It was 12:30 on Monday afternoon, and the large room at the back of Gurley Street Grill was packed with people wanting to see and hear from Arizona State Treasurer Doug Ducey, candidate for Governor. Actually, there weren't enough chairs and tables, so extras had to be brought in.
Ducey's message seemed to resonate with the crowd. The event was sponsored by local attorney Alex Vakula and his wife, Maureen. Alex was Ducey's roommate in college, so they've been friends a long time. Justin and Angela Scott, Dave and Monica Cross and Matthew Perry joined the Vakulas in sponsoring the lunchtime event.
Ducey spoke for a few minutes, and then answered questions:
After the lunch event, Ducey sat down for an interview at Wildflower Bread Company.
Doug Ducey is known for being the Arizona State Treasurer. However, many people don't know he ran for, and won an election, when he was much, much younger.
"It was homeroom representative," Ducey said with a grin. "Yes. I did win, I represented 5A."
That was his only venture into politics until he ran for Treasurer in 2010. "I was 46 years old. I spent time in between in the real world. And the real economy."
Now, with almost one full term under his belt, Ducey is running to be Arizona's next governor. Why not run for re-election as Treasurer?
"I thought I cleared the tables for Republicans. There're no Democrats running on the other side," he replied. "So we will definitely have a Republican Treasurer. And this is the first open seat for governor that we've had in 12 years."
(Actually, there is a Democrat running for Treasurer now. Democrat Gerard Davis is running as a write-in candidate. But, that's another subject.)
A Ducey Approach to Government
Ducey continued, "I've learned an immense amount about state government and public policy. But where the action is, is in the governors office. I've been a chief executive, and I've been in the private sector and I want to bring that energy and fresh thinking and businesslike approach to the governor's office."
So, will Ducey want to run the government like a business? Not exactly, he explained. "The challenges of working in the government are unique, but there are businesslike approaches. Government is not a business. I'm not one of those conservatives that say, 'Hey run it like a business.'"
He stopped, then repeated one of the phrases he uses frequently on the campaign trail. "Businesses are supposed to grow, businesses are supposed to make a profit. That's not what government does."
Then Ducey explained how his business experience will be of value to him as Governor. "The idea of how you work with people, how you set goals and objectives, how you hold yourself and your team accountable, how you work within a budget, how you tighten your belt to live within your means, how you make decisions to adjust, depending on the changing environment - those are all things you have to do any business climate of that apply to government."
When Governor Brewer is determined to do something, she is known for being feisty. Can Ducey bring the level of determination and 'feistiness' to the table if he thinks the issue is important enough?
He nodded. "I think I'll be feisty when I need to be. Governor Brewer came into office in the middle of real crisis. Our next governor comes in at a time of real opportunity. Governor Brewer has led, she has made decisions and oftentimes she was given two bad options, not a good option versus a bad option. I think the idea of the role of a chief executive is to lead, is to govern. To pick the people, check the course, set the direction. At the same time I want to stand on the shoulders of what Gov. Brewer has already done."
"I'm not here running on the issues of the past. I'm here running on what's possible for the future. But I think Governor Brewer set some good examples," Ducey said.
Ducey stopped to look at his coffee cup, and slipped off subject for a second. "This is great packaging, this is unbelievably good packaging," he said, as he admired the Wildflower Bread Company coffee cup, letting his retailer roots shine through for a very brief moment.
Asked about immigration, Ducey quickly returns to discussing his positions on issues important to the state. "I think that a leader needs to set a vision of what they want for the state. They need to communicate the plan of what can be done, and this is an issue in the last six weeks which has risen to the top of every room that I go into. If you look at it coming from the standpoint that the federal government's first job is to protect its citizens. Barack Obama has failed Arizona and America. What happened at the Brian Terry dinner was instrumental in that in talking with Mrs. Terry and Brian's sister and brother, and what Sue Krentz has been through at her Arizona ranch on the Southern border. These are stories that are unique to our state."
Ducey obviously isn't impressed with the Obama administration efforts to deal with the immigration issue. "We need to do much more than putting signs in the deserts that puts the cost and the action back on the states. So whatever it is in terms of fencing, satellites or new technology; also working within our state budget to reorganize and restructure the Department of Public Safety and law-enforcement, use assets like RICO funds to partner with County prosecutors and county sheriffs. These are all things that we will do. The Ducey administration will do all things that the governor can do to address immigration. But in two years our national nightmare is going to be over, we're going to have a new president. And at some point don't you think our federal government will kick in and care about an open and porous border in a post-9/11 world?"
Ducey added, "I will do everything under the law that a governor can do, including using the National Guard. I don't want to go on any wildlife fantasies. I want to spend taxpayer dollars as if they're taxpayer dollars. As far as sending out IOUs to the federal government to be paid, I would like to partner with the federal government to resolve these issues and have them pay their fair share for what is their responsibility on our southern border."
Ducey also recognizes the importance of Mexico as an economic partner. "I almost see them [these issues] as mutually exclusive. Security is an issue that we can talk about how it affects us, in terms of drug cartels and human trafficking in that 80 mile stretch of the Tucson sector. Of course we should embrace our largest trading partner. we have a real gift in our Nogales Mariposa Port. It is world class in the amount of trucking and trade, and tourism that comes through that Corridor. I would like to expand that and maximize that. These are the good guys, let's deal with the good guys. Of course we want to have more of that."
Ducey looks at education from a variety of perspectives. On one hand, he's a dad and has three boys. On the other hand, he's been in business and wants educated young people in the workforce. "My boys go to Catholic schools just like I went to. It's something passed down through the generations. But when you talk K-12, you're talking about all kids in all schools. I'm not somebody that likes to separate out between public charter and traditional public K-12. These are all our kids, and at some point they all enter the public working world or go on to higher education. So we should be concerned about the education they're getting everywhere. I am supportive of public charter schools, I'm supportive of parental choice. I believe mom and dad know a lot better we're Junior should go to grade school than some bureaucrat who decides through ZIP Code lines or school district lines."
As far as the budget goes, Ducey stated, "I think that with University expenditures, we're almost up to 50% of our total budget. In our statewide budget that goes into total education. It's critical that we get results for nearly $4 billion, the taxpayer assets. I think that sometimes people confuse with the measure of success in K-12 education. Spending where the measure of success, Newark New Jersey; Washington DC; Detroit Michigan; Chicago Illinois, would be the finest K-12 district in the country except they're not. They're among the worst. We know how to educate a child here in Arizona, the question is are we going in the right direction?"
After the report cards were released earlier this week, Ducey talked about the current status of schools in Arizona. "I just see schools trending towards B-schools and are the B-schools trending towards a schools and I see A schools turning towards excelling. There's no substitute in this equation for committed principals and teachers in the classroom. They're the ones that make the difference inside our schools, and I'd like to see some flexibility in our funding formulas so that we are rewarding what works, and that we're properly sourcing and finding success. And that we're stopping the nonsense where it's not working, and applying those assets so that parents can get their children to a place they will enjoy growth in their seat time within the classroom."
"I want to see our universities continue to grow and excel," Ducey said. "We as a state only have three statewide universities: Arizona State, University of Arizona, and NAU. We also have some alternative models here, in Grand Canyon and University of Phoenix. The state of education is changing and all of it is a net positive. It costs too much today for kids to go to college; many of these kids are graduating with mortgag-sized debts. They're unable to find a job in the real economy. Something is broken here. I think it's important that we continue improvement from kindergarten to the college level. The other big issue that we have at our universities, is that many of these kids arrive at the University with a diploma that says they're ready to do college work but they're not able to do college work and they spent three, four, five semesters in remediation. Learning the things that they should have learned in the previous 4 to 12 years."
Ducey was impressed at Ash Fork's accomplishments. "Without a doubt I think that small school different districts can make a difference in our students lives. I can probably, without knowing much about Ash Fork guess that they have an excellent superintendent, with excellent principals and teachers inside their districts if they're getting that kind of results as the number one school district out of nearly 250 school districts in the state of Arizona. We have some big districts that are excellent. And we have some big districts that are very poor. It's all about leadership at that a decision-making level."
Jobs & Opportunity
Ducey often says that he wants his campaign to be known for jobs and opportunity. "Every question that I get asked about the economy, is often looking for more resources and more funds. There's really no substitute for a growing economy. When that's happening, the economic recovery is really the horse, and everything else is the cart."
"So when we're having more sales-tax transactions taking place at this fine establishment we're here at today, and more people moving to the state, more people being hired, and more people getting raises, these are all things that build up our tax profits. So I look at other states that do things better than the state of Arizona, one of them is Texas. They have a preferable tax code, they have minor regulation, they have lower liability and litigation on the taxpayer and small business person. It's a more attractive place to do business. I'd like to realign that in the state of Arizona, and I want to be the best spokesperson for the state of Arizona. Regardless of what people think of Rick Perry as a presidential candidate, he has been an excellent governor for the state of Texas. Hey, Texas has thrived. We don't have to talk companies into leaving California - they're leaving by the hundreds. We are already Chicago's favorite suburb. These people are coming here, but their businesses are not. The good news is Rick Perry is retiring in November, 2014; the good news is that hopefully Doug Ducey will be taking office. Arizona is a better place to live than Texas and I'll make the case to these business owners that they should bring that there companies here."
Well, how exactly will he make the case to migrating business owners? Ducey grinned. "I will reluctantly go to California to try to bring new businesses here. I do think you have to focus, just like when we were building Coldstone Creamery, we had to go meet with potential franchisees to make the case to look at the location. I want to show business owners what their life looks like in Arizona. I also wanted them to meet other business owners, and civic leaders, and have them look around and say, 'Why would we go anywhere else?' We know everyone we need to know. It's obviously a better experience here, I mean most of the people eating lunch here were born somewhere else. And they came here because they want to live here, and they don't want to move. We should take advantage of that, it's a special thing in our in our state."
Of course, the economy issue goes hand in hand with the education issue. Is Ducey concerned that Arizona graduates can't find a job in this state?
"Absolutely. I'm concerned when somebody graduates from one of our universities, I'd like for them to have a option, and I think that's what a college graduate wants. Oftentimes I'll run into people at dinner, waiting on tables and they're a recent college graduate. Of course this sort of thing can happen in a down economy, but this is been going on for six years. This is a concern not only in the state of Arizona but across the country. This is a terrible economy, that is just barely recovering. From the woes we were experiencing the 08-09 down time. Very few jobs are being created, we have a great place to live, work, play, recreate, retire, visit and many places to get an education. We should kickstart our economy. Our college graduates should have more options."
Does Ducey think we're entering another recession? If so, how will he handle it? "The definition of a recession is technically two quarters of negative growth. As the state treasurer, I don't see that. I've seen us have a quarter, and then a pick up, I think the last quarter was nearly 4% growth, but I think everyone would say this is a miserable recovery. Our recoveries in past recessions, we have boomed out of them, and Arizona has come back faster and stronger than other states. As Governor I'll have to be prepared for any situation. That's the reason I've been so outspoken about having a reserve account and I'm proud today that we have $454 million dollars in our reserve account earning interest; today we have $2.4 billion cash in our checking account; we are on a much better financial firmness than we were in 2009, but we're certainly not out of the danger zone. We will live within our means in a Ducey administration; Our growth will never outstrip inflation or or population growth and that's the best thing. Just like any family or small business, you can't spend more than you bring in or you're going to be in trouble in short order."
Is Ducey interested in purchasing the Capitol buildings back? "I'm hoping to buy the Capitol building back over time, restructure the payment that's being made. I don't want to spend our entire checking account and savings account. There's never been a better time in our lifetime in which to have debt. I wish we had less debt, we're paying it down slowly in the state. We're going in the right direction, quite the opposite of our federal government. The best way to pay off that debt is to get our economy growing and have job creation, and we'll pay that debt off in a responsible time frame."
"We are in August now, and early voting has started," Ducey said. "We're less than three weeks away until election day. I'm my running on my real world record. I built a company, now I want to shrink the government and grow the economy. Very proud of Cold Stone Creamery, we grew it to over 1440 ice cream stores, operating in 25 countries around the world today. I want to bring that entrepreneurial spirit, energy and enthusiasm to our state and reform government. I will stand upon my record as state treasurer, where I managed over $12 1/2 billion dollars of taxpayer assets that by any measure are growing faster today and are in better condition. I want to take the plan that I put on DougDucey.com, and kickstart our economy. Really reform the K-12 education system, focusing on outcomes inside the classroom, and get Arizona out from underneath the sum of Barack Obama and the federal government. While securing our southern borders here in Arizona."
Will Ducey support whoever wins the Republican primary? "Doug Ducey is running his campaign as hard as he can to win this election and make his case to voters all across the state. In every room and every county. There are a lot of good people in this race, and whoever is the victor on August 27, will have the support of Doug Ducey, so that we have a Republican in the Governor's office when the election happens in early November."
And who does Ducey support to take his place as Arizona Treasurer? "I've got my hands full with this governor's race, so we'll let the voters decide. I think that the treasurer's office is an important place because it's the corner of Main Street and Main for both states and federal spending. If we're ever going to get out of this hole we're in as a state and as a country, we've got to get our spending under control. We're not in this situation because people are taxed too little, we're in the situation because government is spending too much."