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The way we were

When the governor & county attorney clashed

The 1960s were a time of transition for Arizona as the state's rapid postwar growth transformed its political leanings from Democratic to Republican. Into this political turmoil stepped a crusading Pima County attorney whose career ambitions led him to feud with a reform-minded governor from Tucson.

Samuel "Sam" Pearson Goddard Jr., a liberal Democrat from Tucson, was elected governor in 1964, the same year that the state delivered to its presidential electors native son and conservative Republican icon Sen. Barry Goldwater. Though active in politics and philanthropy, Goddard was primarily known as an attorney and real-estate developer who had never before held elected office.

As a relative novice, he may have been unprepared to deal with a hostile Legislature controlled by a coalition of Republicans and conservative rural Democrats who considered his bold agenda of modernizing state government to be an affront to their prerogatives and just plain rude. One of Goddard's few big legislative victories, the passage of a major civil-rights bill, was accomplished when the tall and imposing governor physically dragged a recalcitrant committee chairman back into the hearing room. The incident seemed emblematic of the challenges that Goddard faced.

The executive office in Arizona was weak and had unclear authority over its own departments. The governor was directly responsible for a staff of only seven. The bureaucracy was largely decentralized and run by entrenched appointees who effectively reported to the Legislature rather than the governor. Particularly problematic was the State Department of Liquor Licenses and Controls, whose superintendent, John Duncan, had been serving since the agency's inception at the end of prohibition in 1933. His long tenure brought comparisons to J. Edgar Hoover and critics characterized his administration as inefficient, irregular, and resistant to reform. Duncan, a tee-totaling Texan in a white Stetson, nonetheless remained popular in some quarters and maintained significant political support. One way he stayed in the good graces of the Legislature was to actively involve members in the licensing process by requiring that all applications be sponsored by a legislator. This rendered the licenses a form of political patronage and it did not take long for some legislators to start shaking down applicants for favors or cash. While Duncan did not personally participate in this racket, he chose to ignore it in the interests of keeping his sinecure.

Previous governors had tried to replace Duncan with someone else, but they found themselves stymied by the Legislature, which forced the Texan's re-appointment over and over again. Goddard considered firing Duncan outright, but it was unclear if he had the authority to do so. The situation would remain a frustration to the governor.

It would not be long before the issue would become a particular concern for officials in Pima County. Norman Green was first elected county attorney in 1962 after serving in the Arizona Attorney General's office and as a justice of the peace. His office would receive national attention for the 1965-66 prosecution of the notorious murderer Charles Schmid, "The Pied Piper of Tucson," but Green was also known locally for his crusade against corruption in county government. At various times, his investigations targeted the sheriff, the justice courts, and even the Board of Supervisors, something which doubtless did not endear him to the local political establishment. His detractors charged that he was merely pursuing headlines, and it was soon clear that he had bigger ambitions.

During a divorce proceeding, a prominent local furniture dealer revealed that he had paid $2,200 to an unsuccessful legislative candidate to help broker a liquor license application. This gave Green a reason to look into the Liquor Department. In January, 1966, he convened a grand jury and 16 Pima County legislators, the entire delegation, were soon called in to testify. When Green, in Phoenix on other business, attempted to subpoena the superintendent, Duncan's chief assistant said "get out of here, you sawed off little (expletive)" and things came near getting physical. Nonetheless, Duncan made a show of cooperating as the Maricopa County attorney and the Arizona attorney general joined the probe by the end of the month.

 

Legislators called the investigation a politically motivated "fishing expedition" and the governor termed it a "Roman circus." Despite this, the grand jury eventually secured indictments against 25 law enforcement officers and state officials, including Duncan, who was charged with two counts of perjury. Unable to fire Duncan, Goddard called for his resignation. The back and forth continued for months until the last day of June 1966, when Duncan finally resigned under what had become intense public pressure. He was replaced by a retired FBI agent from Tucson named Jack Sheik.

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Arizona's governors served two-year terms in those days, so Goddard was up for re-election that year. By the time of Duncan's resignation, petitions were already being circulated to get Green a place on the ballot for the Democratic nomination for governor, though the county attorney was himself coy about his intentions. On July 8, Green made official what had been clear for weeks and resigned his position to run for governor. He was replaced by William J. Schafer, a tough prosecutor, though the position of chief deputy was held open for Green.

Green made the issue of Goddard's apparent indifference to the liquor scandal the chief message of his campaign. Though the governor's powers to address the crisis were quite limited, the charge stuck and was damaging to his reputation. Goddard managed to eek out a plurality in the September Democratic primary, but he lost the general election to Republican Jack Williams in November.

After the primary, Green returned to the County Attorney's Office as chief deputy. Though there was speculation that Shafer would resign to allow Green to return to his old job, it seems likely that the young attorney had offended too many of the wrong people to make this happen. Green eventually moved to Phoenix and attempted another run for governor in 1970, again failing to clear the Democratic Primary.

The next Democrat, and the next Tucsonan, and last, to be elected governor of Arizona would be Raúl Castro in 1974. Like Green, he had also once been Pima County attorney.

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Norman E. Green, Pima County attorney, 1963-65. Photographed in 1966, Tucson Citizen