McCain’s legacy: Arizona

Serving Arizona for more than three decades, Senator John McCain earned a reputation negotiating tense military situations in places like Syria and Lebanon. But he also worked fiercely on behalf of Arizona.

McCain is one of the reasons Luke Air Force Base is still standing, the state’s Indian tribes have gaming, and the dream for developing the banks of the Rio Salado is back on track.

“There’s so many different things he did for the state,” said friend and former U.S. Senator Jon Kyl, who served with McCain in congress from 1995 to 2013. “He cared about the state greatly and its environment.”

It’s no wonder he wanted to spend his last days in Hidden Valley on Oak Creek, he said.

“If you went there, you had to get prepared to go for a hike,” said Kyl, who was close friends with McCain until his death from brain cancer Aug. 25. “He would show you a hawk’s nest in this tree and an owl’s nest in that tree.”

His accomplishments on behalf of Arizona are far too many to list, Kyl and others said. But a few were closest to his heart: helping veterans and the military, preserving the state’s natural landscapes, and Native American sovereignty.

When McCain first ran for office in Arizona in 1982, he was called a carpetbagger. McCain replied that he was a Navy kid who attended 20 different schools. Then, he was a prisoner of war for five and a half years. He never really had a home. Until Arizona.

Here are a few of his achievements:

Military and defense

Saving Luke Air Force Base When talk of shutting the base down started in the early 2000s, McCain rallied to keep the base open. Today, it’s a $2.4 billion economic driver for the West Valley. It’s also the military’s largest training base for the F-35.

Keeping the A-10 flying As Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, McCain worked on bills that prevented the Air Force from retiring the A-10 Warthog, many of which are stationed at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson. A close-air support aircraft, the A-10 plays a role in the fight against ISIL and as a deterrent to Russian aggression.

Preserving the EC-130H Compass Call fleet McCain sponsored bills that preserved the EC-130H Compass Call electronic attack and electronic early warning airplanes at Davis-Monthan. These jamming and surveillance planes protect ground troops from electronic attacks in conflicts in the Middle East, and against potential threats in the Pacific and Europe.


Veterans Choice Act McCain was a major negotiator for the 2014 act after a scandal broke in Phoenix over excessive wait times for veterans at the Veterans’ Administration (VA) Hospital. The bill earmarked nearly $2 billion to improve healthcare in the VA system. The same year, he led a bipartisan effort to pass legislation that allows vets who live far from a VA health care facility, or cannot get a timely appointment, to see a doctor in their own communities.

Tribal sovereignty

Tribal Self-Governance Act As chair of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, he sponsored the 1983 act that ended federal paternalism over tribally-administered healthcare, education, law enforcement and other services.

Indian Gaming Regulatory Act Senators McCain and Daniel Inouye (D-HI) introduced the 1993 act that enabled tribes to develop the state and the nation’s $27 billion gaming industry.


Arizona Desert Wilderness Protection Act of 1990 McCain built consensus among the state’s congressional delegation to protect 2.5 million acres of wilderness in Arizona.

Rio Reimagined In his last year of life, McCain used his federal connections to enlist the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to help revive a dream to develop the banks of a 45-mile stretch of the Salt and Gila rivers in metropolitan Phoenix.

In a historic meeting in March, all the necessary parties came together to make a pact to carry  forward the dream, called Rio Reimagined. They are working together to bring economic development, ecosystem restoration, and “multi-generational” recreation to the rivers that cut through the Salt River Maricopa and Gila River indian communities, Mesa, Phoenix, Tempe, Goodyear, Avondale and Buckeye.

His final act for Arizona was to give the world a “shining example of leadership,” said longtime friend and former campaign manager Steve Betts.

“The last several months of his life, he has been trying to send the message about improving the civil discourse of not just the state but the country and the way Americans serve our role in society,” Betts said. “I’m hoping that message comes through.”

Victoria Harker

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