Book: Jack Pfister

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Former Salt River Project general manager Jack Pfister was instrumental in the Phoenix area’s booming growth during the 70s and through the 90s. Pfister’s influence was felt beyond his leadership at SRP, with his reach extended by his involvement in education and politics. Author Kathleen Ingley will talk about her new book on Pfister, “Water, Power and Persuasion: How Jack Pfister Shaped Modern Arizona” and she will be joined by Pfister’s daughter, Suzanne Pfister.

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CHRISTINA ESTES: Former Salt River Project general manager Jack Pfister was instrumental in the Phoenix area's growth in the '70s and '90s. Beyond his leadership at SRP, extending into politics and education and other things. Author Kathleen Ingley wrote a book called "water, Power and Persuasion how Jack Pfister shaped modern Arizona." Kathleen Ingly joins us on the show, along with Pfister's daughter Suzanne Pfister. Thank you both for joining us, appreciate it. Kathleen I'm going to start with you, why a book on Jack Pfister?

KATHLEEN INGLY: Jack is the most influential leader who is basically unknown to many modern Arizonans. It's hard to believe, because there was a point where everyone knew his name. And yet he was so effective at working behind the scenes that now that he's gone -- he passed away in 2009 -- people are -- they see what he did but don't note name attached to it.

CHRISTINA ESTES: Suzanne, you mentioned in the book people would refer to his Pfister-isms. What does that mean?

SUZANNE PFISTER: He had a variety of sayings that he used. He quoted other people, what gets measured gets done. It's amazing what you can do if you don't need the credit. He had a Pfister rule of thirds dealing with nonprofit boards. He said there will always be a third that are very engaged, a third that are engaged by project and a third that aren't. The best thing you can do is not spend lots of energy on the third that aren't, but keep the other two thirds engaged. It was those kinds of things he gave as he was mentoring people.

CHRISTINA ESTES: Kathleen, you knew him a lot through your work with the "The Arizona Republic," covering public policy issues. What surprised you, or what sorts of things stood out as you did the research and worked on the book?

KATHLEEN INGLY: Jack, an incredible level of influence. And also I knew him as someone who was very gifted in the art of bringing people together. But I didn't quite know how incredibly effective he had been in just such a wide variety of things, from dealing with nuclear safety at the national level, to water quality in Arizona, and the creation of the department of environmental quality. He just had far greater gifts than I knew at the time, for creating consensus on very difficult issues. And something now that is so timely, this is the type of talent that we need.

CHRISTINA ESTES: I know that he was officially a Republican, however he didn't hold that in favor or against anybody, and really worked with everyone. At least that's his reputation. Suzanne, there was another part of the book where you talk about your father invited you to a fund-raiser to help a Democrat pay off a debt. We've got some photos of your father working with different Democrats and Republicans throughout the state. Talk about that and your experience. Did that seem weird to you?

SUZANNE PFISTER: No. My family came in 1882. And the first person that came was a territorial marshal. And in -- my great uncle was very, very active in the '50s and '60s in the Democratic Party because Arizona was run by rural Democrats. He grew up with a Democratic family, but he became a Republican when he got older. But he was very bipartisan. A couple of years before he died he was phone-banking for President Obama. So he had the whole breadth. The content mattered, not the political ideology.

CHRISTINA ESTES: How did he nog have his fingers in so many different things and get criteria it for getting so many things done without that big marquee name credit so many people seek or get?

KATHLEEN INGLEY: Well, there are sort of two challenges there that you wonder how he did. Number one, how did he just accomplish so much? How did he -- he was on so many boards, I think I'm still discovering a few boards he was on. He was involved in so many organizations and mentored so many people that just last week I learned of two more. And it's hard to understand how you can accomplish so much and still sleep and eat. So my hat is off to him. He had incredible focus is I think one gift he had.

CHRISTINA ESTES: You have a quote from former Phoenix mayor Terry Goddard in the book. If he had a fault, he didn't say no. Growing up, Suzanne, did you ever see your dad?

SUZANNE PFISTER: Yes. We saw less of him as we were growing up because -- and it really was when I got into high school and college that he became CEO of Salt River Project. And it was after we were kind of out of the house that he really had his career took a trajectory. But in the last 10 years I talked to him almost every day. He would call my brother, my uncle and myself virtually every day to check up on us. So family was incredibly important to him.

CHRISTINA ESTES: Education also important. Talk a little bit, Kathleen, about his role on the Board of Regents when it came to some financial issues with the legislature, and also his perception of the Universities and instituting some requirements for students.

KATHLEEN INGLEY: He was very, very devoted to the idea that education is what helps people succeed. And education is what we need to solve problems that -- this is how Arizona would become a truly great place, to support the University system. And one of the challenges when he came in was finances, surprise, surprise. We're facing these challenges today.

CHRISTINA ESTES: We've come very far, haven't we?

KATHLEEN INGLEY: Exactly. He had the same balancing act that we have now although tuition has gotten very high. But he was concerned in having an adequate tuition to have quality education. But to have adequate support from the state so that students weren't too burdened. He did a very good job at trying balance that. One of the more interesting moments when he was a regent came when Governor Mecham was on the Board of Regents, there was a meeting and it was time for the public to speak. A woman jumped up and started criticizing the Governor and called him some not very nice names. And one of the regents who is associated, the Governor kept saying, point of order, point of order. It took Jack a minute to react. Then he said, please sit down. Afterwards there were people in the legislation who said, he needs to be turned out of the Board of Regents, he should resign. He wrote a letter saying I believe the public needs a chance to speak. Sometimes they don't speak in the politest of terms. I've been called far worse things, if you're going to be in the public life you need a tough hide and he stayed on the board of regents.

CHRISTINA ESTES: I thought it was interesting because it was during some financial difficulties. He said something like, if we don't help the legislature they are going remember that. In the end they instituted an $850 surcharge, which was back in the '80s. That's significant. This is a guy who identifies as Republican doing something like that necessarily.

KATHLEEN INGLEY: I think that was the total it came to. That wasn't the full surcharge, not quite as awful as it sounds. Jack really took the long view. He was like someone playing chess, always looking many moves ahead. He knew that the students were going to have to pay more. That was going to happen. And the regents could seize it and take care of this problem and not antagonize the legislature, and do it on their own terms. This is true throughout his career. He would see inevitably what might happen. Like Salt River Project, originally they were very closed in, they dealt with their own issues, they didn't want to have to deal with big questions like water quality and water supply. But he could see, well, we could deal with this and help solve the problem or we could have a solution imposed on us. He was always thinking extra steps ahead.

CHRISTINA ESTES: Thinking down the road, thinking big picture, what's best for the State. Suzanne, you have memories about the turmoil surrounding the MLK holiday controversy in this state and your father's role in actually getting that holiday. Talk a little about that.

SUZANNE PFISTER: I remember marching with him. Before it was a legal holiday, he and I with literally thousands of people would go and march. And he was very impassioned would this issue and really pushed the Phoenix 40, now the greater Phoenix Leadership, and said this is a business issue. We need to be in support of it. He was deeply involved in that campaign and worked hard to bring other businesses leaders and bring income in for the campaign in order to support it.

CHRISTINA ESTES: What do you think would have -- what would Arizona look like today, do you think f your father had run and been elected governor?

SUZANNE PFISTER: I vividly remember I was out of college when his picture was on the front of the Phoenix Gazette saying possible candidate. It was like, oh, my gosh, we hadn't thought about that. I think he would have been -- I don't know that he would have been the best campaigner. I think he would have been a fabulous governor, but I think this was the role he felt best in, being a leader where it needed to be but a convener. He really had that gene of convening and bringing people and diverse interests together and respecting and allowing those diverse interests to play out. That was the best role for him of anything. And I think it's the role he enjoyed the most.

CHRISTINA ESTES: Kathleen, less than 30 seconds here. Tell me, how do you sell Jack Pfister to somebody? Why should they read that book?

KATHLEEN INGLEY: If you want to solve today's problems, look at someone who knew how to solve the same type of problems we're facing today.

CHRISTINA ESTES: Thank you very much, appreciate it, both of you, Suzanne and Kathleen, thanks for coming in.

SUZANNE PFISTER: Thank you.

CHRISTINA ESTES: Friday on "Arizona Horizon" it's the "Journalists' Roundtable," Governor Doug Ducey is considering revising his education funding plan. And a former lawmaker would like to revamp the Independent Redistricting Commission. That's coming up Friday on the "Journalists' Roundtable." I'm Christina Estes in for Ted Simons, we thank you for joining us. Have a great night.

Kathleen Ingley:Author ,Suzanne Pfister : Pfister's daughter.

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