POLITICS : Arizona Says So Long to an Institution : Polly Rosenbaum shaped state law for 22 terms. She lost this year’s election, but nobody counts her out.


At the state Capitol here, 95-year-old Edwynne C. (Polly) Rosenbaum is regarded as an institution--an indefatigable Democratic lawmaker who has been around so long that she can claim friendship with the first governor.

So it was with a deep sense of loss among old-guard politicos that the state representative was defeated Nov. 8 after serving 22 consecutive terms.

She has held her seat since 1949, when she replaced her husband, William G. (Rosie) Rosenbaum, who died during his 22nd year in office.


Some of her accomplishments seem suited for display in a museum. Rosenbaum is credited with removing spittoons from the House chambers, eliminating miniskirts as options for female pages and securing funds for rural libraries.

“I used to run (for reelection) on $100,” Rosenbaum said, adding that that is not the only thing that has changed for the worse in Arizona politics. Lobbyists “are changing into a different breed.”

“We have a lot of young whippersnappers who don’t think legislators know anything,” she said. “But I usually can tell them: ‘I know more about that than you do.’ ”

Indeed, Arizona will have to make do without a Rosenbaum overseeing affairs in the 4th District, a sprawling mining and ranching region in the eastern part of the state, for the first time in 67 years.

Especially painful for her admirers: Rosenbaum lost to a 43-year-old businessman with no political experience who was put over the top by redistricting and the anti-incumbency mood.

“People in this state still can’t believe she was defeated,” said former U.S. Sen. Barry Goldwater, 86. “Not because she is a Democrat living in a Democratic state, but just because she’s so damn good that everybody wanted to see her stay in the Legislature as long as she wanted--and I have a hunch that was where she planned to spend her life.”

Rosenbaum is spending her last days in office much like the previous 45 years: sprinting through the corridors of power and almost always taking the stairs instead of the elevator to her third-floor office. She is also making final checks on favorite legislative projects--to the chagrin of some state staffers.

A week ago, Rosenbaum was touring historic sites that she saved from the wrecking ball--a mineral and mining museum, a Victorian mansion and the Arizona Hall of Fame--when she spied a staff member taking a break in the sun.

“What happened to this handrail? Why isn’t it fixed?” she barked, standing on the porch of the mansion, which now houses a state tourism bureau. “Who is going to take care of all these details when I’m gone?”

That question is being asked a lot these days. Rosenbaum played a role in shaping nearly all of the state’s laws.

But with a philosophy of “keep your mouth shut and your ears open,” she rarely authored or lobbied for legislation.

When she did, colleagues looked up and took note.

“All you’d hear on the floor was: ‘That’s Polly’s bill, that’s Polly’s bill,’ ” said Edward Guerrero, a Gila County supervisor and former state representative who served with Rosenbaum from 1971 to 1987. “And all you would see were green lights. When she got behind something, it would move.”

She voted against ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment but spearheaded a committee that gutted the state constitution of all gender-specific language.

“That was the sensible thing to do,” Rosenbaum said. “Fix the laws you already have. Don’t make more of them.”

Not about to waste Rosenbaum’s long institutional memory, Gov. Fife Symington is trying to create an appointed post for the former schoolteacher.

Yet political pundits say it is too soon to eliminate Rosenbaum as a comeback candidate in 1996.

Asked about that possibility, Rosenbaum removed her glasses and, with a sparkle in her blue eyes, said: “I wouldn’t rule it out.”