Berman's new book: 'Politics, Labor and the War on Big Business, Arizona 1890-1920'

"Politics, Labor and the War on Big Business, Arizona 1890-1920" is the latest book about Arizona's framework of modern times written by David R. Berman, senior research fellow at Morrison Institute for Public Policy.

Berman will be signing copies of his new book from 7 to 8:30 p.m., Sept. 6, at Changing Hands Bookstore, 6428 S. McClintock Drive in Tempe.

In his book, Berman details the rise, fall and impact of the anti-corporate reform effort in Arizona during the Progressive reform era. In the late 19th century, Arizona's anti-corporate reformers – led by George W. P. Hunt, progressive Democrats, organized labor, third parties and Socialist activists – called for changes to ward off political corruption and promote the interests of working people. Powerful railroad and mining corporations retaliated, and sometimes violent conflict shook the political and industrial sectors. Berman places Arizona's experiences in a larger historical discussion of reform activity.

Berman has produced eight books, including university press studies on Arizona government and politics, and over 70 published papers, book chapters or referred articles dealing mostly with state and local politics in the United States. He specializes in the areas of intergovernmental relations and state and local government, politics and public policy.

Berman is professor emeritus of political Science at Arizona State University.

Q & A with David R. Berman

Q: Your new book looks at the rise, fall and impact of the anti-corporate reform effort in Arizona during the Progressive reform era, roughly 1890 to1920. Do you think Arizonans today will be surprised by the politics of that time, which many perhaps accurately would call “liberal”?

A: Many people think of Arizona as a hotbed of conservatism and would be surprised to learn of its progressive heritage. One hundred years ago Arizona came into the union as one of the most progressive states in the nation.  The Arizona Constitution reflects that heritage.

Q: For at least part of your research for this new book, you looked through previously unexamined archival files. Did you feel you had found buried treasure, since not much has been written about these formative years leading up to and less than a decade past 1912 statehood?

A: It took a good dealing of digging but I found gems in various archives around the state. Finding them was sometimes very serendipitous – found all kinds of things I wasn’t looking for. I’m very thankful to a number or archivists who came to my aid.

Q: In Arizona’s early days, corporations were courted to come to the Arizona territory and do business. Then, in the 1890s, corporations were suddenly viewed by many in the populist movement as "beasts" that exploited the wealth of this sparsely settled area. What caused the change?

A: The case that built up against the corporations by the Populists in the 1890s focused largely on the railroads for using their monopoly over services to change high rates, not paying their share of taxes, being unfair to workers (especially after the Pullman Strike), and corrupting the government. Large mining corporations became targeted for similar reasons. The lesson: be careful what you wish for.

Q: During the Progressive period, Arizona’s anti-corporate reformers condemned the giant corporations for mistreating workers, farmers, ranchers and small-business people, and for corrupting the political system. Couldn’t the same thing be said today, in Arizona’s Centennial year, with big companies elbowing out small businesses and exploiting a tight job market with low pay and few benefits?

A: Many of the “big business” economic and political issues discussed in the book are highly salient today – the Populist/Progressive period in Arizona and elsewhere was one in which they first surfaced. Corporate greed, then as now, was a major underlying issue.

Q: Governor George W P Hunt and progressive Democrats led the charge to ward off corporate control of the political system, increase corporate taxation and regulation, and protect and promote the interests of working people. They were backed by organized labor, third parties, and Socialist activists. Is such a movement forever gone in Arizona, or could the independent voter movement and an emerging Latino voting power affect our state’s future on such issues – or is that a stretch?

A: There are forces for change in contemporary Arizona – discontent with the major parties (as reflected in the growth of the number of people who identify as independents), the growth in Latino voting power, and longstanding sentiment to modify the political system (most recently illustrated by the top-two primary drive, but also in recent years by clean elections, term limits and other proposals). But pulling this all together into a movement is another thing. The political reform experience I’ve written about offers some hope by suggesting that reform-minded coalitions can be put together and, in spite of the opposition of powerful targeted groups, bring about meaningful change.