This week, Sen. Robert Byrd will surpass Arizona's Carl Hayden as the longest-serving member of Congress. As Arizona's only congressman and later its fixture of a senator, Hayden was there for 56 years. The Arizona Republic's Dan Nowicki provides a good primer on Hayden for the majority of Arizonans who have either never heard of him, or merely associate his name with a high school.
When he was alive, Hayden was the most prominent of the walking reminders of Arizona as a frontier state. He had been born when the Salt River Valley was barely settled, had chased outlaws on horseback as Maricopa County sheriff (above left), then had become the Baby State's first representative in Congress.
"Ol' Carl Hayden," as he was known by the time I was alive, will forever be associated with the Central Arizona Project. The best book on Hayden and the CAP is my friend Jack August's Vision in the Desert. It was his life's work, and as it headed toward victory, Hayden realized it would not mean the sustenance and extension of agriculture in the Salt River Valley, but rather its transformation into a megalopolis. I have heard he was ambivalent about this reality, as many who fought for the CAP came to be. Ironically, many of the sustainability issues Phoenix and the Southwest face today were made in the 1950s and 1960s by the CAP adversaries in California -- although they were hardly angels.
Carl Hayden in 1916.
The Arizona that Hayden represented for most of his tenure was so unpopulated -- and fighting for water against the California superpower -- that his continued service in the Senate was essential. Arizona needed a man who was the "water senator," who could master the complex world of western water law, who could gain the seniority and power to push through the CAP. Teamed with the legal brilliance of Mark Wilmer in the landmark Arizona v. California case, it finally happened. Yet Hayden also spent his decades pushing through a variety of reclamation projects, along with the infrastructure that allowed for the comfortable migration of millions into the Sun Belt. The San Carlos reservoir and Coolidge Dam were among his early victories.
That migration had already begun to change the state in Hayden's later years. His Arizona of "pinto" conservative Democrats and powerful unions in the dominant industries of mining and railroading was morphing into a Republican stronghold, and one heavily influenced by the John Birch Society and Cold War magnetism of the paranoid right-wing.
The newcomers knew little of the struggles to build the state, the frontier from which Hayden sprang or the necessity for the congressional delegation to bring home as much federal money as possible. The changing politics of the state was evident when a little known car dealer from Glendale named Evan Mecham — without the support of either the state GOP or Sen. Barry Goldwater — made a relatively strong showing in 1962. Mecham lost 45 percent to Hayden's 55 percent, but in the past it wouldn't have been close. (One exception: Hayden's "dry" position on Prohibition in 1932 almost cost him that race, too).
As president pro tempore of the Senate, Hayden was second in line for the presidency after the Kennedy assassination. The dark joke in the 1960s was that Hayden was already dead, but his aide Roy Elson rolled him around the Capitol in a wheelchair and raised his embalmed hand to vote.
In reality, Hayden was reaching the height of his power and tactical skill, which he would use to finally ram through the CAP (admittedly with the tacit resignation and even encouragement of rookie California Gov. Ronald Reagan and some California lawmakers). He also still ran five miles a day in the mid-sixties. Among my mother's files (she worked on the Interstate Stream Commission) is a 1965 photo given her by Hayden. It shows him sitting between President Lyndon Johnson and state Sen. Ben Arnold, a major water player in the state. "Ol Carl" is serene, reading a note, cradling his cane, as LBJ leans in with his classic Johnson Treatment. The expressions in the photo say: The CAP is going to happen.
Because Hayden was the famed "silent senator," there is much for historians to learn about him and how he used his power. Little is widely known about the man himself aside from his integrity and persistence. If Barry Goldwater stained his reputation by opposing the 1964 Civil Rights Act (a vote he came to regret), Hayden's stand on civil rights is ambiguous. In Master of the Senate, Robert Caro implies that Hayden's sympathies lay with the Southern Democrats in delaying or killing the 1957 bill. Apparently Hayden promised LBJ he would vote to override the Southern filibuster in 1964, but once it was clear the bill had enough votes to pass -- thanks to the courage of a very different GOP led by Everett Dirksen -- Hayden at last voted with the South. (A tale I always heard was that Hayden was loathe to break a filibuster because that was the way Arizona had become a state). It was, intentional or not, propitious: the melding of Arizona's Southern heritage with the racial fears of the Midwest newcomers. Things had come full circle.
This was a blind spot not uncommon to Western lawmakers. Hayden's achievements are legion. He stood astride an era when politics mattered in Arizona. It was a case of survival. There was no room for nihilistic ideologues or media showboats. And Arizona, for such a small state in population, produced giants. Ernest McFarland, John Rhodes, Morris Udall, Paul Fannin and the oh-so-complicated Goldwater stand in a crowded pantheon. Party took second place to the welfare of the state. And, sadly for us, this era was lacking in most of the vicious and polarizing politics that paralyze us today.
If you seek his monument, look around you. Turn on the water tap without a moment's anxiety.
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