Former House Speaker Jeff Groscost was remembered Thursday as a man who used good humor, love of family and his own self-assurance to weather the controversy that surrounded his political life.
“He loved politics. He was good at it. He had ideas to make Arizona a better place for its citizens and was willing to step forward,” Groscost’s mother, Catherine Smith Groscost, told more than 1,000 people who packed the Mesa Kimball Stake Center of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for his funeral.
Groscost died of heart failure Friday at his Mesa home at the age of 45.
Catherine Groscost described how her son was able to shrug off the barbs that come with a life in politics through a line he frequently used.
Groscost, a big man who weighed well over 200 pounds, used to joke that “I actually only weigh 175 pounds — the rest of what you see is thick skin,” Catherine Groscost said.
Jeff Groscost was 31 years old when he was first elected to the state House of Representatives in 1992, representing the solidly conservative Mesa-based district. Four years after taking office, he became the youngest speaker of the House in state history, leading Republican efforts to cut taxes and curb government growth.
By 2000, Groscost was arguably the East Valley’s most powerful politician, and was considered a prime candidate for governor. His hopes were crushed later that year, when he pushed through a bill giving lucrative tax credits to people who bought vehicles that use alternative fuels. The bill, passed at Groscost’s insistence in the closing hours of the session, did not cap costs and threatened to cost the state a half-billion dollars. It was later scrapped in a special legislative session, but not before costing taxpayers an estimated $167 million.
The fallout led to Groscost’s defeat in his bid for the state Senate.
Top state political leaders, past and present, attended the funeral. Among them were Gov. Janet Napolitano, a Democrat, and the Republican she defeated Tuesday, Len Munsil. Others included Republican Reps. Jeff Flake, Trent Franks and J.D. Hayworth. State legislators and political activists from throughout the East Valley also attended.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., the only politician to eulogize Groscost during the funeral, described him as a “great young American” who lived up to the principles of the man that inspired him to get into politics, former President Ronald Reagan.
“The great thing about Jeff Groscost is that he was the man in the arena,” McCain said. “He fought as hard as he could for every principle and every belief of our great party. But he always treated his adversaries with respect and honor. Jeff was an example to all of us.”
The most emotional part of the two-hour service was the brief remarks from some of Groscost’s children, who remembered their father as someone who always put his family’s needs ahead of politics.
“He knew how to be happy, how to get the job done and how to be the perfect father,” said Logan Groscost. “He was a humble guy, full of integrity.” Groscost is survived by his wife, Dana, and six children who range in age from two to 19 years old. A college education fund has been set up for Groscost’s children at Chase Bank.