About Ernest McFarland, Governor, U.S. Senator, Chief Justice of Arizona
Ernest William McFarland (October 9, 1894 – June 8, 1984) was an American politician and, with Warren Atherton, is considered one of the "Fathers of the G.I. Bill". He is the only Arizonan to serve in the highest office in all three branches of Arizona government—two at the state level, one at the federal level. He was a Democratic Senator from Arizona from 1941 to 1953 (Majority Leader from 1951 to 1953) before serving as the tenth Governor of Arizona from 1955 to 1959. Finally McFarland sat as Chief Justice on the Arizona Supreme Court in 1968.
Born on a farm near Earlsboro, Oklahoma, on October 9, 1894. McFarland attended rural schools and graduated from East Central State Teachers' College, Ada, Oklahoma, in 1914 and from the University of Oklahoma at Norman, in 1917.
During World War I, he served in the United States Navy and nearly died of a bronchial infection. Following surgery by Navy surgeons, he was discharged in 1919 and sent to live in a drier climate. Thus, after the war McFarland moved to Phoenix, Arizona, and was employed as a clerk in a bank. He gathered enough money to pay for tuition and graduated with a law and political science degree from Stanford University in 1921. He moved back to Arizona, passed the bar exam, and commenced practice in Casa Grande. He soon developed an expertise in agricultural and water-use legislation, which would suit Arizona well in the future.
Rise to prominence and Senatorship
After serving as the assistant attorney general of Arizona from 1923 to 1924, county attorney of Pinal County from 1925 to 1930, and judge of the superior court of Pinal County from 1934 to 1940, McFarland entered the U.S. Senate race in 1940. The twenty-eight-year Democratic incumbent, Henry F. Ashurst, appeared to be unbeatable and did not launch an aggressive campaign to retain his seat. While Ashurst remained in Washington, D.C., McFarland canvassed the state, giving speeches on water issues and World War II in Europe. By a three-to-one margin, he defeated Ashurst in the primary and went on to win the general election.
Senator McFarland, along with Senator Carl T. Hayden, lobbied for the Central Arizona Project (CAP) aimed at providing Arizona's share of the Colorado River to the state. His efforts failed while he was a senator; however, they laid a critical foundation for the eventual passage of the CAP in the late 1960s.
Not forgetting his veteran roots, McFarland became interested in legislation to benefit veterans returning from World War II. He outlined his proposals before the American Legion in a speech in 1943 and worked to create support for his G.I. Bill with veterans' organizations and members of Congress.
By unanimous votes, the United States Senate and the House of Representatives approved the legislation in March and May, respectively and, on June 22, 1944, President Franklin Roosevelt signed the G.I. Bill into law.
McFarland was easily reelected Senator in 1946 and served as chairman of a Commerce subcommittee where he helped plan a post-war role for the U.S. in international communications and rewrote the Communications Act of 1934. After Democratic Majority Leader Scott W. Lucas was defeated in 1950 due to his link with Truman's administration, McFarland's Democratic colleagues chose him as majority leader. He served in that position for two years. In 1952, he was defeated by Barry Goldwater in the national Republican landslide that year led by Dwight D. Eisenhower.
In that same election, the Democrats lost their majority in the United States Senate, and it was necessary for them to choose a Minority Leader. The party chose Lyndon B. Johnson, of Texas, as minority leader. Johnson became Majority Leader in 1955, Vice President of the United States in 1961, and President of the United States in 1963. Ironically, when Johnson sought a full term as President in 1964, his Republican opponent was Barry Goldwater, the person who had defeated McFarland in the 1952 election, and who had thereby given an indirect assist to Johnson's rise to prominence.
Governor of Arizona and the return to law
McFarland was elected governor of Arizona in 1954 and reelected in 1956. He worked with members of the Bureau of Reclamation to pick a location for the Glen Canyon Dam and emphasized education during his two terms in office.
Shortly after he returned from the Senate, he and several friends formed the Arizona Television Company to start a television station in Phoenix. McFarland had long been intrigued by the still-new medium. In 1955, shortly after he became governor, he opened KTVK, Phoenix's third television station. He chose the call letters "because TV would be our middle name." KTVK was the ABC affiliate for much of Arizona until 1995, and then became one of the nation's most successful independent stations. It remained in the hands of McFarland's family until 1999.
McFarland tried unsuccessfully to unseat Goldwater in 1958. After serving as governor he returned to his law practice and was elected associate justice of the Arizona Supreme Court in 1964. He took part in Miranda v. Arizona and served as Chief Justice in 1968, thus completing a political "grand slam."
Later life and death
In his mid-seventies, McFarland served as the director of the Federal Home Loan Bank of San Francisco and president of the Arizona Television Company before dying in Phoenix on June 8, 1984.
There is now a monument at the Arizona State Capitol honoring him as the "Father of the G.I. Bill." Also, the McFarland State Historic Park in Florence, Arizona, contains a preserved courthouse and other buildings from when Arizona was just a territory in 1878 that McFarland purchased and donated to the Arizona State Parks Board.