Catching Up with Grant Woods on Life, Politics, and Family

Catching Up with Grant Woods on Life, Politics, and Family
Phoenix Attorney Grant Woods

Today’s politics are divisive and extreme at both the state and national level. But if you look over the course of Arizona’s political history, a handful of people come to mind when thinking of politicians who were more concerned with doing what’s right than toeing the party line – even if it means voting against their own party’s agenda.   

Grant Woods is a Phoenix attorney and Arizona political icon who falls into this category. Although he’s not currently serving in elected office, he remains a powerhouse and voice of reason within the Republican Party. He served as Arizona Attorney General from 1991 to 1999 and as Senator John McCain’s first congressional Chief of Staff. He endorsed Hillary Clinton for President in 2016.

I used to run into Grant at Channel 10 (KSAZ-TV) gatherings and events when I worked there as a news producer with his wife, Marlene Galan Woods. She was a spunky and intelligent news anchor who made balancing family and work look easy. It’s been years since we’ve crossed paths, so I set up some time for Grant to catch up with me and my publisher, Joseph Lewis, about life, politics, and family. Excerpts from our conversation are below:

Nancy: It’s been a number of years since you’ve been Attorney General, so what’s been going on since then? I’m sure a lot has happened, with your family life, your business.

Grant: My kids are almost all grown up. I have a 14-year-old, she’s turning 14 Friday. She’s the only one left in the house. Everybody else is gone, they’re all doing their own thing. One is at a dramatic arts school in Los Angeles. The next youngest graduated from film school, he has his first film, he’s a director. His first film is ready to go, just about, so he’ll be out with that in the fall.

Nancy: What’s the name of the film?

Grant: The film is called “The Axiom,” it’s in the horror genre. It’s pretty cool, we’re excited about it. My daughter just got her real estate license, my oldest daughter. And my oldest son is an attorney. We get to work on some things together, so that’s fun. My wife, she used to do the news, she was a news anchor. Then, over the last several years, gotten very much involved in acting. She is a serious actress. She studies pretty much nonstop, she takes lots of classes. She was just in a play this summer in Los Angeles, so that’s pretty exciting.

So then what am I doing.. I’m doing a little bit of everything. I still practice law so I’m involved in litigation, mainly on the plaintiff’s side. Regular cases, some bigger cases. Right now I’m involved in some opioid cases around the country, one of the lawyers representing Ohio and also the state of Mississippi, and we’ll end up representing other states against the pharmaceutical companies for their role in the opioid crisis in the country. So that kind of harkens back to when we sued the tobacco companies in a similar case. I also represent a lot of companies, with regulators, with attorneys general, some here in Arizona, mostly national companies. That’s kind of what my practice looks like.

When I first got out of college I wanted to be a writer or I wanted to be a lawyer and it was pretty much a flip of the coin. I took the easy way out, the clear path I guess and became a lawyer, thinking I could do both. I did both for a little while, then I met John McCain and that kind of ended my writing career because when I signed on with John it was 24-7. He is a high energy person and we had a lot to do.

Nancy: And you’re still good friends..

Grant: I am, yeah. That was also like a lifelong commitment. I didn’t just sign on for two years when he got elected in 1982. It’s a lifelong thing.

So, the last couple of years is the time that I decided if I’m going to do it I need to get back to writing. So I’ve been doing a lot of writing in different areas. I’ve gone wherever it’s taken me. That’s been fun, it’s been interesting. In that world, I kind of went with the music side primarily for a while there, and we did a big music project.

Nancy: Songwriting?

Grant: Yes.

Nancy: What other kind of writing are you doing?

Grant: Besides songwriting? Well, next on the agenda was I wrote a play. With the songwriting we ended up doing a CD with all Arizona musicians and artists, singers, everybody on the record was an Arizona musician. Then we had a concert at the Orpheum to raise money for Arizona School for the Arts. So it was the artists themselves trying to inspire the next generation of artists. That was pretty exciting. All the songs were my songs and we had great people. Some got into the Hall of Fame, Nils Lofgren sang on it, he did a duet with Francine Reid, Scotty Johnson with the Gin Blossoms played on one of the songs, Lawrence Zubia sang a song. Hans Olson was there and he sang a song on the record. So anyway, there was that.

The play has had legs so far, we’ve been going through the process. We went from table read, to stage reading to, it was the featured play for Phoenix Theatre, at the New Works Festival last May.

Nancy: What’s the title?

Grant: It’s called “The Things We Do.” It was well-received and ran for three nights during the festival.

I wrote a novel, that’s what I’m working on now. I have an editor and an agent and there is a pretty massive re-write I have to do here (laughs). It’s really challenging, I’m trying to get my hands around it, if I can figure out how to do it, because it’s structural, it’s complicated. It’s not easy.

I do have one other project; I’ve been working a little bit over the summer, talking with Childsplay about a children’s musical. I hope we can do it. The onus is on me now to get the next little bit done and it’s all buttoned up. Three songs are written, it’s basically there, I just have to figure out a few more things on it. Then we’ll see whether they would commission the play or not. It’s called “The Crazy Dreams of Freddy Beans.” We’re doing a book on that as well, so I have an illustrator, the illustrator has been working on it for the past year because I’ve been done on that part. So anyway, there is a lot of writing things going on. I spent a month in Italy this summer teaching at the law school in Florence, Italy, just outside Florence. That was in conjunction with Arizona State.

Joseph: What about politics?

Grant: Politics, I’ve definitely been involved. I am going to stay involved. I don’t ever see being a candidate again, I don’t see that scenario. That doesn’t quite fit in to what I want to do necessarily. But you never know. Just because, I never would have envisioned the world would be such as it is now.

Nancy: I wanted to ask about that. So even as a Republican, you endorsed Hillary Clinton for president..

Grant: It gave me some credibility with my students in Florence because the first thing they asked me after the first day was, ‘Is it true that you’re the only Republican Attorney General, past or present, to endorse Hillary Clinton? And I had to think about that. And I said, ‘Yeah, it is true.’ And that’s looking better all the time (laughs)! It was somewhat controversial at the time. The little secret is, that wasn’t a tough call for me. It wasn’t. I felt very strongly that the Republican nominee did not have the ability or the temperament to lead the country.

Nancy: You’ve been around the block in both law and politics and you’ve had a long career. Whenever I meet somebody who has been in the public limelight like that, taken on a significant leadership role, I like to ask, what did you learn from it? What leadership lessons have you learned over the course of everything that you’ve seen, what have you taken away from it?

Grant: Johnny Wooden is the person who said that sports doesn’t build character, it reveals character. I think that’s true in politics as well. It’s true in government. You find out what people are really all about. I’ve been really disappointed with the Republican Party in general, and with subsets of it specifically, the idea that the Evangelical community has been silent on issues of race and bigotry and has stood behind some of the president’s comments is unacceptable. I don’t know how they rationalize that. It’s pretty clear with so many people who you see in politics that it’s really all about getting their way. I learned a lot of things. One thing I’ve learned is that it does reveal who people are. Some people have really strong beliefs and they stick to them, regardless of the consequences. Most don’t fall in that category. Most are 100% focused on staying in power. And that’s too bad. The little secret I’ve found is that, people, if you just call it as you see it, end up trusting you even when they disagree with you. You can be very successful in politics and elected office. People don’t expect you to toe the line on everything but they do expect you to be honest about it, otherwise you’re just like every other politician.

The thing that really helped me was I had been around some really great leaders when I was younger. I was 35 when I announced for Attorney General but I had already been around John McCain, John Rhodes, Mo Udall, Barry Goldwater, people like that. That’s who I thought of in government. My hero was Bobby Kennedy, who said, ‘politics is an honorable profession.’ Well I thought it was an honorable profession being around the people from Arizona that I had been around. These are great people. Sandra Day O’Connor, as an elected official then as a jurist; fantastic. Arizona produced so many great people, that’s what inspired me to get involved by running for office. When I look at it today I don’t see the same caliber of people. They are few and far between now. I understand that, because it’s really hard to persuade the best and the brightest to put themselves through what you’ve got to put yourself through. And I’m afraid the president has, by his behavior, his coarse behavior, has exacerbated the problem. So I think it’s going to be really difficult to get good people to run for office.

Nancy: So authenticity is important to you..

Grant: A hundred percent. I made lots of mistakes. There’s lots of things I would do differently. I was young, I was ferociously independent, maybe too much. It was very important to me, I thought that was what was important in the job, and it is important.

Nancy: Were you born here?

Grant: My parents were from here. They moved here from Oklahoma. Then my mom got pregnant and my dad had been drafted, he got called to Korea. So my mom went home and I was actually born in Oklahoma, which is absurd really, because I spent a couple of months there. But I’ve lived my whole life here, I grew up in Mesa. But technically I was actually born in Oklahoma.

Nancy: What high school did you attend?

Grant: I went to Westwood, Mesa Westwood.

Nancy: And then ASU?

Grant: I went to Occidental College undergrad and then I went to ASU Law School. I had a great time. I mean, Mesa’s a great place to grow up. I can’t imagine any better place to grow up. People always ask me, ‘Oh, so are you Mormon?’ Not Mormon. They view me as the one who got away, because I guess I could’ve been, it just didn’t work out that way, you know? I was raised Presbyterian at a Presbyterian church in Mesa. But most of my peers, the majority of them anyway, were Mormon. And they just create a great community, I think because of them primarily, the Mormon church and the members of the church, they care so much about family, about kids, about education, that they just created a place that was fantastic for me to grow up in. So yeah, I loved it there. And I came back. I went away to school, a bunch of us did. We were all in the same class, Fred DuVal, who was just the Democratic nominee for governor, Chris Hamel, Bob Robb. Bob went to Westwood with me and is a columnist for The Arizona Republic. We all went over to Occidental together.

Joseph: Looking back, you mentioned earlier, hindsight is 20/20.. with regard to the Fiesta Bowl Scandal, (are there) decisions you wish you’d made differently?

Grant: At the end of the day I had lots of excuses but I was hired to see if there was a problem, and I didn’t see it. The reason is, it was very carefully manipulated so that I wouldn’t see it. But that doesn’t mean much when it’s all said and done. I was there to do it and I didn’t do it. So, yeah. I would like to do that one over again.

You know, it’s funny, I didn’t used to really think of it this way, but now I do. You’re not going to go, start to finish in life, without having some screw ups. And a lot of people go really hard on themselves and never get over it when they screw things up. It might be, some people break the law, some people it might be their relationships, whatever it is, you’re not going to go start to finish. And I think I had it in my head, ‘I’m a good guy, I don’t break the law, I would never do anything, I try to do the right thing, so I’m not going to have a problem.’ And that just isn’t how it works. Problems will find you, and things happen to you. I’ve been so lucky that so few things have happened. But you’re not going to go wire to wire with a perfect life. So you can’t worry about it, you’ve just got to move on.

Nancy: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Grant: I want to say one thing. I ran on three of four different things. In a sense, it’s a miracle I won, and I did win two Republican primaries, I don’t know that that could happen today. Certainly we talked a lot about crime, but it was consumer protection and environmental protection and civil rights. You don’t hear that much in Arizona nowadays about civil rights in a positive way. But civil rights, or about environmental protection, and certainly not from Republicans. That’s too bad. Because there’s nothing about being conservative that isn’t totally in step with being pro-civil rights and pro-environment, pro-consumers, pro-victims of crime. I’m proud of what we did in the 90’s here. We were the first in the union to pass a hate crimes bill. Arizona was the first state, not Massachusetts, not somewhere else, Arizona. People wouldn’t think that today.

I bring that up because we’ve gone backwards. Totally, in that area, as a state and as a country. We’re going the wrong direction, really, in civil rights. I think it’s about leadership. I think most people in their hearts are good people and they are not bigoted, they are not prejudiced, but sometimes people can be led to their darker side. I know they can be led to their better angels and that’s what has to happen here because that’s what the country is supposed to be about.

It’s wrong when people are pulled over or stopped because of the color of their skin. It’s wrong when a mother of three can’t rent an apartment because she has kids. It’s wrong when people are discriminated against because they’re disabled. It’s certainly wrong if you can’t get a loan because you’ve been red-lined because of your race or ethnicity, it’s not right. The reason that I thought Arizona could be the leader here, is because, I’ve lived my whole life here, we are a melting pot, we represent the diversity of the country. Half of Phoenix is Latino. We have a huge Native American population here. Everyone here is from somewhere else pretty much. I’m not, but most people are from someplace else. That should help our understanding and our desire to be more tolerant and to try to learn from each other.

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