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Carl Hayden: From County Sheriff to U.S. Senator

Carl Hayden, Sheriff of Maricopa County

Carl Hayden, pictured here as sheriff of Maricopa County. PD.

On a recent trip to Mesa, Arizona, I found myself at the Natural History Museum.  Most of the museum is in the old city hall building where one exhibit was the territorial jail, an intimidating series of metal prison cells.  A sign hanging on the wall read that Carl Hayden was once sheriff of Maricopa County from 1907-1912.  Wait…I know that name as my political history brain began to click.  After some quick digging, I was impressed by the fact that Hayden and Daniel Inouye of Hawaii were the only 20th century politicians who saw their territory become a state, became their state’s first Representative in the House, and served long terms in Congress. 

Hayden’s state-wide political career took off, in part, because he was sheriff.  He got to know the law enforcement and court officials who would help him win a seat in the House of Representatives in 1912.  Hayden then served as Senator from 1927 until his retirement in 1969 – 56 consecutive years.  It is unusual to have such longevity, but also to experience the vast changes in the country while serving in Congress.  When he left the sheriff’s office, Maricopa County was a quiet farming community.  By the time he departed the Senate, Hayden left a considerable legacy, mainly from the federal highway system and the Central Arizona Project that brought water to Arizona from the Colorado River, thus creating modern Arizona as we know it. Both of these issues are back in the headlines today as the state’s population nearly doubled in the last two decades, now at over 6 million people.  Traffic congestion and air pollution remain a concern, especially in the state’s population center, Maricopa County. Furthermore, Arizona could face water shortages due to climate change and growing demand.

In our Presidential Recordings series at the Miller Center, we hear a couple of interactions between Senator Hayden and President Lyndon Johnson in 1964.  This was a crucial year as Johnson was facing Arizona’s junior senator, Barry Goldwater, in the 1964 presidential election.  In one conversation, Johnson asked Hayden for help in Arizona, but Goldwater won the state anyway.  However, Goldwater managed to win only five other states in the wake of Johnson’s landslide.

In another phone conversation, we hear Johnson’s admiration for Hayden when he states:

If we just had one man like you and Sam Rayburn, we would have a whole lot better country.

Listen to additional similar phone conversations from 1964 in our Presidential Recordings Program archive. The Miller Center also has Hayden’s 1968 interview from Lyndon Johnson’s Oral History.

I close with one thought: Hayden said one reason he wanted to retire was “that contemporary events need contemporary men.”   Do you agree with this sentiment, or is there something to be said for having a long-serving legislator in congress who understands his or her state’s needs and can navigate the D.C. beltway, especially in the wake of so many recent retirements?

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