Former state legislator Polly Rosenbaum and U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor (fourth and fifth from left) attended the swearing-in of Arizona's "Fab Five" in January 1999. From left: Lisa Graham Keegan, Janet Napolitano, Jane D. Hull, Rosenbaum, O'Connor, Carol Springer and Betsey Bayless.
In Arizona's ninth decade, women take center stage in state politics, two spelunkers unveil an underground cathedral near Benson, and the Arizona Diamondbacks beat the New York Yankees in what many consider to be one of the best World Series ever.
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Editor's Note: In February 2012, Arizona will celebrate 100 years of statehood, and Arizona Highways will publish a special Centennial issue. Leading up to that milestone, we're presenting a 10-part history of the state. This is Part 9.
By Jana Bommersbach
Arizona began its ninth decade by healing an old wound.
In 1992, voters approved a paid state holiday to honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Although Arizona was the first state to use the public vote to calendar MLK Day, citizens had previously turned down a holiday at the ballot box. They'd also seen a governor rescind the holiday and watched the legislature repeatedly refuse to act, making the Grand Canyon State the last state to publicly honor the civil rights hero.
While Arizona was behind the times in honoring King, it was ahead of the curve when it came to installing women as public officials. In 1998, Arizona elected women to its top five public offices: Republican Governor Jane Dee Hull; Republican Secretary of State Betsey Bayless; Democratic Attorney General Janet Napolitano; Republican Treasurer Carol Springer; and Republican Superintendent of Public Instruction Lisa Graham Keegan. Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, the first woman to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court, swore them into office in January 1999 (pictured below).
Sadly, Arizona also grieved around the same time, when two of its political giants — Barry Goldwater and Morris Udall — died in 1998.
Apart from the state's political landscape, its natural landscape was making news, as well, particularly at Kartchner Caverns State Park, which opened in 1999. Gary Tenen and Randy Tufts discovered the 2.5-mile cave system in 1974 and quietly explored it for four years before telling landowners James and Lois Kartchner. Decades later, the state purchased the land and developed the "living" caves for public enjoyment.
The caverns were a welcome addition to the state's portfolio, and so was the arrival of NHL hockey. In 1996, the Phoenix Coyotes, a professional ice hockey team from Winnipeg, took the ice in Phoenix. That same year, Arizona hosted its first Super Bowl.
College championships came to Arizona, as well, thanks to the University of Arizona's 1997 victory in the NCAA men's basketball tournament. In 1998, Arizona welcomed its first professional baseball team, and just a year later, in their second season, the Arizona Diamondbacks won the National League Western Division Championship. In 2001, the Diamondbacks made history by becoming the youngest expansion team to ever win the World Series. They defeated the New York Yankees in seven games, capping what many consider to be one of the best World Series ever.
Another first, but not the kind to brag about, occurred on September 5, 1997. That's when citizens saw their second governor in nine years removed from office in disgrace. Republican Governor Fife Symington resigned after being convicted of federal bank fraud. His conviction was overturned in 1999, but before the government could retry him, President Bill Clinton pardoned Symington. By then, the former governor had gone to cooking school.
Through all of the ups and downs, Arizona's growth was consistently up. Mid-decade, the state boasted 4 million residents, and by 2000, it was 5 million.
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