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Mother Inferior

I'm glad Rose Mofford isn't my mother. She'd probably never shut up about those years when she chauffeured me back and forth to the orthodontist.

"There were a lot of other things I wanted to be doing," she'd remind me. "But time and again I gave up my plans for you. You know what a mess your teeth were. Can you imagine how you'd look today without me? I may not be perfect, young lady, but I certainly deserve to be treated with more consideration."

As we slogged through the years together, Rose Mofford's voice would have become the bamboo splinters beneath the fingernails of my guilty conscience. I figure this is true because, even though she's not my mother, I'm beginning to feel like she's my mother. Feel like maybe I should run over to the capitol right now and make sure she doesn't hurt herself while climbing in and out of the Lincoln. Feel like I owe her that much and more. I'm miserably obligated because she has told me often about my debt. She even explained it to Michael Grant a couple of weeks ago on Horizon. While defending herself against a pointed question, she inferred that Grant expects too much of her, considering the difficult year she's just been through. It's a year that I, a citizen of Arizona, foisted upon her. "It has not been that easy, and there are only eight hours in the day," she complained. "I've just never been confronted with this before . . . to just be thrown into that atmosphere and that confusion. . . . "It is a tough job, and the state's growing, and the demands on any governor in that office are unbelievable. The invitations to do things. We can't do them all, but I have a very supportive staff that I consider as part of my family. And I meant to say that earlier. My reason for saying this [is that] I have been criticized [that] they are protective. That is all I have to turn to: I do not have any family. I have nobody left, except a brother."

A couple of weeks earlier, when she spoke to the state's journalists at a Sigma Delta Chi luncheon, Mother Mofford had been even more specific about her sacrifices and the ways she manages to survive them. Before she was through I realized what an ungrateful wretch I've been. I had not understood before that her gallantry in assuming office should be enough to still the sharp tongues of reporters who scrutinize her. I had not understood the full range of the hardships she has endured. "When I assumed the reins of Arizona state government . . . things were in pretty bad shape," she explained. "There wasn't any letterhead in the office. In Tucson we had to recover the state seal. I brought my typewriter up from the Secretary of State's Office and did my own speeches. We had no signature machine, we had no proclamations, we had to use whatever we could scrounge and pick up. . . . The government was running with little sense of direction, and suddenly I was sitting in the governor's chair."

Mother Mofford managed to refrain from wagging her finger.
Her first day in office, she was summoned to a meeting to deal with aspects of attracting the superconducting supercollider--one of the greatest economic challenges the state had ever faced, she said. The next day she had to get out of bed before 5 a.m. in order to appear on Good Morning, America, a gig that was followed by a round of TV interviews in Tucson. When she got off the plane in Phoenix, she was confronted with yet more reporters.

"Since that day, life hasn't changed very much," she mourned. "I have been feeling that there isn't any time left in the day. Time runs out. There is so much to accomplish and so much to be done to govern this great state that I am not sure that if I outlined all of the demands of my time if anyone besides myself would want to do the job of governor."

Aren't you glad we have a guardian like Mother Mofford, who is willing to be so put out? I am chastened enough that I'm willing to overlook all the things about Mofford that would otherwise alarm the hell out of me. I'm not going to give another thought to her overall performance on Horizon, for instance, wherein she revealed a mental acuity to rival the dazzling cleverness exhibited each week by Channel 3's Jim Howl as he calls out the winning lottery numbers.

I'm quite reluctant to bring up her response to Michael Grant's question about her reasons for supporting ValTrans, the rapid-transit system that's been proposed for Phoenix at a cost to taxpayers of nearly $6 billion. More than any other issue facing the city, ValTrans promises to be a miracle or a monster if it passes, and probably both. It will require city leaders to grapple with complicated questions about growth, aesthetics and the politics of route-setting--will require these considerations on a scale to make the twenty-year war over freeways in Phoenix seem like a skirmish. As a debate topic, ValTrans is a thick, tough steak meant for a political leader's sharpest incisors. Mother Mofford's analysis of the issue was expressed thus: "I think we need a good travel system so that people can . . . The buses are very . . . It takes a long time to get places, and I think if that is the answer to it I definitely support a good transportation and even clean transportation system that will certainly help Arizona in many ways."

This comment rated right up there with her answer to Grant's challenge of the "prison city" concept. As part of her State of the State message earlier in the week, Mofford had cited Florence as the most likely spot for a "prison city" and had recommended that more housing be built there to accommodate full-time employees of the Department of Corrections. Now Grant was asking her to justify her choice.

He did it because prison sites, and expanded prison sites, have been a political football in Arizona for years. Bruce Babbitt battled for an urban prison in his day. The former governor argued that the proximity of a big city meant that more and better professionals, such as psychologists and ministers, would be available to serve prisoners on the part- time basis that many prison contracts require. To prove his point, he plunked the Perryville prison down in the midst of a bunch of Sun City Republicans, who then screeched about it like a thousand locomotives slamming on their brakes at the same time.

Now Mother Mofford is giving the nod to investing once again in a rural prison, a policy shift that is championed by state legislators. Rural prisons may not thrill all criminologists, but they're popular with constituents. Mofford's revelation that she favors Florence among the rural prisons was an awaited chapter in a colorful and intricate political history, and it begged for a detailed rationale.

Here is the rationale that she provided. "I think an important issue with the prison city is--I hate to call it prison city, so to speak, but I wouldn't know what else to call it--they have the finest facility there. I have visited it and looked through it and it is a start, and you don't have to start from all the security involved." Michael Grant was long-suffering with the watery gruel of Mofford's answers. He insists that his gentle treatment of the governor was not a response to the fact that she is a nice old lady who may remind him of his mother. No, he let her halting sentences slide because he thought she couldn't help the things she was saying. "I got zero impression that Rose Mofford was trying to avoid the questions," he says. "I think from time to time she didn't completely grasp the questions."

After all Mother Mofford has done for him, I think it's very impolite of Michael Grant to mention this.

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Deborah Laake