Will Arizona Lose Prominence With Sen. John McCain's Passing?

Published: Tuesday, September 4, 2018 - 1:47pm
Updated: Tuesday, September 4, 2018 - 3:49pm
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Arizona Sen. John McCain in 2006.

LAUREN GILGER: Arizona Sen. John McCain was laid to rest on Sunday at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. And a cap to a week of memorials for the late senator, McCain was buried next to his classmate and friend a Chuck Larson, who died in 2014. His death leaves open his senate seat for the first time in more than 30 years and changes the landscape of the Senate for the foreseeable future. It also changes Arizona's position on the national stage according to Brian Bender, an editor with Politico who's based here in Arizona. In his recent piece, titled "The Last Maverick," Bender argues that McCain's passing marks the end of Arizona's longtime prominence in the Senate. I spoke with him more about it when he came into our studios recently.

BRYAN BENDER: What was striking to me if you go back and look at who are some of the political giants on the national stage over the last century, the century that Arizona has been a state, a good number of them come from Arizona. I mean John McCain was often referred to as a senator from the United States not from Arizona because he had such a large profile. But he followed a fairly long line of politicians that came out of the Grand Canyon State. He replaced Barry Goldwater who of course ran for president in 1964 had been a national figure for many years, in many ways paved the way for Ronald Reagan in terms of his conservative viewpoint. It was shaped here in Arizona. But if you look even before that, Carl Hayden, senator from Arizona was the first member of Congress from Arizona after statehood. He was the second longest serving member of Congress in history. He was credited with much of the legislation that developed the western United States because he had such an influential role in Washington. So what was interesting to me was to look at John McCain through the lens of Arizona's history not just simply the history of America which is often more associated with because he ran for president because he was such a crucial voice in so many different national and international debates.

GILGER: Yeah. So without McCain and with also Jeff Flake stepping down we'll have two sort of brand new senators next time around. Will Arizona be losing some stature and what might that mean?

BENDER: Well, you know, I think most of the people I talked to who have watched Arizona politics for many years are mourning that national influence as well as their mourning John McCain because there isn't really anybody on the scene at this stage who they can see can pick up the baton and play that role. John Shadegg, a former congressman from Arizona, who I spoke to for example, he said listen there's this has been a streak if you will, for Arizona to give rise to these national figures that is now over at least for now. Maybe somebody will come along who could fill those shoes. And John's father, Stephen Shadegg, was Barry Goldwater's campaign manager in 1964. His son Stephen has been running the campaign for Martha McSally so he is sort of watch this up close for many decades and I think it places Arizona in a unique category. There's not that many states, especially small states in population that have had such a huge influence. I mean maybe Massachusetts with the Kennedys, and John Kerry and Michael Dukakis sort of a factory of presidential candidates but there's not too many other states you can think of that are like that that constantly send to Washington these figures that have an effect far beyond the borders of their state.

GILGER: Right. Why do you think that is? You talk a lot in the in your writing about Arizona about the independent streak which we hear a lot about here John McCain being called the maverick right and the largest section of voters here are independent right?

BENDER: Well, I wonder about that. I mean, maybe that independent streak that maverick streak that is part of Arizona's political history resonates in a way more nationally than political approaches that are different. In other words to become a national figure in most cases you need to be able to appeal to lots of different groups of people. You have to appeal to the West Coast, and the East Coast and the South. And I think John McCain did that when he ran for president, certainly the first time in 2000 when he first really burst onto the national scene. You know, I think he captured people with that I'm going to tell it like it is approach. Now of course he didn't always follow his own advice, but he's certainly more than other politicians didn't always play to whatever the party ideology was or whatever the party wanted him to and that made him unpopular among some of his own party leaders. But I think it it made him more popular among a lot of Americans because they looked at him and said well hey this is a guy who can't be bought. This is a guy who thinks for himself and doesn't always toe the party line. So maybe that independent streak that is part of Arizona part of that western culture, calling it like it is, not going along to get along maybe that appeals to people you know far and wide.

GILGER: Yeah. So let's talk about some of those successors. John Shadegg is one of the people whose name is being tossed around as a potential replacement for McCain that Gov. Ducey may appoint. Then you have any other Senate seats Martha McSally facing off against Kyrsten Sinema. Could either of them or any of the other names that are out there in terms of potential replacements for McCain carry on that legacy?

BENDER: I think Congresswoman McSally is very interesting. I covered her a little bit in Washington. And you know she has an amazing biography and biography does help. I mean let's face it, John McCain's biography helped bring him to prominence in the first place, being a POW in Vietnam, being the son of an admiral. Martha McSally female fighter pilot in the Air Force, a pioneer in that sense. So I think she's got potential. But you know the question will be does she have that skill really mastery that someone like John McCain had in terms of carrying and feeding his own reputation. I mean let's face it John McCain dealt with the media very shrewdly. He had a lot of friends in the media. He you know he didn't always you know get positive coverage. But for the most part and you've seen it in the last week or so you know the media loved him and that helps because you know media likes you they write nice things about you and that sort of builds your brand. So I think Martha McSally has the potential to be that. But as a number of people I talked too seemed to think this is going to be a period where Arizona does not have that prominent national figure representing it for some time but that potentially somebody like her could emerge.

GILGER: Brian Bender, with Politico, thank you so much for coming in.

BENDER: Thank you.

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