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Centennial: Arizona's constitution and its progressive roots

February 14, 2012

On this Centennial Day, Arizona’s 100th birthday of statehood, we should pause to better understand Arizona’s first and only state constitution. Framed in 1910, the document was highly progressive by contemporary standards because it was shaped by progressive/labor-friendly Democrats led by George W.P. Hunt, who served as president of the constitutional convention and later as the state’s first governor.

Speaking to the first state legislature, Hunt declared that the constitution made Arizona’s government “the very embodiment of popular government.” It was, Hunt contended, “the most definite expression ever pronounced by man, of a social and political organization in which every citizen is the equal before the law of every other, and government is truly by consent of the governed. To Hunt, Arizonans were sort of a chosen people who, through their constitution, had set an example for other states – especially those “Easterners” in the older and most settled parts of the country – to follow.

Hunt, like other progressives of the period, sought to reform the political system so that the people could rule. He and others at the convention pursued this goal as a general principal but, more directly, in an effort to curb the political power of the special interests they felt had dominated the territorial government. 

Some of the greatest controversy preceding, during and immediately after the framing of the constitution had to do with three devices of direct democracy: the initiative, which allows voters to bypass the legislature and initiate and adopt their own laws or constitutional amendments; the referendum, which gives voters an opportunity to approve or reject measures passed by the legislature; and the recall, which provides voters an opportunity to remove officials from office prior to the expiration of their terms.  

Read the full article at: Arizona's Centennial: Remembering The Progressive Constitution

David R. Berman
Senior Research Fellow
Morrison Institute for Public Policy