Arizona Governor Hunt Book

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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.”

Ted Simons: Coming up next on this special Arizona history edition of Arizona Horizon, hear from the author of a biography of the state's first Governor and we'll show you rare stereographic's photos of Arizona's past, those stories next on this special edition of Arizona Horizon.

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Ted Simons: Welcome to this special history edition of Arizona Horizon. I'm Ted Simons. We begin with a look back at George Hunt, Arizona's first elected Governor, an odd and colorful character who helped to shape the state's early history. A recent biography, "George Hunt: Arizona's Crusading Seven-term Governor" profiles a colorful and complicated political force. He is we have David Berman, ASU Emeritus at Arizona State. Who is George Hunt?

David Berman: George, as you mentioned, was the longest serving Governor in Arizona, born in Missouri in 1859. He died out here in 1934. He really had a lot to do Arizona politics from 1890's to the 1930's, it was at the center of everything.

Ted Simons: What brought him, knowing, he 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 others doing the same thing at the time, and wandered around for two or three years, and finally wound up in Arizona where he heard that there was a gold strike, and came in on a burrow where he spent most of his life, early life, and kept his home there, which is now a flower shop, I discovered.


And no one ever really preserved the home but it is still there. He entered all -- he struck all kinds of businesses, and he did not make any money at them. He was a waiter, he started off with a menial job, and he raised cattle, and ran a ferry for a while, and having failed in all the business enterprises, he did the logical thing, and he entered politics, and he tried to make his way that way, and eventually he did become a prosperous merchant, banker, and globe, and he really, his heart was not in the business. His heart was running for office and becoming Governor, a long time ambition that he had.

Ted Simons: And he became Governor. What kind of politician was he?

David Berman: He was -- well, you know, he was, on one hand, he was, as the title indicates, subtitle, a crusader, you know. He had causes that he wanted to achieve, and he went out and the politics was a serious business, and he had things to do, and he ran into people that he did not like, and he kept running. On the other hand, he was also sort of a practical politician, and much more flexible when it came to getting elected than ever he was elected.

Ted Simons: Interesting.

David Berman: And he was quite -- he would do what he had to do pretty much to get elected and very much they were a close contest, and he would -- he brought 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, and he would talk to Charlie and asked how the life was and the kids. And he left town, and he would write that down, on an index card so when he came into town the next time he would say well, as I remember, your kids, going, had some trouble, and you know, and people thought, they called him by his first name, and he talked to them, but he was -- he was the kind of guy that would succeed in a small frontier town, you know, where the people knew friends and neighbors kind of thing, and he was very effective, in that respect.

Ted Simons: And you are right, as well, that 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 late. He was not always -- he was 5'9" and 300 pounds, and wearing a silk suit, and he had a helmet and a handlebar mustache going up to here. He was quite a striking figure to say the least. And he, actually, was much thinner when he started out his career. He was the -- we traced where the color came from but he did not ride a horse any more. He had to stay away from them. but he married a woman who was the daughter of a cattle rancher, and she was sort of an anti-local in a way. She rode and she shot better than just about everybody and herded cattle are and they were quite a, an odd couple.

Ted Simons: It sounds like it.

Ted Simons: And again, as far as the politician, he was progressive, which may surprise some folks who look at Arizona politics now. He was kind of an fdr before an fdr.

David Berman: And he found the forgotten man before fdr did. And he was -- as a child, he came from, I guess, would you say, a proud family. On his mother's side, they had relatives going back to the revolutionary war, and he was a member of the sons of the American Revolution, which is, the male DAR, his father went bankrupt, and the civil war struck the area where he was raised, and there was devastation, not much of an economy there. So he was raised really quite poor. And had very little education. You are 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 did not have a textbook. He could not afford it. When he became Governor and one of the first things he did was get free text books for kids going to school. It's one of the things that stuck with him, as did his father's drinking. He did not abstain completely but he did favor prohibition and he did favor cracking down on the saloons are and the gambling and all these kind of things.

Ted Simons: And as far as now, once he got into office and he was in office a long time, it seems like corporate big wigs, those who are after the executive -- he seemed like he was fighting all the time.

David Berman: Yeah, well, he was fighting the corporate big wigs and after the railroads, the southern Pacific and the Santa Fe, and the giant mining companies, and Phelps dodge, and united verde, 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 get you know, increased corporate taxes and get protections for workers and particularly in towns where the mining companies owned everything in the town, you know. And he couldn't get anything out of them. And he developed out of that experience a very strong distaste for state legislatures. He was in the state the rest of his life, even though he was the governor, he fought the legislature all the time, and some things never change.

Ted Simons: With that in mind it seemed like from your book it seems like he was not -- was he a happy -- it seems like he was not very happy very often.

David Berman: He was -- he was on a crusade. And he was -- he had things to do, and he took it seriously, and he had a tendency, if you read his diary and his private letters to see conspiracies against and betrayals and people he trusted turned against him, and he knew how everybody voted. He knew that, it was right up here, you know. And that was the politicians. You have to stay or you are in trouble. He had the, I would not say an enemy's list but well filed up there as to who was a friend and who was a foe. But 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 one.

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

David Berman: He certainly did, and he was -- we call this an act of negative type. These are people who cannot avoid the politics because they have things to do and it's a grind, and they have to stay. They have to keep the fight going. It was -- he was not a good loser, as you know in 1916, he came up short, and 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. Fascinating.

David Berman: We had a few months where we had people claiming to be Governor and the Supreme Court kicked hunt out of office saying you have got to leave, and George left, but he won a court suit and became the Governor, and that was, actually, he served a two-year term so he served only 13 years, and it was one of those years that he was contesting the election while the other one was Governor.

Ted Simons: It's a really fascinating book, and I am surprised a bit that we have not heard or read more about George hunt. This is a seven-term, the original Governor, why are there not towns and schools and roads and airports and things named after this guy?

David Berman: There is a hunt highway. That's about it. It's not a -- 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 wake of Arizona's development as it was seen by many people. They thought that he was something of a failure, and they were not -- and later, the generations in Arizona were not too happy about it, about a progressive anyhow, being Governor. So, that plus his -- as they saw it, standing in the way of our economic development, sort of soiled his reputation, and I think that, and I argue in there, I think that you can make a good case that he knew what he was doing, and in the sense that California was in need of water as they are now. And the Colorado could have all gone to the Los Angeles area, and we would have gotten nothing out of it.

Ted Simons: So we have a minute left here, what can we learn about just Arizona and politicians and the future and the whole nine yards for what we see in George Hunt?

David Berman: I think that we can learn that there are different ways of looking at things. I think that we ignored the past here in Arizona is a great deal, and what it used to be, and he was a progressive, and he had different views, as many people in the state have now, and he was representative of the population at the time. The constitution that we have is very progressive, in its nature and there are principles there that you might want to debate or might want to 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, and it's a fascinating book, good of to you here. Thanks for joining us.

David Berman: Thank you.

Ted Simons: And that is it for now. I'm Ted Simons. Thank you very much for joining us on this special Arizona history edition of Arizona Horizon. You have a great evening.

David Berman:Arizona State University professor emeritus of political science

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