George W. P. Hunt got his start in life when he came to Globe in 1881 – first waiting tables in James Pascoe’s restaurant, then working as a mucker in the Old Dominion Mine.
By 1892 he’d won a seat representing Gila County in the territorial legislature. In 1900, taking a break from state politics, he became president of the Old Dominion Commercial Company and mayor of Globe.
Hunt then returned to the state legislature in 1904, where he helped write Arizona’s constitution. He served as Arizona’s first governor and, in a long and active career, held the governor’s seat for a total of seven two-year terms.
David R. Berman’s biography is one of only three ever written. Published in 2015, it was the first one in forty years. Berman drew from a wealth of archival material, including historical newspapers that had been newly digitized and therefore easier to access.
Berman portrays Hunt as a complex character, whose lifelong dedication to politics sometimes seems to stem from a selfless desire to serve the “forgotten man,” and sometimes from an addiction to power or an inability to free himself from the political machine he’d created.
Hunt’s childhood as the son of a poor Missouri farmer shaped him into a man of the people, with empathy and compassion for working men and prisoners.
One of his proudest achievements as governor was to make school textbooks free, because his own parents been unable to afford them. He championed the rights of workers and labored tirelessly on behalf of prisoners, whom he felt often went to jail only because they were poor.
Yet Hunt also built a powerful political machine that helped maintain his four-decade political career. He frequently overrode the legislature to enforce his preferred policies, and although he constantly complained about betrayals and conspiracies, he obviously found ways to succeed in spite of them.
Berman’s book covers the major concerns and events of the period: the Arizona constitutional convention, the labor disputes of the early twentieth century, debates over voting rights for women and immigrants, negotiations regarding Colorado River water rights, and more. Berman shines a light on what life was like in Arizona in Hunt’s day.
The book also shines a light on the politics of today. Reading Hunt’s life story, it’s clear that things haven’t really changed that much in a hundred years: the endemic corruption and cronyism, media manipulation, fake news, smears, and name-calling all sound very familiar. Whether that’s reassuring or deeply depressing probably depends on whether you’re a glass half full or glass half empty kind of person.
George Hunt is recommended for Arizonans with an interest in history or politics.
Patricia Sanders lived in Globe from 2004 to 2008 and at Reevis Mountain School, in the Tonto National Forest, from 2008 to 2014. She has been a writer and editor for GMT since 2015. She currently lives on Santa Maria island in the Azores.