The Bird Interviews Arizona’s Only Mexican-Born Governor About His Memoir and Connection to Kemper Marley, the Man Behind Don Bolles’ Assassination

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But how did something that seems unimaginable now — given the Arizona majority's prejudice against Hispanics — happen in 1974? That is, the election of an Arizona governor who was a naturalized citizen, born in Cananea, Sonora. Partially, it was the times, Castro conceded, that were far more progressive. But he gives himself some credit. Running as a conservative Democrat didn't hurt either.

"You have to be persistent," he said. "I used to go up to Sun City, which is ultra-ultra-conservative, very Republican. And I campaigned rather heavily there. People slammed the door in my face. I'd never quit, I'd go back. And eventually those people became convinced . . . and many of them supported me."


But Castro's tenure as governor didn't live up to the promise of his career and his campaign. In fact, it only lasted two years. In 1977, Castro took up newly elected President Jimmy Carter on his offer to be ambassador to Argentina. Naturally, that was a move that pissed off many supporters.

"Here's what I felt, and I'm sure Janet Napolitano felt the same way," remarked Castro. "I felt so many Hispanic-Americans voted for me and wanted me to finish out the term. They felt I let them down by leaving, by going to Argentina."

He countered that as an ambassador, he represented the entire country, which outranked being the governor of a state.

But what this raven wanted to know was whether Castro's leaving had more to do with the 1976 murder of Arizona Republic reporter Don Bolles, and with Castro's ties to the guy who ordered the hit, wealthy liquor distributor and rancher Kemper Marley.

Marley and his family donated $25,000 to Castro's 1974 campaign. Later, on what he says was the advice of several high-powered politicos, including Senator Barry Goldwater, Castro appointed Marley to the Arizona Racing Commission. Castro claims he barely knew the guy, but that 25 grand probably didn't hurt Marley's chances of getting that racing commission spot.

According to Michael Wendland's book The Arizona Project, which documents the efforts of the team of reporters who descended on Arizona in the wake of the Bolles slaying, it was Bolles who exposed the Marley-Castro link, which ultimately forced Marley's resignation from the racing commission. The book suggests it was because of Bolles' merciless exposure of Marley's shenanigans in this and other matters that Marley had his associates plot Bolles' murder, blowing up his white 1976 Datsun with Bolles in it at the Clarendon House hotel. Marley was never arrested or charged in the case. He died in 1990 at age 83.

The scandal scorched the governor politically, though he was never implicated in the Bolles assassination. He insists that this raging scandal and the subsequent investigation of the murder by the press and ultimately by then-Attorney General Bruce Babbitt (whom Castro assigned to the case) had nothing to do with his accepting President Carter's offer of a gig in Buenos Aires.

"I knew Don Bolles well," Castro said. "He was in my office every day of the week."

And in his book, Castro writes, "It was a very stressful time that was even worse because Bolles had been a friend and we were profoundly saddened by his death."

But Castro's co-author, Jack August, believes the constant barrage of criticism and inquiry Castro was receiving from the local and national press did lead him out the door.

"I think the emotional toll had him saying, 'Just screw this stuff,'" observed August. "In my heart of hearts, I don't think he was culpable of anything . . . He just didn't like the pressure he was under . . . So I think he said, 'I can go to Plan B.'"

But the fact Castro's not wanting to admit to what August has observed of him implicates the former governor at least in the human emotion of denial.

Should Castro's life story, his battle against racism and poverty be forgotten because of the Marley-Bolles affair? No, but neither can Castro's involvement with Marley be ignored. Particularly when this connection is surely what moved him to chuck it all, and head to South America.

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Stephen is a former staff writer and columnist at Phoenix New Times.
Contact: Stephen Lemons