PHOENIX (AP) — Former Arizona Attorney General Grant Woods, a longtime Republican loyalist who changed his registration to Democratic in 2018 because of his frustration at the party's direction and then-President Donald Trump, died Saturday.
His unexpected death at age 67 was announced by his wife, Marlene Galan Woods, though a public relations firm. A cause was not announced.
“Grant was the love of my life. My best friend. My heart is broken," his wife said in a statement. “I just cannot believe he is gone."
Woods was a longtime fixture of Republican politics in the state and was a top aide to the late Sen. John McCain when he was a congressman, serving as his first chief of staff in the 1980s. He delivered a eulogy alongside now-President Joe Biden at McCain's memorial service in Phoenix.
“Grant Woods was one of my best friends,” McCain's widow, Cindy McCain, tweeted. “My only comfort is knowing (he) is laughing and joking with John now and watching over all of us. We will miss you so much Grant. God Bless.”
Woods served as attorney general from 1991-1999, helping lead negotiations on a massive nationwide settlement with tobacco companies that continues to help fund the state's Medicaid program. The state has received more than $1 billion since the 1998 settlement agreement.
After leaving office, he returned to private practice and was a highly successful civil litigator in anti-trust, fraud, breach of contract and medical malpractice cases. He was also often tapped as a special prosecutor in public corruption cases and tried murder cases.
The one big blemish on his decadeslong career came in 2009, when Woods was hired to look into allegations that the Fiesta Bowl employees were pressured into making political contributions.
After a brief investigation, Woods said he found no evidence of wrongdoing. That turned out to be completely wrong, and the bowl in 2011 fired its longtime top executive and almost lost its spot in the college football Bowl Championship Series after it was proven the executive had overseen an illegal campaign donation scheme and doled out free tickets to politicians.
Tributes poured in Saturday night, including from Republican Gov. Doug Ducey, who said “Arizona honors his life and years of public service.”
"Our thoughts and prayers are with his wife Marlene and five children,” Ducey said in a statement.
Former Gov. Jan Brewer, also a Republican, said “Grant stood with me through many battles.”
“We didn’t agree on everything, but he always fought for, defended and cheered for me,” she tweeted. “An honorable public servant who I will deeply miss.”
Woods grew up in metro Phoenix and graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Occidental College in 1976. He earned a law degree from Arizona State University in 1979.
Woods left the Republican Party shortly after McCain's 2018 death, furious and dismayed by Trump's treatment of his longtime friend and the party's direction. He considered a run for U.S. Senate in 2020 to try to unseat then-Sen. Martha McSally and help to be a foil to Trump, but decided his status as a former Republican would have been a liability in the crowded Democratic primary field. McSally eventually lost to now-Sen. Mark Kelly.
“Grant Woods was an Arizona original who fought every day to better our state," said state Rep. Reginald Bolding, the Democratic minority leader. “He dedicated his life to public service and was a constant voice of reason when we needed it most.”
In addition to his legal and political work, Woods was a longtime fundraiser for charities. He founded the Mesa Boys and Girls Club, the Mesa Education Foundation and the Mesa Arts Academy. He also was an aspiring playwright.
In addition to his wife, he's survived by five children. Services are pending.
“I am so proud of the man he was, public servant, advocate for the everyday person, lover of music and stories and sports,” said his wife, a former television news anchor. "He made me a better person. I can’t even fathom our lives without him. But we are strong, and a close family and we will work hard to honor his life.”