By John Celock
Rose Mofford, a career state government employee who became Arizona’s first female governor, died Thursday at the age of 94.
Mofford, a Democrat who started working for state government as a secretary in 1940 at the age of 18, succeeded to the governorship in 1988 following the impeachment and removal of Gov. Evan Meacham (R). Her three year tenure capped a half century government career that saw Mofford become an unlikely leader for the state.
Mofford started her career in state government as a secretary in the state treasurer’s office before moving to a similar post with the state Tax Commission. She later served as the tax commission’s executive secretary before being fired when commissioners wanted to give the job to a man. Mofford then ran a state magazine and went to work in the secretary of state’s office, eventually rising to the number two post in the office.
Then Gov. Raul Castro’s (D) decision in 1977 to resign to accept President Jimmy Carter’s nomination as ambassador to Argentina, set in motion Mofford’s eventual rise to the governorship. Secretary of State Wes Bolin (D) succeeded Castro as governor and tapped Mofford to replace him as secretary of state. While holding the number two post in state government, Mofford, as an appointee, could not be first in line of succession to the governorship through the end of Bolin’s term in 1979. When Bolin died in 1978, state Attorney General Bruce Babbitt (D) succeeded to the governorship.
Mofford was elected to three terms as secretary of state in 1978, 1982 and 1986, heading an office that runs state elections, registers corporations and performs other administrative tasks. Following a series of scandals engulfing Meacham, who was elected to succeed Babbit in 1986, Mofford found herself thrust in the middle of a state crisis as Meacham faced a recall effort, indictment and impeachment. As secretary of state, Mofford found herself accepting and certifying the recall petitions against the governor.
Following the state House of Representatives decision to impeach Meacham in February of 1988, Mofford found herself as Arizona’s acting governor. She would later succeed to the governorship in April following Meacham’s removal.
Mofford would only serve out the remainder of Meacham’s term until 1991, deciding not to seek a full term of her own and ending a state career that spanned from World War II to the Persian Gulf War.
Mofford was the first of four women to serve as Arizona’s chief executive. Republican Jane Dee Hull succeeded to the governorship from secretary of state in 1997, following the resignation of Mofford’s successor, Republican Fife Symington, on corruption charges. Hull, who was term limited, was succeeded in 2002 by Democrat Janet Napolitano, who stepped down in 2009 to become the nation’s homeland security secretary, and was in turn succeeded by Republican Jan Brewer, who served until she was term limited in 2014.
Gov. Doug Ducey (R) issued a statement Thursday honoring Mofford for her work in leading the state.
“Governor Mofford brought people together. Both as a governor and a former governor, she exemplified the ability of leaders to unite us—to put partisanship aside and put our country and our state first,” Ducey said. “During challenging times for our state, Governor Mofford was the steady hand that led us through and held us together.