‘Engaged’ is a word that is very familiar to Gov. Doug Ducey. Although still in his freshman year as Arizona’s 23rd governor, his accomplishments so far are quite impressive—a fiscally balanced budget, strengthened trade relations with Mexico, decreased regulations and improving the perception of Arizona as a great place to relocate, live, work and do business.
In between focusing on other priorities such as creating jobs, growing the economy and drafting a bold K-12 reform package, Ducey has been strongly advocating for community development efforts, economic development, growing and retaining Arizona businesses, and championing for limited government.
Recently, Ducey was the featured keynote speaker at the Chamber’s Premier Leadership Series event where he answered some questions regarding education reform, the pace of government and he also provided insights on his vision for moving Arizona forward.
1. You’ve been quoted as saying that you would strongly favor government to move at the speed of business. How do you change that mindset and make that vision transformative to state government?
I believe it’s a cultural shift in terms of state government. A leader’s job is to make changes and improve things. There was no one during the election cycle who said to me ‘Maintain the status quo…we like everything just as it is.’ So yes, I want to have that culture in state government. As in business, you set that vision of opportunity for all and then you chart a course. But after that, the most important thing you can do is pick the people. So in terms of the folks we’ve selected on our senior staff and the new agency heads, we are in a good place. I’m also happy and thankful for the good people inside government who were already there when I came into office and want to make changes and improvements. Together, we can reform this government and make it more effective. It’s a cultural change. And you know it by the company you keep. Our moms told us that when we were kids and it’s true when you’re the governor, too.
2. You’ve been on the job for nine months, is it what you thought it would be? What, if any, surprises did you encounter as you entered into public office?
So it’s been great so far and I’m loving it. But I don’t think it’s something that you should do your whole life. I feel very fortunate to be able to have had a career in the private sector and then be able to apply those skills in the public sector. I have a to-do list that I like to work off of and it consists of plans and priorities and that’s how I’ve been working for the last 30 years. As governor, the list consists of plans, priorities, emergencies and distractions. And there are those things you have to deal with everyday such as media requests. And then the very serious things like freeway shootings, flash floods or a prison riot. As I have said to my team, we have to deal with the emergencies. It’s all a part of my job. But we want to make sure we’re moving the plans and priorities forward at the same time.
3. Let’s talk about your education funding proposal that you’re going to move forward to the Legislature. How does this measure what you’re doing with the Classrooms First initiative?
I think the most reasonable concern that I’ve heard about our funding plan is that we need to reform the funding formulas first. Well I would have to disagree with that. We have a great group of people who are working on these funding formulas. At the same time, kids are currently back in school. So this might be a more aggressive, action-oriented agenda than people are used to seeing from the governor. But I think it’s necessary. So what I’d say is that we can do both. So funding will go into the base formula that bests supports the students and the teachers in the classroom and we’re going to find better ways to do it and we’ll do this in our next legislative session. But we shouldn’t wait on that. We should move these dollars forward. I think we need to address education in more ways than one…the reforms and then the measurement of the results.
4. Education reform is a high priority. What other legislative proposals do you see coming down the pike?
You could probably predict some of the ideas that we’ll put forward. And it will be ideas that are supportive of the business climate in Arizona. A frustration for me is how good we are at education in so many parts of the state. I sometimes hear a business leader say ‘why would a business move to the state of Arizona where a kid can’t get an education?’ and I hope that we would really push back hard on a statement like that. Why? Because the state of Arizona has three of the top 10 public high schools in the nation. No other governor in the country has that bragging right. So we know how to educate a child in our state and we do it better than anyone else in many places. The problem is that although there are many children in metropolitan Phoenix receive their high school diplomas and head off to top colleges, there’s a kid walking behind them who doesn’t know their multiplication facts or can’t compose a paragraph. And that’s not just an Arizona issue…that’s an American K-12 issue that’s happening in every state in our country. So we’re putting our best foot forward to solve the issue. Ultimately, the solution has to be in combination with the education establishment and with the parents in the state.
5. Arizona continues to strengthen its relationship with Mexico. How does this help the business community and the image of Arizona?
We’re open to further building and strengthening Arizona’s relationship Mexico because it not only helps the business community, but it also helps to improve the image and rebranding of our state. As the largest city in the state and the capital, Phoenix has always been a place where folks are welcome. It’s important to make certain that the other 49 states and that our largest trading partners see Arizona from the state we know, which is a very warm and inviting place where people come to climb the economic ladder, to raise a family, to build a business, to get a great education to retire and to live in safety. Our quality of life and our attractiveness from an economic perspective are also factors to growing our state. So we’ll continue to work on building a better relationship with Mexico.
As far as the image of Arizona, it’s important to identify and halt bills that could potentially drive away business and discourage trade. It’s as much work to get good ideas passed as it is to stop bad ideas. Events like the Super Bowl and the national championship, the NCAA tournament, the Phoenix Open and the Barrett-Jackson auction are all real opportunities for us to positively profile our state. We should use that to our advantage to let people know who we are as a state and to solidify the reputation that we want them to know.