By: J. Charles Coughlin
Arizona Republic columnist Ed Montini’s Sunday column got me thinking. Like a parent who only bemoans the challenges his child faces, Montini focuses on the negatives attached to our state, instead of celebrating our accomplishments. Arizona is not a “juvenile delinquent” our state is simply the youngest member in the “continental” family.
At 100 years young, Arizona is the youngest state in the continental United States. Sometimes it takes the youngest to stand up to the older members of the family and occasionally question your “parents.” The diverse population, rugged individualism, and spectacular weather has drawn people from all over to live in our state and have helped us accomplish so much.
While Ed says he is uncomfortable explaining the State’s political behavior to the rest of the country, I would encourage him and everyone else to remember to focus on a few other topics.
Over the past century, here are few things we have accomplished:
The Roosevelt Dam
This story begins with a bunch of farmers (now the Salt River Project) combining their land holdings and organizing into an entity that the federal government could work with to build the largest dam in the west (at that time) to provide water storage for a very arid region.
The Central Arizona Project
This is the story of Arizonans banding together to make sure that California didn’t steal every drop of water out of the Colorado River for themselves. We built a three hundred plus mile-long canal and paid for it ourselves. Remarkable.
Groundwater Management Act
Arizona led the way in the 1980’s with a model groundwater management act that ensures as communities grow, they must have a 100-year guaranteed water supply. We may look back at this now and say so what, but without it, our most precious resource would have been a total wreck.
We are unique in that only around 15 percent of the State is privately owned. The US Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management, Native American Tribes, the State of Arizona and our National Parks comprise most of the land holdings in Arizona.
Tremendously Diverse State
We have 21 different Native American Tribes, and a deeply rooted Hispanic community that has lived and worked in this State since before statehood.
From freeways, rapid transit, light rail, and major arterial streets we have the best developed public transportation infrastructure compared to any State in the entire Western United States.
Arizona is the national leader in school choice. Since the early 1990’s when the rest of the country was figuring out that our public education system was failing under its own bureaucratic weight, Arizona took the lead and championed the first and best charter school reform effort in the United States. Today our charter school system is a model for the rest of the country.
Community Colleges & Universities
For a State of our size, we have developed a tremendous infrastructure to educate our population. Today, our universities are some of the most affordable in the entire country. We are developing models and programs to continue to focus on affordability while at the same time maintaining tier-one research status with a focus on job creation.
Again, as the rest of the country is now just figuring out that cost containment is a critical piece of delivering quality public health care, Arizona created in the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System (AHCCCS) in the early 1980’s. We were the first state to do so. Recently, the New York Times even pointed out that Arizona is at the leading edge of this discussion because of the work we have done in the past.
Land Use Planning
As hyper-development started to explode in the mid-1990’s, Arizona’s leaders recognized that we needed a publicly transparent and accountable system to update our communities’ General Plans. Growing Smarter, a program passed by the voters and the legislature, mandates annual updates of General Plans ensuring accountable land use planning in a heavy growth environment.
Crime & Punishment
In the early 1990’s Arizona eliminated parole. As a State we were the ones saying “if you can’t do the time, don’t do the crime” and we meant it. We also revised our juvenile court proceedings to recognize that as a society we don’t think that a 15, 16 or 17 year old that commits murder, armed robbery or rape should be treated as a juvenile. Again, we led the nation in not coddling our criminal population.
So to the Ed Montinis of the world: I proudly celebrate the fact that I am an Arizonan (transplanted from Michigan in the 1980’s). I’m proud of our State’s penchant for questioning the status quo and I embrace the whirlwind of our youthful exuberance.
It is the very spirit of Arizona and I love it.