PHOENIX — State lawmakers took the first steps Wednesday to honoring assassinated reporter Don Bolles in the same way Arizona honors various veterans, pioneer women, the Ten Commandments and Jesuit missionary Father Kino.
Without dissent the House Government Committee authorized placement of a memorial to the Arizona Republic investigative reporter in Wesley Bolin Plaza. That area, just across the street from legislative buildings, already is home to more than two dozen plaques, statues and other memorabilia including large guns from the USS Arizona and USS Missouri.
HB 2171 needs approval by the full House before going to the Senate.
But even if it survives the full legislative process, none of that guarantees anything will be erected.
The measure and its Senate companion, SB 1039, simply authorizes placement of a memorial. It would be up to private sources to raise the funds for the design and construction.
There are some memorials already to Bolles who died 11 days after a car bomb exploded after he went to the Clarendon Hotel in Phoenix in 1976 to meet with a source, later identified as John Harvey Adamson, who never showed up. That includes one at the hotel which the local chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists got designated in 2019 as a Historic Site in Journalism.
And what’s left of Bolles’ 1976 Datsun 710 was on display at the Newseum in Washington, D.C. until it closed.
“But for a man like Don Bolles, I think more is needed than commemorating a place where he experienced the worst day of his life,” said Tim Eigo, editor of Arizona Attorney Magazine. And he said placement of a memorial in Wesley Bolin Plaza is appropriate, calling it “Arizona’s front yard where we display our most honored and cherished aspects.
“It’s where people from all walks of life, all places and ages pause to read, think, smile and sometimes even weep at the sacrifices their fellows have offered on behalf of others,” Eigo told lawmakers. “And so recognition there is properly reserved for the most deserving which, I believe, makes Don a worthy candidate.”
Bolles’ assassination, unusual in a country like the United States, provoked an immediate and unique response within the journalism community. Nearly 40 reporters from newspapers around the country, sponsored by Investigative Reporters and Editors Inc., launched an extensive probe that resulted in a series of stories about organized crime in Arizona.
The series was printed in the Arizona Daily Star and many newspapers around the country, though not by the Arizona Republic where Bolles had worked.
Eigo acknowledged that the request comes at a time when the work of journalists has come under scrutiny and criticism from those who disagree with their reporting and claim they are biased. But he told lawmakers none of that should undermine efforts to recognize Bolles for his work.
“When I think back on journalism’s history and Arizona’s history, I’ll say this: Whatever you may think of news today, no one could ever accuse Don Bolles of fake news or misrepresentation,” Eigo said. “He was a stand-up guy.”
Adamson, seeking to avoid the death penalty, agreed to testify against Max Dunlap, saying he had ordered Bolles to be killed, with police saying that was because of a story the reporter had written about a friend, liquor magnate Kemper Marley.
Dunap eventually was sentenced to life behind bars after a first conviction was overturned. He died in prison after a clemency plea was rejected.
Adamson and James Robison, who was accused of planting and detonating the bomb, also have since died.
Memorials at Wesley Bolin Plaza have not been without their controversy.
In 2011, the Senate voted to tear down part of a memorial to the victims of the 2001 terrorist attack at the World Trade Center after some lawmakers said they were upset by some of the phrases carved into the ring. Sen. Al Melvin, R-Tucson, said the memorial should have only “patriotic, pro-American words” and not phrases that represented attitudes at the time, like “fear of foreigners.”
And in 2020, a monument to Confederate troops was removed from the park at the request of the United Daughters of the Confederacy following controversy about whether it was appropriate in a public place.
Among others memorials and monuments still in place are those honoring Purple Heart recipients, crime victims, canines who have worked with law enforcement, former Gov. Ernest McFarland, and the 19 members of the Granite Mountain Hotshot Crew killed during a 2013 fire.