BEING NO. 1 IS TOUGH. TO BE NO. 1 FOR SOMETHING positive, you have to work really hard to get there and stay there. If it’s a negative No. 1, you have to be a special kind of meanie to sink so low.
Arizona knows both categories better than most. It’s one of the endearing – and infuriating – parts of our state’s DNA.
But I’ve discovered many people don’t realize our special status in the world – that we’ve piled up these No. 1 awards. So, for the past couple years I’ve been collecting examples of how we lead the nation. I’m sure I’ve missed some things, but I’ve found about three-dozen that tell the story. I’ve got to admit, even I was amazed at what ended up in a file that’s now bulging with newspaper clippings, magazine stories and scribbled notes on the backs of napkins.
You may be amazed, too. At times you’ll be proud that Arizona is home, but you may also cringe at some of these not-so-great distinctions:
- Arizona is the only U.S. state with one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World – the Grand Canyon.
- Since 1910, Arizona has been the nation’s No. 1 producer of copper and has produced more copper than all the other 9 states combined. By the way, did you know the Statue of Liberty is plated with more than 179,000 pounds of copper?
- Arizona sent the first woman to the United States Supreme Court, our own Sandra Day O’Connor, who grew up on a ranch near Duncan, was a member of the Arizona Legislature and was an appeals judge when she was tapped for the honor by President Ronald Reagan in 1981.
- Arizona is the first and only state to have women in all top-five offices at once. The “Fab Five,” as they were dubbed in 1998, included Governor Jane Hull, Attorney General Janet Napolitano, Secretary of State Betsey Bayless, State Treasurer Carol Springer and Superintendent of Public Instruction Lisa Graham Keegan.
- Janet Napolitano went on to be the first U.S. governor elected under the Clean Elections system.
We are the first state to ever oust a lawmaker for breaking a Clean Elections campaign law. Typically, only recall or impeachment has removed elected officials, but State Representative David Burnell Smith of Cave Creek was forced out of office in 2005 after he overspent his limits on what was supposed to be a Clean Elections campaign. (We’re not the only state that has Clean Elections, but our courts have attested that our law has teeth!)
- Arizona had the nation’s first water reclamation project, Theodore Roosevelt Dam, built from 1903 to 1911, which is still operated by the Salt River Project to this day. Teddy himself came for the dedication and stayed the night at the private home of Mae and Dwight Heard, which eventually became the original Heard Museum on Central Avenue.
- Arizona currently has the single most expensive and ambitious public works project in America, the Central Arizona Project, which brings Colorado River water to Phoenix and beyond.
- Arizona leads the nation in “identity theft,” which costs citizens millions of dollars every year and is under attack by the Attorney General’s office.
- Arizona was the location of the bloodiest 27 seconds in all of Western history – the Gunfight at the OK Corral on October 26, 1881. Three men died that day, five more died shortly after the fight and the name Wyatt Earp was forever branded on the hide of Western folklore.
- Arizona is the first state in the nation to have a domestic violence shelter for elder-abuse victims; it’s called Doves.
- Arizona has more charter schools than any other state in the country.
- “Kids Voting” was founded in Arizona and now thrives throughout the nation.
- The Make-A-Wish Foundation was born here, created in 1980 to fulfill the dreams of a little Phoenix boy with leukemia who wanted to be a policeman. Since then, it has fulfilled more than 2,500 wishes of terminally ill children and has more than 70 chapters in this country and 28 international affiliates.
- Miranda Rights – “you have the right to remain silent, anything you say can be used against you in a court of law…” – was born from a 1963 Arizona rape case against Phoenix resident Ernesto Miranda.
- The world’s first food bank was created here. St. Mary’s Food Bank is still thriving today because of great community support and wonderful volunteers.
- In 1969, Big Surf opened its doors as the nation’s first wave-machine water park.
- The Southwest’s first residential high-rise is our own Phoenix Towers – the pink high-rise on Central Avenue and Palm Lane that turns 50 this year.
- Sigma Phi Beta at ASU is the nation’s first fraternity to allow transgender members.
- Mesa is No. 1 in the nation in carpooling, according to a national study. Phoenix is No. 2.
- Although an Arizona Commerce Department report notes this state has the “best solar resources in the nation,” we have squandered that No. 1 status for decades and, just now, with a push from the Arizona Corporation Commission, are thinking of getting into the game. We’ve been so lame; nearly a decade ago we lost the contract for a big national solar energy institute to Colorado, of all places. HELLO!! This state needs to wake up to its potential of being the nation’s leader in solar power.
It’s not like our universities aren’t primed and ready; ASU has the only certified solar module testing lab in the country, and the University of Arizona is involved in solar-cell research. Everyone else needs to get a clue.
- Arizona’s statewide behavioral health system is operated under the largest contract of its kind in the nation – a three-year-at-a-time deal worth almost $1. billion.
- Palo Verde is the nation’s largest nuclear power plant and now has the dubious distinction of being the most regulated one in the country. Safety concerns led the Nuclear Regulator Commission last February to downgrade the plant to a category that demands more rigorous oversight and up to 2,500 additional hours of federal inspections annually for at least two years.
- The first recorded rodeo was held in Arizona in 1864.
- Arizona ranks first in the nation for the number of children with syphilis, according to a health study.
- Thanks to Maricopa Attorney Andrew P. Thomas, Maricopa County has the awful distinction of being the nation’s leader in seeking the death penalty. In 200, the year before Republican Thomas was elected, the county attorney’s office – also in Republican hands – sought the death penalty in 28 of 108 cases. In 2006, Thomas sought death in of 89 murder cases. Last summer, it was reported that he had 138 capital cases pending, more than the total number of all the death penalty cases in the other 9 states. Does the phrase “blood thirsty” come to mind? Does to mine.
- Maricopa County has the wonderful distinction of having the largest community college system in the nation. And we have the late Polly Rosenbaum to thank. The longtime legislator and state preservation advocate pushed through the first bill to establish the community college system and always was proud of what it had meant to millions of students.
- Another woman gave Arizona the distinction of building the first subdivision for Habitat for Humanity. That was the late Debi Bisgrove, whose charitable contributions – made along with her husband, Jerry – are legendary. I first met Debi at the Habitat site in South Phoenix that would make history and where she was known to wield a hammer with the best of them. Most Habitat houses are on scattered sites, but the South Phoenix subdivision showed a new, successful way to maximize housing and a better living environment for its residents.
- Phoenix’s new light rail system is the longest initial stretch of rail ever built in an American city.
- When it comes to Biblical research, Arizona has a duet of No. 1s. Almost 20 years ago, scientists at the University of Arizona, using sophisticated carbon testing, proved the “Shroud of Turin” was not the burial cloth of Jesus. In April, UofA scientists determined that a 1,700-year-old text known as the Gospel of Judas was authentic. The Coptic-language text says Judas wasn’t the greatest traitor in Christian history but was Jesus’ most special apostle, hand-chosen to turn Jesus in so he could fulfill his mission on earth.
- South Mountain Preserve, all 16,283 acres of it, is the nation’s largest city park.
- Scientology, the controversial religion founded by L. Ron Hubbard, was developed in Phoenix in 1952.
- The farm workers movement was founded by Cesar Chavez, who was born and died in Arizona, although he lived much of his life in California. His birthday on April 23 is now marked with Valley-wide celebrations.
- The only code the Japanese couldn’t break during World War II was created by Navajo code talkers from Arizona and New Mexico. They were instrumental in winning the war for America.
- Although nobody is going to believe this one, Allstate Insurance claims Phoenix drivers are first in safety of the nine largest cities in the nation. Last May, they reported that Phoenix drivers are least likely to suffer an accident, compared with drivers in other large cities. Surprised the hell out of me. I’m more likely to believe the other national survey that came out a week earlier, saying Phoenix had the second rudest drivers in the country, behind Miami.
- Arizona voters are the first and only ones so far to reject a constitutional amendment billed as “banning gay marriage.” In the 2006 election, voters saw through the ruse of a ballot item titled “Protect Arizona Marriage” that, in effect, claimed it wanted to make marriage legal between only one man and one woman. The thing is, gay marriage is already illegal in Arizona, and the appeals court has made it clear it won’t reconsider.
- The majority of voters saw that the ballot item really was about ending health insurance benefits for thousands of families, endangering retired couples’ Social Security, and altering adoption, inheritance and medical decision-making. In short, Proposition 107 was an attack on all unmarried couples, gay and straight. I love it when voters see through the junk.