Last Updated July 8, 2003
Youth and age, new and old: Arizona is home to America's oldest continuous community and is one of America's fastest-growing and most rapidly changing states. The Hopi Indians, living as shepherds on plateaus east of the Grand Canyon, have not changed much in perhaps 500 years. In 1680 they killed the local Franciscan priests and burned their churches and have spurned Christianity since; more recently they have been involved in land disputes with the far more numerous Navajo. The Hopi are the oldest Arizonans; the newest are moving in every day, into subdivisions rising up out of the empty desert east, north, and west of Phoenix, hemmed in only by dry river beds, upcroppings of mountains, and Indian reservation boundaries.
For Arizona was one of the boom states of the 1990s, when its population rose by 40%, the highest except for next-door Nevada, a state with an economy now sophisticated and decentralized enough that there is no easy explanation, as there once was, of how and why Arizona grows. The first explanation was copper: The dome of the state Capitol dome is encased in copper; one of Arizona's leading public figures was Lewis Douglas, copper heir and congressman, Franklin Roosevelt's first budget director and Harry Truman's ambassador to Britain. In those years Arizona depended heavily on the federal government, and on politicians like Carl Hayden, Democratic congressman from statehood in 1912 and senator from 1927-69, whose public works projects watered Arizona's cotton, citrus and cattle farms. Then, in the decades after World War II, businessmen, lawyers, developers and water companies, notably the Salt River Project, built an Arizona based on something like the opposite of New Deal principles: With minimal government and precious little regulation of business, a welcoming of new technological ideas and shunning of new cultural liberalism; like Disneyland, a more gleaming and spotless embodiment of old values than America had ever been. Their political champion was Barry Goldwater, city council member and senator and the nation's Mr. Conservative for much of the 1950s and 1960s. He helped to make Arizona Republican, the only state to vote Republican for president in every election from 1952 to 1992.
This Arizona has grown phenomenally, from 700,000 people at the end of World War II to 3.6 million in 1990 and then to 5.1 million in 2000--an increase in 10 years larger than twice its whole population in 1945. It is growth based on high-tech and low taxes. It is not growth based on an influx of elderly retirees--Arizona may have Sun City, but just 13% of its residents are over 65, compared to 12% nationally. Nor is it based on farming subsidized by cheap water, since thirsty cotton farms are being phased out for urban users who can easily outbid them; the Valley around Phoenix lost nearly half its farmland between 1975 and 2000. It is not based on, though it is helped by, immigration: Arizona has attracted immigrants from Mexico and Latin America eager for entry-level jobs, so eager that many cross the lightly guarded border in the desert even at the risk of death. In 2000, 25% of its population was Hispanic (another 5% is Indian). More than anything else, the engine of Arizona's growth has been technology: Phoenix has been attracting high-tech industries since Motorola built a research center for military electronics there in 1948. Big employers Honeywell (aircraft engines, avionics, industrial control systems), Raytheon (missile systems), Motorola (computer boards), Intel (computer chips) and Avnet (semiconductors, electromechanical components). Landlocked Arizona is a major exporter--nearly $3.5 billion to Mexico and $1.3 billion to Canada in 2002.
Arizona is a place where the private sector is expanding and the public sector, if not shriveling away, is yielding ground. Arizona cut state taxes sharply in the 1990s, though voters did approve a sales tax increase for education and a hotel and rental car increase for stadiums and tourism promotion in 2000. It has pioneered in providing choice in education, with America's largest proportion of charter schools (some 20% of the total) and the for-profit University of Phoenix, based here but with branches in many states, which leases space and hires working-age adults to teach job-related skills to working-age adults. Local choice prevails: The inaptly named Youngtown, near Phoenix, bars children from living there; so does Superstition Heights. Where government once used to allocate precious water, now "shadow governments" (Joel Garreau's term) like the Salt River District do so, heeding the market signals that say urban users will pay more than farmers. It is a place wide open for entrepreneurs, some of them perhaps a bit shady, others at times wildly overoptimistic, many crossing traditional barriers. Phoenix is the number three metro area for women business owners per capita, and there are a burgeoning number of Latino-owned businesses. But there is a downside. Arizona also has one of the highest percentages of those without health insurance, and its state government was squeezed in 2002 as revenues came in lower than expected due to downturns in high-tech and tourism.
This wide-openness can be reflected in politics. It elected a woman governor in 2002, Janet Napolitano, and in 1998 it became the first state to elect women to all of its top five statewide executive offices; all but Napolitano were Republicans. It is one of the relatively few states with more registered Republicans than Democrats. Although Bill Clinton carried Arizona in 1996 and came close in 1992, the state remains heavily Republican in most other elections, but Democrats have won the governorship in four of the last eight elections. And governors have left office in unusual circumstances. Republican Governor Fife Symington resigned in September 1997 when he was convicted of fraudulent dealings as a developer (the conviction was reversed on appeal and he was pardoned by Clinton in January 2001). Republican Governor Evan Mecham was impeached and removed from office by the state Senate in April 1987. No governor has served eight consecutive years since Republican Jack Williams from 1966 to 1974. In other ways Arizona has had political continuity. It has only had 10 U.S. senators, the lowest number of any state except Alaska (6) and Hawaii (5).
In the exuberance of growth, mistakes are made--Phoenix's air quality is not good. Yet Arizona has been spared some of the worst effects of growth. The expansion of subdivisions has not led to abandonment of old downtowns or deterioration of central city neighborhoods as it has in eastern cities; the imperatives of growth in parched desert areas mean that lot sizes are smaller and land use more parsimonious than in a heavily-watered boom area like Atlanta. Arizona is a mostly urban state, but it still has some of the look and feel of the Wild West.
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