“I don’t belong to an organized political party. I’m a Democrat.”
It was one of the most memorable lines spoken by the humorist-cowboy and he had plenty to say. It was quite often about politics. In one of his comments he said, “A comedian can only last till he takes himself serious or the audience takes him serious.” No doubt that Will, in an off-handed way, was also referring to politicians.
Perhaps E.C. “Polly” Cutler Rosenbaum, as a young woman, heard that particular remark of Will’s over the radio. That would have been in the early 20th Century, when radio was in its infancy and quickly became the only form of mass communication. Polly was born in 1899. Radio became common fare in the early 1920s and Will Rogers became one of its biggest stars.
Polly, as she preferred to be called, was Arizona’s longest-ever serving legislator. She served in the House of Representatives from 1949 to 1994, winning 22 consecutive elections. She was 95 when she left the legislature, not by her choice. She died in 2003 at age 104.
Polly believed that what she did as a legislator was important, but she never considered herself important. Her important work is not forgotten. In fact, an annual Polly Rosenbaum Dinner is being held every year in Clifton to honor her dedication on behalf of Greenlee County. The 6th annual event honoring her is Thursday, March 20, at Tyler’s Taste of Texas in Clifton.
It is being sponsored by the Greenlee Democrats – and while Polly was a lifelong Democrat – anybody is welcome to the dinner, regardless of political affiliation. Polly would have liked it that way.
Congresswoman Ann Kirpatrick is the keynote speaker. She is a former State Legislator and perhaps will share some anecdotes of her personal experiences with Polly. Other speakers at the event will be Corporation Commission candidates Jim Holway and Sandra Kennedy.
What Polly continues to represent is an era when politics may have been rough-and tumble, but they were not vicious as they are today. In Polly’s day legislators from opposing parties might strongly debate and drub the opposition on the House or Senate floors. Afterwards, those same opponents would put their political masks aside, and break bread over a casual supper. That was an act of civility that no longer seems to exist.
One could truly say that despite their sometimes strong differences, Republicans and Democrats were then far more apt to work together for Arizona’s overall best interests than are the legislators of today. Extremists were a rarity in Polly’s day.
Polly, who started adult life as a teacher, was a strong advocate for education throughout her legislative career. She and former House Speaker Joe Lane, a Republican from Willcox, had a deep mutual respect. The same applied for Lane and former legislators who represented Greenlee, Graham, Cochise and Gila counties. We think of Sen. Bill Hardt, Gus Arzberger, Ed Sawyer, and Greenlee County’s own John McLaughlin and Freddie Fritz, who both served in the House and Senate, although years apart.
These names probably do not ring a bell with younger folks, but those of us who have been in Greenlee since at least the 1970s and early ‘80s remember them well.
We remember Republicans’ and Democrats’ mutual dedication to rural Arizona and certainly to their constituents who still call rural localities “home.”
In Clifton there is a bridge named after Polly. In the wake of the devastating 1983 flood, she worked and fought hard to help bring flood relief and breathe new life into Clifton. We remember the day of the bridge’s dedication. Former Gov. Evan Mecham, a die-hard Republican, was the keynote speaker for the occasion held on the bridge itself. Mecham was by then become embroiled in some pretty messy political situations and was eventually impeached.
Mecham spoke glowingly of Polly and acknowledged her ability and willingness to reach across the aisle and work effectively with Republicans. He spoke of her dedication to education and to rural Arizona in general.
That night, Polly and the governor sat together at a dinner held in their honor in Morenci. They were both well-received by the audience made up of a mix of Republicans and Democrats. Both drew thunderous applause.
Although she was a pioneer among women in Arizona politics, she never made a big deal about it. Former Gov. Rose Mofford, a close friend of Rosenbaum’s, said, “Polly was Polly and she was there to do a job and that was to represent her constituents, and do the best she could for the State of Arizona overall.”
Rosenbaum was known for her commitment to the interests of women. She once said, “The women really won the West, not the men. The women are the ones who got libraries and worked for the schools (to be established).”
One might have thought that in her late 80s or early 90s, Polly was too old and frail to cut the mustard any longer. Wrong. She may have been thin, but certainly was not frail and neither was her mind addled or fogged by age.
There were many times she was seen outpacing much younger people who may have thought they would be taking a slow, casual stroll as they accompanied her. Wrong. She could climb stairs much faster than many people half her age.
Speaking of the civility that Polly and her peers represented, restaurant owner Roy Tyler is a staunch Republican and has hosted several Democratic Party meetings and other events. It is with open arms that he welcomes the Democrats and in turn, they embrace him. He is welcome to participate in those events. Polly would have liked that.