Leaders in Business and Community

by Blake Herzog

Leadership is about recognizing potential and developing it to its fullest. It’s also about not giving up when you feel you have more to offer the community.

Pinal County had a lot of potential from the beginning when it was carved out of Maricopa and Pima counties in 1875. Its location between the two has been one of its strengths ever since, but far from the only one.


Its land grows crops and yields valuable minerals when it isn’t simply impressing us with its desert beauty and mountain horizons. Its clear skies provide abundant sunshine and weather that’s predictable enough for year-round auto racing, skydiving and swimming.

Our Golden Corridor has been shaped by leaders captivated by the future they could see shimmering in the sun, and we honor many of them here in our Leaders in Business and Community special section.

Let us also remember Ernest W. McFarland, a plain-spoken man who was one of the most significant leaders the area has ever seen, for he had a direct impact on growth at the local, state and national levels.

Born in Oklahoma, “Mac” moved to Arizona in 1920; a young veteran who never saw combat in World War I after nearly losing his life to complications from pneumonia. One of the few benefits he received for his service was the right to a 640-acre homestead, so he secured one near Casa Grande.

He took an early interest in water rights after earning his law degree at Stanford and represented the Santa Cruz Irrigation and Drainage District, which spurred his decades-long quest to bring Colorado River water to Central Arizona.

After being elected as county attorney and superior court judge in Pinal County, McFarland unseated an incumbent U.S. senator in the 1940 Democratic Party primary and served two terms in the Senate.

He introduced the first bill authorizing the Central Arizona Project in the Senate in 1947, only to have it and subsequent efforts doomed by opposition from California, which was then using water McFarland argued was Arizona’s by right.

Meanwhile, he did the work for which he became known as the “father of the GI Bill.” He was one of many who worked on the law but was singled out for his advocacy of educational benefits and home and business loans, recalling the lack of benefits he’d been entitled to and fearing the economy wouldn’t be able to quickly absorb the much larger number of World War II vets.

His run for a third term ended in his defeat by Barry Goldwater, so he returned to Arizona and was elected for his first of two terms as governor in 1954. He’d also formed a company with friends to bring a television station to Arizona, and in 1955 opened Phoenix’s third station, KTVK (Channel 3), which his family owned until 1999 and still thrives today.

He went back to Washington as governor in 1962 for an unprecedented bid to make Arizona’s case for a larger share of Colorado River water by arguing before the special master of the U.S. Supreme Court.

The special master ruled in Arizona’s favor the next year, resulting in the current allocations of 4-million acre-feet of water to California each year and 2.8-million acre-feet to Arizona and paving the way for the Central Arizona Project to bring that water to Arizona’s interior.

After finishing his second gubernatorial term, he tried to get back into the Senate but lost to Goldwater again, so he ran for and won a seat on the Arizona Supreme Court, an elected position in 1964. In 1965 he wrote the majority opinion in the landmark Miranda v. Arizona case later overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court and became the state’s chief justice in 1968.

In 1974 he purchased the territorial Pinal County Courthouse at Main and Ruggles streets in Florence and donated it to the Arizona State Parks system, which he had pushed for and signed into law as governor in the ‘50s. The resulting state historical park bears his name today.

He lived to see construction of most of the Central Arizona Project water canals, after its delivery was finally enabled through federal legislation in 1968. He died in June 1984 at age 89, and after a small memorial on Wesley Bolin Plaza in front of the state Capitol fell into disrepair, a new one featuring a 24-foot high arch was dedicated in 2015.

McFarland’s foresight and determination is at the heart of what creates all of our leaders, and is found inside everyone highlighted in our Leaders in Community and Business special section. They are “Mac’s” successors and are hard at work fulfilling the promise of Pinal County.