Arizona’s Centennial: Putting the worst foot forward

The capitol's back there somewhere. Isn't it?

It is now three days after Arizona’s centennial “celebration” or whatever it was.  It has taken this long for me to come out from the shock of witnessing such a sorry spectacle.  I expected more, even from the dusty minds of Arizona legislators and officials or whoever the madman that designed this supposedly momentous occasion.

Arizona’s founding fathers would bow their heads in shame.

Of the many blunders made by organizers, I can’t think of a more stupendous one than hiding what should have been the main attraction.  The old capitol building.   Yes, it is small.  But it’s a handsome small with that a pretty and symbolic copper dome and Lady Liberty rotating above it.  And what’s more, it actually has historic value unlike what appeared on the huge platform stage in front of it.   As it was, you wouldn’t have given a thought about the capitol until they shot off fireworks from the roof.

Current events, little history.

Imagine the Gin Blossoms on Saturday night and Wayne Newton on Centennial Day, the 14th!  And the aging Newton singing of all things, “Vive Las Vegas” to open his act.  Vegas was nothing 100 years ago.  It’s probably no big deal either that the Blossoms’ lead singer said “shit” for all to hear.  Again no historical value.  The vulgarism wasn’t in use at the time of Arizona’s birth in 1912 and didn’t become popularized until World War II.  So there.

The history tent along “Centennial Way” on Saturday night was far out of the limelight.  It held many interesting snippets on the state’s past but few visitors.  There was Father Kino to Cochise and the late great Jack Swilling,  the first governor George W. P. Hunt and to Barry Goldwater.  Of course, as I wrote earlier, it was a farce in a way, not mentioning, much less praising, the federal government for providing the state with its ultimate need, water.  It was fed dollars that built the dams and Central Arizona Project, that long straw siphoning off river water from the Colorado to quench the thirst of Tucson and Phoenix and farmers in between.  Without that money you wonder where Arizona would be today, if at anywhere

The one thing done right was hiding the Bomb Squad truck in semi-darkness at the side of the capitol.  No need to remind us on such a festive occasion that life has changed for the worse in the last decade.  We live in fear now, waiting for the next terrorist act, the “pioneer spirit” of the old Arizonan long gone.

Carl Hayden Memorial

What would Carl Hayden have thought?

And farther back in darkness, behind the Bomb truck, the shadowy statue of Carl Hayden, the former U.S. Senator and, really, the “father of modern Arizona.”  It was Hayden, the one most responsible for the Central Arizona Project, who would tell then governor Paul Fannin to let federal dollars build the CAP and hold tight to Arizona’s money.  That of course is one good reason to keep the Hayden memorial in the dark zone.  This is a time when “federal government” is a dirty word to most Arizonans.  We continue to take fed money, then slap it in the face.

1912 Ford should've been front and center.

Had I organized the Centennial I would have put the makeshift stage and its less than electric entertainment across the street in Wesley Bolin Plaza.  I would have lit up the capitol building like never before, even though the ugly highrise tower behind it is now the functioning capitol.  The old capitol would’ve been ground zero, the star.  I would have had a fireworks show to end all shows, not the thrifty one that unfolded —  and put that across the street too.  In front of the capitol I would have had skits about Arizona’s past, using the best of the state’s actors.  I would have taken some of those antique cars, like the 1912 Ford, and displayed them in the street right in front of the capitol.  I would have had people dressed in the styles of a century ago walking through the crowd.  I could go on for a while.

But of course no one asked me.

This, I believe, was the guiding light of the organizers:  “Let’s get this over as quickly as we can, and move on to important issues like building the border wall with Mexico and making sure every college student has a gun in his holster when he attends class — and do it all as cheaply as possible.”

Happy Birthday, Arizona.

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