Arizona Governor Hunt Book


Ted Simons: George Hunt was Arizona's first elected governor and wound up serving seven terms in office. A new biography of Hunt has just been released and profiles a colorful and complicated political force. Here now is the author of that biography, ASU professor emeritus of political science David berman, good to see you again.

David Berman: Yes. You, too.

Ted Simons: Let's talk about this George -- who is George Hunt?

David Berman: George as you mentioned, was the longest-serving governor in Arizona history, born in Missouri in 1859. He died out here in 1934. He really had a lot to do with Arizona politics from 1890s to the 1930s. He was the epicenter of everything.

Ted Simons: And what -- no one at that time, was born in Arizona. What brought him to Arizona, what got him into politics?

David Berman: He ran away from home when he was 18. He was not a happy child. He had some problems with his father who drank too much and abused him. And he was close to his mother. But he felt that his future belonged in the west and he wanted to make some money by panning for gold, and he joined some others who were doing the same thing at the time and wandered around for two or three years and finally wound up in Arizona where he heard there was a big gold strike, came in on a burro to Globe, Arizona, where he spent most of his early life and kept his home there, which is now a flower shop, and no one had ever really preserved the home but it's still there. So he entered -- he tried all kinds of businesses and he didn't make any money at them. He was a waiter. He started off in a very menial job, and then he raised cattle and ran a ferry for a while. And having failed in all the business enterprises, he did the logical thing. He entered politics. And he tried to make his way that way. He did become a prosperous merchant banker in Globe, but really his heart was not in business. It was in running for office and becoming governor.

Ted Simons: What kind of politician was he?

David Berman: He was -- he was -- on the one hand, he was as the title indicates a crusader. He had causes he wanted to achieve. He went out and politics was a serious business. He had things to do and he ran into people he didn't like, and he kept running. On the other hand, he was also a practical politician. Much more flexible when it came to getting elected than after he was elected. He was quite -- he would do what he had to do pretty much to get elected and very often they were very close contests, and he would -- he developed a technique really of making people think that they were important because they knew the governor. And he would be their friend and he would go into a town, he would talk to Charlie and asked how the wife was and the kids and he would write that all down, on an index card so when he came into the town the next time, he would say I remember your kids, had some trouble and people really called him by his first name and he talked to them. But he was the kind of guy that would succeed in the small frontier town, you know, where people knew friends and neighbors kind of thing and he was very effective in that respect.

Ted Simons: But you're right, as well. This was not your classic what we think now of as your classic politician, 300 pounds, he wore some strange clothes at times, wasn't the best of public speakers and really didn't have much of a formal education.

David Berman: No. He was all those things are true, although the weight came relatively late. He was 5'9" and 300 pounds and wearing a silk suit and he had a helmet and a handle bar mustache going up to here. He was actually quite a striking figure to say the least but he was much thinner when he started out his career. And I don't know what happened. I haven't traced where all the calories came from but he didn't ride a horse anymore. He had to stay away from them but he married a woman who was the daughter of a prominent cattle rancher and he was -- she shot better than just about anybody and she herded cattle and they were quite an odd couple.

Ted Simons: It sounds like it. And again, as far as a politician, he was progressive which may surprise some folks. He was kind of an FDR before an FDR.

David Berman: He found the forgotten men. As a child, he came from a poor but proud family. On his mother's side, they had relatives going back to the revolutionary war. He was a member of the sons of the American Revolution, and on the other hand, his father went bankrupt, and the civil war struck the area where he was raised, there was devastation, there wasn't much of an economy there. So he was raised really quite poor and had very little education, you're right there. He had trouble in school. He knew what it was to be -- how it felt to be the only kid in the class that didn't have a textbook. He couldn't afford it, one of the first things he did was to get free textbooks for kids at school. It's one of the things that stuck with him, as did his father's drinking. He did favor prohibition and cracking down on the saloons and the gambling dens and all these kind of things.

Ted Simons: And as far as now once he got into office, he was in office a long time. It seems like corporate bigwigs, those who were after executives, he seemed like he was fighting all the time.

David Berman: He was fighting the corporate bigwigs. He was after the Southern Pacifics and the Santa Fes and the giant companies who pretty much ran the state legislature. He was in the state legislature, that's when he started his major career and he was trying to increase corporate taxes, get protections for workers, especially in company towns, and he couldn't get anything out of them. And he developed out of that experience a very strong distaste for state legislatures, even though he was governor. He fought that legislature all the time.

Ted Simons: Some things never change. But with that in mind it seemed like from your book like he wasn't -- was he a happy politician? It seems like he wasn't very happy very often.

David Berman: He was on a crusade and -- crusade and he had a tendency if you read his diary and his private letters to see conspiracies against him, betrayals. He knew how everybody voted and if you voted against him, he knew that. It was right up here. That was fellow politicians. You had to stay with him or you were in trouble and he had the -- it was well filed up there as to who was a friend and who was a foe. He had a lot of ego as most politicians do. I think you need it. But he was not a happy warrior. He was a warrior but not a happy warrior.

Ted Simons: And yet it sounds like it took a lot to get him to get out of politics. He just ran to the bitter end.

David Berman: He certainly did. He was -- we call this an active negative type. These are people who can't avoid politics because they have things to do but it's a grind and they have to stay. They have to keep the fight going. He was not a good loser. In 1916, he came up short in the first count of the votes and the new governor came in to take over and Hunt would not leave the governor's office. He just barricaded himself in. It's fascinating. We had two people claiming to be governor. And finally, the Supreme Court kicked Hunt out of office saying you're going to leave, George and George left but he won a court suit and became governor again and he served a two-year term so he served only 13 years. It was one of those years he was contesting the election.

Ted Simons: It's a really fascinating book and I'm surprised a little bit that we haven't heard or read more about George Hunt. This is a seven term, the original governor. Why aren't there towns and schools and roads and airports things named after this guy?

David Berman: There is a Hunt highway but that's about it. I don't have a conspiracy theme here but I do think that there was a period in which people, particularly because of his crusade against the Hoover Dam and his fear that California was going to take all our water away that he was considered to be something of an embarrassment because he was standing in the way of Arizona's development as it was seen by many people. They thought he was something of a failure. And in the later generations were not too happy about a progressive anyhow being governor. So that plus his -- as they saw it standing in the way of our economic development soiled his reputation. I think you can make a good case that he knew what he was doing in the sense that California was in need of water as they are now and the Colorado could have all gone to Los Angeles and we would have gotten nothing out of it.

Ted Simons: So we've got about a minute left here. What can we learn about just Arizona and politics and the future and the whole nine yards from what we see in George Hhunt?

David Berman: I think we can learn there are different ways of looking at things. I think we ignored our past in Arizona a great deal. He was a progressive. He had different views than many people in the state have now but he was representative of the population at the time. And the Constitution we have is very progressive in its nature. And there are principles there that you might want to debate and look at and realize where we came from and if we really want to go much further in the other direction.

Ted Simons: All right. Well, it's really well done. It's a fascinating book, it's good to have you here. Thanks for joining us.

David Berman: Thank you.

Ted Simons: Friday on "Arizona Horizon" it's the Journalists' Roundtable. More on the fight against university funding cuts and senator John McCain makes it official, he is indeed running for re-election. Those stories and more Friday on the Journalists' Roundtable. That is it for now. I'm Ted Simons. Thank you so much for joining us. You have a great evening.

A new book has been written about George Hunt, Arizona’s first elected governor. Arizona State University professor emeritus of political science David Berman will discuss his new book, “George Hunt.”

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In this segment:

David Berman:Professor Emeritus of Political Science, Arizona State University;

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