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Arizona at a glance

Youth and age, new and old: Arizona is home to America’s oldest continuous community and is America’s fastest-growing and one of its most rapidly changing states.
/ Source: National Journal

Youth and age, new and old: Arizona is home to America’s oldest continuous community and is America’s fastest-growing and one of its 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. They have spurned Christianity since 1680, when they killed the local Franciscan priests and burned their churches; 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 is one of America’s boom states. Its population grew 40% between 1990 to 2000, and another 20% between 2000 and 2006—nearly 1.5 million in 10 years, another 1 million in six. And growth is accelerating. Arizona's population grew between 2.5% and 2.9% annually from 2000 to 2004, then accelerated to 3.6% in 2004–06; in 2005–06 Arizona’s growth rate topped Nevada’s and was the highest in the nation. Arizona is now the 16th most populous state; if growth continues at 2005–06 rates, it will pass Indiana to rank 15th in 2007 and will pass Massachusetts and Washington to rank 13th in 2008. Maricopa County, which has 61% of the state’s people, is the fourth most populous county in the nation (and, spreading far out from Phoenix, the 14th largest in area). It is 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 original explanation was the five Cs, memorialized in the state seal. The first C 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 D. Roosevelt’s first budget director and Harry Truman’s ambassador to Britain. The second C was cattle: as late as the mid-1960s a dozen or so cattlemen ran the state legislature. The third C was cotton: Carl Hayden, Democratic congressman from statehood in 1912 and senator from 1927–69, concentrated on bringing public works to Arizona; his signal achievement was the Central Arizona Project, so that big farmers could grow cotton in the flatlands around Phoenix. The water also helped with the fourth C, citrus. The fifth C was climate, which kept people out of Arizona for many years and then, after air conditioning came in during the early post-World War II years, started bringing them in.

In those years Arizona became less dependent on federal largesse except for military bases and defense contracts, as 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, Phoenix 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 6.2 million in 2006. 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 subsidized farming, since thirsty cotton farms are being phased out for urban users who outbid them; the Valley around Phoenix lost nearly half its farmland between 1975 and 2000. It also 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. 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 include Honeywell, Raytheon, Motorola, Intel, Avnet and Northrop Grumman. Defense industries are important here: Arizona ranked number six in Defense Department contracts in 2006. The state counts two Air Force bases and a Marine Air Station plus the huge Barry M. Goldwater Range over which many of America’s pilots have been trained. And for all its growth, Arizona still produces two-thirds of the nation’s copper. The state's economy has kept humming while much of the nation was in recession and newcomers kept streaming in, nearly three-quarters of them from the rest of the United States, especially from California, but one-quarter of them immigrants.

In the past few years, Arizona has become the central focus of illegal immigration. With stronger border enforcement in Texas and a fence going up near San Diego, the hilly Arizona desert in Cochise and Santa Cruz Counties became a major entry point for illegals. Thousands streamed in over ranchlands; most who got through went on north to Phoenix or west to California, but the flow continued. Locals formed a Minuteman organization, reporting illegal aliens to authorities and demanding stronger enforcement by the federal government. Anger at the flood of illegals contributed to the passage of ballot propositions—Proposition 200 in 2004, denying certain welfare benefits and requiring government employees to report illegals, and in 2006, Proposition 102, denying punitive damages to illegals, Proposition 103, declaring English Arizona’s official language, and Proposition 300, denying illegals in-state tuition at state colleges, state child care aid and adult literacy classes. These were characterized by some as signs of bigotry, but they were supported by at least 40% of Hispanics as well as majorities of Anglo whites. Arizona’s congressional delegation was split on immigration: with Congressman J. D. Hayworth and Senator Jon Kyl for a border security measure and Congressmen Jim Kolbe and Jeff Flake and Senator John McCain, as well as the two House Democrats, favoring measures with guest worker and legalization provisions. But if anger at illegal immigration contributed to the success of some ballot propositions, it proved a losing issue for candidates for Congress. Hayworth was beaten in his affluent Phoenix-area district and Randy Graf, who made illegal immigration his chief issue while running against Kolbe in the 2004 primary and winning the nomination in 2006 to succeed him, was beaten and failed to carry even Cochise County.

Arizona is a place where the private sector is expanding and the public sector, if not shriveling away, is yielding ground. State taxes were cut sharply in the 1990s and there's been little increase since. Arizona pioneered in providing choice in education (at one point it had 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 is 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 there is a wide income and education gap between affluent American newcomers and poor immigrants.

This wide-openness can be reflected in politics. In 1998 it became the first state to elect women to all its top five statewide downballot offices and in 2002 and 2006 it elected Democrat Janet Napolitano as governor. 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 has generally tilted heavily Republican, except that Democrats have won the governorship in four of the last eight elections. Also, Democrats picked up two House seats in 2006, leaving the delegation evenly split, and they also reduced the Republican edge in the state House to 33–26 as Napolitano was reelected by a 63%-35% margin. Two recent governors left office under 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. If Napolitano serves out her second term she will be the first governor to serve eight consecutive years since Democrat Bruce Babbitt from 1978 to 1986. 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, causes for anxiety remain. Congress passed a law in 2004 settling disputes over water between the state and the Gila River Indian Community and the Tohono O’odham Nation but Arizona’s congressional delegation was worried that one of its Air Force bases would fall victim to the 2005 base closing round and tried to discourage construction close to their boundaries. That approach may have worked: the state was largely unscathed when the Pentagon’s recommendations were released in May 2005. 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 today is a mostly urban state, but it still has some of the look and feel of the Wild West.