Originally Published: December 19, 2012 12:01 a.m.
PRESCOTT - "Here, let me get that," Carol Springer said, shutting the door on the sounds of remodeling. Crews are busy turning the third-floor offices into space for the expanded five-member Board of Supervisors, and plastic sheeting is everywhere.
Springer will not be around to see the results. She's retiring after two terms on the board and over two decades in politics.
She had just come upstairs from the swearing-in ceremony, where she sat in the back row and watched as two of her colleagues, Tom Thurman and Chip Davis, began new terms, and three new supervisors prepared to join the board.
Thurman, who roasted her at a retirement party last week, and who was first elected to the board along with Springer in 2005, said she'd had "An unbelievable lifespan of public service.
"We're going to lose a great asset for her not being in public office," he said.
But Springer seems to have no regrets about her decision to retire.
"I think you know when it's time for you to go, and it's time for me to go," she said. "My time has passed now."
Early Political Aspirations
Springer has lived in Arizona since 1969. She was born in Colorado and moved to Portland, Oregon as a child. She grew up there and moved to Arizona when her then-husband was transferred here.
A divorce brought her to Prescott.
"When I first came to Arizona, I didn't think there was much to like," she said. "Coming from a state that was beautiful and green, it's kind of hard to get used to the desert.
"It kind of grew on me," she said. "Everything you could want - except an ocean - we have it here. There's a lot to love in Arizona."
She was raising five children as a single mother, working as a real estate agent, then opening her own office, when the idea of running for office came up.
In her first run for state senate, in 1989, Springer won the seat.
"It was scary, because I really had no political experience," she recalled, "and I was, as they say, green as grass."
So she did what she claims a lot of legislators don't do anymore.
"I kept my mouth shut and my ears open and learned," she said with a chuckle.
To her surprise, she found that a background in real estate was a valuable asset that gave her an advantage over other legislators.
"I found so much of what we dealt with at the legislature was things I'd been working with for years," like land-use laws and water law. It was a revelation that came to her in her first meeting, where the topic was water. "There were a lot of people talking about water, but it was very evident that very few of them knew anything about it."
She served four terms in the state senate, where she was chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, so when the opportunity to run for state treasurer came up, she felt it was a natural transition.
She was swept into the office in 1998's history-making election, when five women took control of the Arizona's top offices, including Jane Hull as governor.
But Springer served just one term as treasurer.
"Being the state treasurer is really being the state banker," she said. "And what I realized when I got into it is that banking isn't my thing. I really preferred policy-making."
She said tried to influence the Legislature, "but for the most part, it ignores the state treasurer."
Springer made a run for governor in 2002, but lost in the three-way Republican primary, coming in third behind Matt Salmon, a former U.S. Congressman and Betsey Bayless, Arizona's Secretary of State. Salmon ultimately lost to Democrat Janet Napolitano, who was fresh off her term as state attorney general.
"It's very difficult, I find, for someone outside the major counties, Maricopa or Pima, to win a statewide election," she said, although she allowed that treasurer may be an exception.
Complicating matters was the new state "Clean Elections" law that went into effect that year. It mandated that candidates who wanted state funds had to first raise a certain number of $5 contributions.
She and Bayless both tried to do that, but they found that it took a much longer time to get the "thousands and thousands" of necessary $5 donations than anyone anticipated.
"Everyone assumed that $5 was not going to be hard to collect," she said, but "it was extremely hard."
By the time they had fulfilled that obligation, the state funds that were available were too late to be useful, and neither she nor Bayless reached the voters with their messages.
"We had run out of time to use the money," Springer said. "Somebody had to be the first to try it, and it did not work well."
Back Home to Prescott
Disappointed, Springer returned to Prescott.
"I did not want to go back into real estate," she said.
When Gheral Brownlow decided not to run for another term as District 1 County Supervisor in 2004, she saw an opening and won the seat.
Her first priority was to put some money into county buildings, which she said had been allowed to "go to pot."
The county attorney's office "was in a broom closet," she said. The Marina Street facility "was so old an dilapidated, you could see through the walls."
The board started making improvements, but "we took a lot of heat for it, because it was the time when the economy started going downhill very fast," she said.
"But I thought it was the right thing to do."
At this point, we were interrupted by County Attorney Dave Hunt, who was stopping into her makeshift office to say goodbye.
"I just wanted to say what a pleasure it's been to work with you," Hunt said, clasping her hand. "I admire you so much, for what you've done for the state."
"Thank you. It's been an honor to work with you, Dave," she replied.
On her list of projects left unfinished is the Williamson Valley Road project.
"We ran out of money," Springer said. "It would have been nice to do that."
She brushes off nay-sayers, claiming, "I think the majority of people out there want it. I think (the opponents) are a small group that has been very vocal, and I think they have intimidated a lot of the residents in the area."
Springer admits that some frustration with the current political environment may have helped in her decision to retire.
"The extreme nastiness of the people who oppose the road widening is very distressing," she said. "But this is kind of a newer phenomenon we're seeing in politics.
"Some of my best friends (in the Legislature) were on the other side of the aisle," she said. "We worked together we when agreed, and if we didn't, we agreed to disagree. We were able to accomplish a lot."
Tuesday, Gov. Jan Brewer, who served in the state senate with Springer, said, "In so many ways, our careers in public service have mirrored each other. Over the course of more than two decades of dedicated service at the state and local level, Carol always put her constituents first. We need more like her."
As for her future as a retiree?
"I haven't really made any plans," she said. "There's an old saying that, when you retire, everyday, you should get up, get dressed and go do something. I'm going to throw that out the window and stay in my jammies for a few days. I've never been able to do that."
"She's going to have a good retirement," Chip Davis said with a smile.