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Did You Know: Ernest McFarland Served In All 3 Branches Of Government

By Nadine Arroyo Rodriguez
Published: Friday, January 2, 2015 - 2:42pm
Updated: Friday, January 2, 2015 - 3:58pm
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(Photo Courtesy of Arizona Capitol Museum)
Former Governor and Arizona Supreme Court Justice Ernest McFarland. He was known by his friends as Mac.

He is the only Arizona public service member who served several branches of Arizona government. And among some historians he’s also known as one of the most important figures to have helped divert an economic shortfall after World War II.  

Sen. Ernest McFarland is a man of many offices. Many remember him as a senator and governor of Arizona. Did You Know he’s a key figure for several programs, including the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act, better known as the G.I. Bill?

“He was really a, talented guy who you wouldn’t think upon meeting him that he was this impressive of a person," said historian Jack August, Jr.

He said McFarland’s list of accomplishments is long.

“Private attorney, deputy county attorney, county attorney, this is in down in Pinal County. Then U.S. senator for two terms, governor for two terms, he becomes an associate justice with Arizona State Supreme Court, and then he becomes chief justice with the Arizona Supreme Court.”

Oklahoma native McFarland came to Arizona after serving in World War I. Military doctors suggested he’d move to a dry climate after he overcame a serious bronchial infection. He lived here for a while working in a bank and made enough money to attended Stanford University Law School. By 1940 he was elected to the Senate. August said McFarland had a particular interest in veterans and their service from the moment the moment the U.S. entered World War II.

“He, I think, initiated somewhere around 40 bills, helping the veterans. It was in a broader context of what to do with these service people when they came back to the United States. Would we put them to work in dams? Kind of an extension of the new deal and some of the development of our infrastructure in the American west," August said.

August said McFarland was an eloquent writer and wrote the G.I. Bill himself. The legislation provided financial assistance to veterans. It included school tuition, low-interest rate small business loans, and low-cost home loans.

“It’s helped over 50 million people in this country. And it really helped facilitate the growth of our middle class in the post World War II period," August said. "And I would say it’s probably the most important piece of domestic social legislation in the post World War II era.”

McFarland’s accomplishments don’t stop there. He is the only sitting Arizona governor who helped argue and win a case before the U.S. Supreme Court. The Arizona vs. California case over water rights was also the longest Supreme Court case in American history.

McFarland is the reason Arizona has state parks. He purchased the old Pinal County court house in Florence and donated it the state to create the Arizona State Park system.

August said McFarland was also a visionary. When television was making its way into the public he decided to invest in the business. In the early 1950s the Federal Communications Commission granted McFarland a television license which created KTVK.

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