CASA GRANDE — Arizona state Rep. Frank Pratt of Casa Grande died Tuesday after a long illness, state officials said.
Since 2009, the Republican Pratt, 79, has represented Legislative District 8, which includes Casa Grande, Eloy, Coolidge, Florence, Superior and southern Gila County.
Pratt leaves behind a legacy as a staunch supporter of the state’s agricultural industry and was described by those who knew him as a humble, soft-spoken embodiment of old-school values and leadership.
“He kind of lived by the cowboy creed,” said Sharon Gill, former chairwoman of the Pinal County Republican Committee. Gill, who met Pratt in the early ‘90s, helped Pratt during his initial campaigns.
“I just enjoyed him so much,” Gill said. “He was a true gentleman, honest to the core.”
Pratt was most associated on the campaign trail with state Sen. T.J. Shope, R-Coolidge, and the pair showed up in ads and photos donning matching cowboy hats. In mourning Pratt’s loss, Shope described him as a mentor and friend who helped shape his views on politics and legislating.
“He’s by far and away the closest person that I have in this crazy game of politics,” Shope said. “He was somebody I respect very much. When I first decided to run, he welcomed me into the race.”
Shope fondly recalled both working on local issues, like Interstate 10 or education, but also just conversing over long car rides or on the couch in Pratt’s office.
“Oftentimes people get a negative perception of elected officials,” Shope said. “He was quiet, he didn’t talk much about himself. He’s the ‘anti-2021’ elected official who needs a spotlight all the time. He conducted himself with the honor and dignity we should all aspire to.”
That wasn’t to say he had nothing on his mind. Shope said that he could “talk your ear off” one-on-one and always made himself available.
“Here’s a guy who, I could give him a call on a Friday or Saturday in summertime,” Shope said, “and he’d answer the phone, and he’d be out there in 115-degree weather in a tractor or trying to build a swimming pool for somebody.”
Shope knew Pratt was ill — he missed a number of legislative sessions due to his illness, which hasn’t been disclosed — but said he found out about Pratt’s passing along with everyone else Tuesday, and processing the news was very difficult.
Pratt, whose family’s Arizona routes go back to the 1880s, was born in Florence in 1942. As a young man, Pratt worked on his brother’s farm and began his own operations, spending decades as a farmer in both Yuma and Pinal counties. Later, in 1986, Pratt moved to Casa Grande, where he ran a pool-construction business with his son.
Two longtime local officials, County Supervisor Steve Miller and Casa Grande City Councilman Dick Powell, said they first knew Pratt from his days as a local businessman.
“He’d come into our store quite a bit when he was a farmer,” Powell said. “We sold all kinds of things for the farm community like saddles and tack, and Frank was one our regular customers. He was always friendly and easy to get along with.”
Pratt first ran for the state Legislature in 2004 and was elected in 2008 to the state House. He served in that capacity until 2016, when he was elected to the state Senate. Pratt ran once again for the state House of Representatives in 2020 as Shope switched to the Senate, winning in Arizona’s District 8 and serving in that role for the past year. In 2010, the Arizona Chamber of Commerce named him “Legislator of the Year.”
Miller, who met Pratt when they were both working in construction, said the kind of leader Pratt embodied — someone with deep ties to the area and its agricultural community — is now “few and far between” in local and state politics.
“It’s not a battle between urban versus rural,” Miller said, “but it’s too hard to find representatives now who know about agriculture, about the business of agriculture, how to make it profitable for farmers.”
Eloy Mayor Micah Powell also released a statement thanking Pratt for attending his swearing-in ceremony and being generous and accommodating.
“Even though we were not in the same party,” Powell said, “Frank never saw the difference between us. He introduced me and my wife to the governor, and he made sure we had time to talk about Eloy.”
As a legislator, Pratt fought hard for local education. Gill said he was a strong supporter of Central Arizona College and chaired the state Senate’s Natural Resources and Energy Committee.
“Frank Pratt was a quiet man with a great passion to help his community,” said Casa Grande Mayor Craig McFarland. “We will miss his monthly chamber updates, and his unwavering support at the Legislature for our cities and towns. He always took my call and he always listened.”
In a strange and brutal incident on Christmas Day in 2010, Pratt was tied up and beaten at his business on Cottonwood Lane in Casa Grande. He was found hours later by his worried wife, Janice. The assailant, a homeless person who had broken into the business, stole his Rolex watch and vehicle, and Pratt was hospitalized.
“I’m sure that was pretty scary for him,” Dick Powell said. “I know he didn’t argue with the guy, that wasn’t his nature. It had to be concerning, but he came out of it and he’s done well.”
Various state officials honored his memory.
Gov. Doug Ducey ordered flags at all state buildings be lowered to half-staff from sunrise to sunset Wednesday in honor of Pratt.
“Representative Frank Pratt was a champion of rural Arizona,” Ducey said in a statement Tuesday. “He was a staunch supporter of economic development, an advocate for workforce training programs and someone who believed in the necessity of developing sound water policy. In both chambers of the Arizona Legislature, he was unwaveringly dedicated to serving the people of Arizona and expanding opportunities.”
House Democratic Leader Reginald Bolding also paid his respects to Pratt, despite being in different political parties.
“Representative Pratt was a deeply respected member of our legislative family who loved this state with all his heart. We may not have always agreed, but he was never once disagreeable,” Bolding said in a statement Tuesday. “He loved his work for his constituents and always showed up ready to work. And although he was not vocal, when he spoke, his words carried weight. I will personally miss our conversations on the House Floor, and our caucus will all miss the presence of a class act who never put partisanship in front of relationships. “
There are now three and soon to be four vacant seats in the Legislature. Former Sen. Kirsten Engel, D-Tucson, and former Rep. Aaron Lieberman, D-Paradise Valley, resigned to focus on campaigns for higher office. Rep. Bret Roberts, R-Maricopa, is moving out of state and plans to step down on Sept. 30.
Six-year-old Jordan West loves all things Army-related. He often wears camouflage pants and shirts, has Army-theme toys and collectibles and often talks about how he wants to join the military when he’s grown.
So his parents weren’t surprised when he wanted an Army-theme birthday party, with all the guests dressed in camouflage, when he turned 6 on Sept. 18. And to make the party theme complete, he invited personnel from the U.S. Army recruiting office in Casa Grande.
“His mom called and asked if we do birthday parties,” said Staff Sgt. Alejandro Ordonez, an Army recruiter in Casa Grande. “At first I said, ‘no, we’re the U.S. Army, we don’t do parties.’ But then she explained that her son loves the Army so we invited him to visit us at the recruiting office.”
A few days before his birthday, Jordan and his mom, Candace Ward, visited the recruiting office, where soldiers gave him Army gear, including a T-shirt, pens and a backpack. They also gave him a tour of the office and showed him a specialty Army truck.
“He was so excited when he visited the office. He kept saying ‘this is the best day of my life,’” Ordonez said.
Before leaving, the kindergartner at Grande Innovation Academy gave the soldiers an invitation to attend his birthday party.
“We decided that we’d go,” Ordonez said. “I went and so did my boss and another sergeant at the recruiting office. We all wore different uniforms and he was so excited when we walked up.”
Video of the recruiters arriving at the party shows the 6-year-old walking up to the soldiers, shaking their hands and thanking them for attending his party.
The recruiters gave him a new child-sized version of an Army uniform and a toy helicopter.
“I’m glad we went to the party,” Ordonez said. “It was fun and the family was so welcoming. It was fun to see everyone at the party dressed in camo.”
Ward said it was Jordan’s idea to invite the recruiters to his birthday party.
“He loves the Army,” Ward said. “He always wants to dress up in camo and he likes playing with his Nerf guns outside.”
Among Jordan’s prized possessions are an Army-style belt and a soldier’s helmet.
“We went to Iowa recently and he wore those everywhere, along with his camo,” Ward said.
Although Jordan has some members of his extended family who served in the military, including a grandfather, Ward said she’s not sure where her son’s fascination with the military comes from.
“He’s just always loved the military,” she said. “When we are out in public, if we see a veteran, we always thank them for their service. Jordan does that too. And now he says he wants to be in the military when he grows up.”
CASA GRANDE — The road from Chandler to Casa Grande is a notorious two-lane stretch of Interstate 10, but the road to widen that 20-mile stretch goes through the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee in Congress.
On that committee sits Democrat Rep. Greg Stanton, D-Ariz., who recently benefited from a closed-door fundraiser in Chandler touting his efforts on that particular issue. The fundraiser was promoted by the I-10 Widening Alliance, a division of the Pinal Alliance for Economic Growth. The group includes a number of Republican members from Pinal County, which isn’t part of Stanton’s district. Stanton is a former mayor of Phoenix.
His Maricopa County district is north of the narrower sections of I-10, where the freeway goes between State Routes 202 and 60, before turning west toward Sky Harbor International Airport. However, he is one of several lawmakers deemed key to securing money within the upcoming infrastructure package. Hence, the fundraiser targeting Pinal Alliance members.
According to Pinal County officials, some of whom wish to remain anonymous, it has been a long and at times frustrating battle to secure necessary funding to widen the portion of I-10 that runs through the Gila River Indian Community. Speculated reasons include GRIC officials not wanting to give more right of way and a prolonged legal battle over the construction of the Loop 202 extension dubbed the South Mountain Freeway.
Casa Grande Mayor Craig McFarland, who has long been a supporter of widening the highway, said both state and federal legislators are “keenly aware” of the need for funding and that he categorized GRIC Gov. Stephen Roe Lewis as an ally of the project.
“It didn’t make any sense,” McFarland said of possible GRIC opposition. “It only benefits them if the highway is widened. When I sat down with Governor Lewis about six years ago, we had a really good conversation. Governor Lewis said the most frustrating part is that when there’s an accident, traffic spills out into GRIC territory, and I told him I get it!”
It is estimated that it will cost hundreds of millions of dollars to fully expand the 20-mile stretch of I-10 between State Routes 347 and 387. McFarland said that Pinal County and GRIC are responsible for the portion that begins at the Riggs Road interchange.
Although Stanton’s 2020 opponent in the 9th District, Republican David Giles, said that any conservatives who gave money to Stanton’s campaign were “RINOs,” Giles did say he supported local infrastructure projects.
“I’m always in favor of having wider roads that are safer,” Giles said. “Democrats will make a to-do out of nothing to divert from our border crisis, but I-10 widening is necessary and should be done.”
Giles said that his preference would be for Congress to divert some international funds and put that toward infrastructure spending.
The Arizona Department of Transportation coordinates the engineering and funding of highway projects, including updating the I-10 bridge over the Gila River. The department mostly has money set aside for highway maintenance as opposed to new road construction, although the state has allocated some funding for the I-10 project.
ADOT released a 2021-2025 transportation facilities program that calls for construction on the highway widening to begin in 2023 and budgets up to $50 million for the start of construction.
McFarland is optimistic some combination of money from both the House and Senate versions of infrastructure bills in Congress would be earmarked for the project.
CASA GRANDE — Pinal County residents looking to stay busy and entertained won’t have to look too far this fall.
A lineup of events, including plays, murder mystery dinner events, concerts, festivals and other activities are planned throughout area communities.
Some of the most-anticipated events in the coming weeks are listed below.
Free concerts in the park
Events Center at Harrah’s