editorials at the Arizona Republic excoriated Stewart Udall and his brother Morris Udall every day. He wrote Hayden a letter over at the ASU archives, I'm going to take my daily horse whipping in the press but we've got to hold this together. And ultimately, five years after 1963 to 1968, that was the legislative struggle, the bill was passed, the CAP is finally affirmed and we finally have water here by the mid 1990s. It took a long time.

Ted Simons: It's very important in the state's development. Before we go, though, the impact of the assassination on Arizona in particular. Was it any different, was it so removed?

Jack August: I was here. I think I was in third grade and I remember the teachers took us out at Madison Meadows, north central Phoenix, they took us out on the playground and told all of us, it was grade 1 through 8, I talked to many people, another columnist that occasionally offers opinions, we talked about it the other day, we all remember where we were in school and all that, what the teachers did, it was a very serious thing and I think all of us remember it, even as a 3rd grader. I think the state was affected just like the rest of the country.

Ted Simons: We thank you so much for your memories, thank you so much for joining us. We appreciate it.

Jack August: Thanks.

Jack August:Visiting Scholar in Legal History, Snell & Wilmer;

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