By Peter Roff
There’s a battle underway in the West to determine who Arizona’s next governor will be. Among the crowded field of Republicans vying for the nomination is one who is already being talked about as a potential national leader, the kind of politician that can restore the public confidence in the GOP who, if he wins, will soon become one of those “names you know” whose future potentially involves some time in Washington.
Elected state treasurer in 2010, Doug Ducey has spent the last four years building a reputation for competent, consistent, conservative leadership on a range of issue. He was first attracted to politics by the same passions that generated the activism of the tea party: concerns about rising government indebtedness, reckless, out-of-control spending, rising taxes and the size and scope of government.
What made him unique was his business background, which served him and the people of Arizona well. As an entrepreneur, Ducey and a partner grew the Cold Stone Creamery ice cream shop from a single store to a chain with nearly 1,400 locations nationwide by the time they sold the business in 2007.
He’s not been afraid to take on difficult tasks, one of which involved his state’s Permanent Land Endowment Trust Fund. Upon taking office he discovered that the fund, which takes the funds generated anytime state lands are sold, with 93 percent of the annual returns used to fund K-12 education, was not operating to its maximum potential.
After initiating an asset allocation study to determine just why, in some years, local schools received generous distributions and, in others, virtually nothing he discovered there was a flaw in the education funding formula. He worked to produce needed reforms to the system that garnered broad, bipartisan support in the legislature and which voters approved via Proposition 118 in the 2012 election.
By applying sound business management principles to his state responsibilities, Ducey was responsible for what for Arizona taxpayers and children and teachers in public schools amounted to a “win-win” solution.
His efforts didn’t stop there, however. He’s been a fighter on behalf of the taxpayers, as his efforts as the leader of the opposition to Proposition 204, which would have permanently extended a temporary sales tax, makes clear. Back in 2010, in the midst of the recession that hammered state governments from Maine to California, Arizona voters were persuaded to approve a ballot measure enacting a temporary three-year 1 percent hike in the state sales tax to help close the gap between revenue and spending. Shortly before it was due to expire some of the politicians in the state capital, the teachers and other public employees, and some of the developers who are dependent on state support of their projects, reached the unsurprising conclusion that this tax increase had been a good thing for Arizona and should be made permanent, with the proceeds largely directed into public education – but with no reforms and no additional oversight associated with it.
After a complicated road that included a stop before the Arizona Supreme Court, the petition to make the tax permanent made its way onto the ballot in August 2012, just weeks before the it would go before the voters and without any opposition organized against it. It was expected to pass, as most measures to fund education do, and was registering support in the low 60s at the outset of the campaign. Ducey stepped up, took charge and led the campaign against the measure. He raised more than $1.8 million to fund the opposition to it, crisscrossed the state debating its supporters and, in as much as anything can be a “one man show” in American politics these days, became the principal advocate for voters who believed that “temporary tax increases” should be just that – temporary.
To the surprise of the political establishment in both parties, but not to Ducey, the initiative to make the temporary 1 percent sales tax increase permanent was crushed, going down 64 percent to 36 percent. As a result of his efforts and of others who worked against the ballot measure, the tax expired in May 2013 like it was supposed to and Arizona taxpayers saved an estimated $1 billion a year.
With a record like that it’s not surprising that Ducey has attracted national attention. Nor is it surprising that local political reporters see him as a man with a future. One, Mike Sunnucks of the Phoenix Business Journal described him as “the one bridge between the conservative and business wings of the GOP.”
Ducey, who also has the support of social conservatives, is that rare politician in the Reagan model who knows how to unify the GOP and win support from Democrats for good ideas that benefit everyone. In a party that too often has a habit of eating its own, of polarizing and paralyzing the electorate through poor campaign tactics and careless rhetoric, Arizona’s current treasurer and probable next governor has shown he has the skills to assemble coalitions that can win. He has learned well the lesson that no matter how good a campaign’s tactics are, you have to give the voters something worth voting for. Doug Ducey is one of the GOP’s rising stars in the west, a man who deserves all the attention he is soon going to get.