Former U.S. Sen. Dennis DeConcini, who recently donated letters signed by U.S. presidents to the University of Arizona, reflected on his 18-year term at a reception on campus Thursday evening.
DeConcini, who graduated from the UA James E. Rogers College of Law in 1963, worked as Pima County attorney before representing Arizona as a senator from 1977 until 1995. He served under a total of four presidents: Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton.
Thursday's reception celebrated DeConcini's recent donation of 15 letters signed by U.S. presidents. Some are now part of the "Presidential Letters: A Selection from the Dennis DeConcini Papers" exhibit at UA Special Collections.
"I remember them well," DeConcini said of the letters, eight of which are on display as part of the exhibit. Photos from the evening and the exhibit are available in this photo gallery. A video from the event is also available thanks to Special Collections.
DeConcini, a Democrat, was known as a centrist who worked with both parties to pass legislation. He said he fondly remembers his many collaborations with Bush.
"I really had a great working relationship with him," DeConcini said.
During the reception, he discussed his involvement and contributions to three major pieces of legislation: the Bankruptcy Reform Act of 1978, which revised previous acts to prohibit employment discrimination against bankruptcy declarants; amendments to the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that expanded anti-discrimination laws for voters; and the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988, which led to the establishment of the Office of National Drug Control Policy.
DeConcini's donated presidential letters add to more than 600 boxes of correspondence, files, voting records and media he previously donated to the University's congressional and political archives. The collection is one of the largest in UA Special Collections.
Maurita Baldock, assistant librarian and archivist, said the additions offer a snapshot of Arizona's political history.
"The political collections we have at the UA document Arizona politics and the historical relationship between the federal government and the people of Arizona," Baldock said. "These letters are really nice showpieces that were a lovely addition to the collection."
A special object accompanies most of the letters, ranging from a photo to a pen.
"When a president signs a bill, he gives the pen to the person who helped him get the bill passed," Baldock said. "It's an American tradition."
From 1989-1994, DeConcini was chairman of the Helsinki Commission, an international group that promotes work between nations. During that time, he saw the fall of the Berlin Wall and Nelson Mandela's release from prison. In addition to the letters, the exhibit features select pieces pulled from DeConcini's previous donations, including a picture of him with Mandela in 1992 and a piece of the Berlin Wall.
Currently, DeConcini is a partner in the law firm DeConcini McDonald Yetwin and Lacy, P.C. In 2006, then Gov. Janet Napolitano appointed him to serve as a member of the Arizona Board of Regents.
DeConcini applauded the efforts of Arizona's state universities to expand tech transfer initiatives, such as the UA's Tech Launch Arizona.
"That's really good for our universities," he said.
He also took the time to comment on his views of modern-day politics and disagreements between political parties. He said that although disagreements are frequent, he remains positive about the system.
"I'm an optimist about our whole government," he said. "The glass is always half full, even when it's only a quarter full."
The "Presidential Letters: A Selection from the Dennis DeConcini Papers" exhibit opened on President's Day and will be on view through May 2 at UA Special Collections.