Return to Casa Grande and Introduction to Politics
Camilla: What prompted you to go into politics in the first place?
Jimmie: By the time I ran, I was back in Casa Grande. But I was also recalled into the Air Force in 1961 as an Accounting Specialist and buck sergeant because of the Berlin Wall crisis. The unit was called based on our education. I owned the dry cleaners but my degree was in Accounting. We were called up for a year. Although the crisis blew over pretty shortly, they held onto us. I served 10 ½ months at Langley Air Force Base in Virginia.
Donna was Director of Nurses at Hoemako Hospital. She worked everything! She stayed here in our house while I was in Virginia. We didn’t have any children then. My Dad continued to run the cleaners. When I left, we were making money. When I came back, we were losing money. He had paid all the bills but I owed him. I worked for another year after I returned paying him back. We got the business back up and, until I sold it, every year was better than the year before.
Camilla: One of the articles I read about you said you were first elected to an office at the age of 29 when you were elected in 1963 to Casa Grande City Council.
Jimmie: When I came back after my Air Force service, the Council was being run by what many people thought was a clique. Over cards or coffee these four Councilmen, the Mayor not included, would discuss the business of the Council. People were unhappy with that scenario. Those folks went out looking for potential leaders, trying to find people who could beat those four candidates. I was in pretty tall clover, I thought. They were older and more successful in business than I was.
Norm Bingham, Bingham Equipment, was one of those men who ran. Jack Foster who owned the mortuary ‘til the Warren’s bought it was another. Jack’s wife’s family, the Mauds, had owned the mortuary before that. These were very well established, respected people. There was a Hispanic fellow, Conrad Tapia, who was born and raised here--a hardworking man—that they also wanted. All four of us won and beat the incumbents. I really learned a lot from those gentlemen. We had some outstanding people on the Council over the years. They had the best interests of the community and we were a pretty good mesh. I saw large numbers of people and was on the firing line. I’d been in most of the homes in all sections of this town. People developed a certain confidence from knowing me.
That was a four year term. Then I became the mayor in 1967. Mayors serve two year terms and I had four of those—eight years and three moths until the Charter was voted in in June 1976. The town had been incorporated for a lot of years but a Charter government was being instituted. A Charter city is a level allowed in state government. Drafting a Charter is like writing a constitution for yourself. The Charter actually gives you broader powers than just the normal incorporated town and, in some cases, it limits you. The people have to vote to say, “Yes, we want a Charter.” The existing Council appoints Freeholders who draft the Charter and develop most of the policies that govern our city today. That was done in the latter part of 1974 and early ’75.
The term limit for mayor in the Charter was one of my suggestions. It’s funny because, in later years, I had to live up to that. I could have re-run as the Charter was coming in because I was grandfathered in but I had been twelve years and three months as an elected official. I thought in fairness to the citizens it was time for a change. I was tired, too, although it was a part-time job. Our three children were born during this period. Barry, our son, was born in June 1966. Julie was born in August 1967 and Kristi was born in August 1970.
The way the Charter reads, you have to have a break. In those years, the primary was in February and the general election was in March. You took your seat the first Monday in April. I was carried over until June because of the Charter coming in.
Casa Grande was the largest town in the country. When I was growing up, Coolidge was larger. But Casa Grande had grown a lot and we’d been fairly successful with mechanization of cotton. All of a sudden, while I was Mayor, Casa Grande started losing population without the influx of the cotton pickers. The price of cotton was dropping, too, and that was 100% of our economy. Lots of people were going out of business. There were empty buildings that were being torn down so that taxpayers didn’t have to pay the higher taxes on lots with improvements on them. Commercial property in Arizona pays 2 ½ times the rate that homes do. The tax is heavy on commercial and industrial properties in Arizona. Our young people were leaving town because of the lack of jobs.
During the years I was mayor and councilman we began the first real economic development. We got the Francisco Grande hotel. That brought in a hundred jobs. And we got the V.I.P. Industrial Park. It was a community effort with many people working for diversification. And we accomplished it. In today’s world, agriculture is probably about 25% of the Casa Grande economy.