Gov. Jan Brewer is taking a page right out of former Gov. Fife Symington’s playbook. And why not? It worked.
Symington carried out a successful re-election campaign in 1994, primarily on the basis of economic development and retaining, attracting and creating jobs. The Republican governor relied heavily on the Arizona Department of Commerce to attract new businesses to the state and to assist existing companies in their efforts to expand.
His key strategist was Chuck Coughlin president of HighGround, a public affairs consulting firm. Doug Cole, senior vice president of government affairs at HighGround, was Symington’s press secretary. And Jay Heiler, now a public affairs consultant, served as Symington’s chief of staff.
Coughlin and Cole are the lead strategists in Brewer’s uphill struggle to win a full term this year, and Heiler appears to be working, in one form or another, for Brewer’s campaign.
In her State of the State address on Jan. 11, Brewer focused on job creation; she mentioned the words “job” or “jobs” 22 times.
Politicians know that in most elections people vote their pocketbooks.
In good times, they tend to go with whoever got them there or who can keep the good times rolling. In bad times, they try to figure out who has the best chance of restoring good times.
As the state grapples with a devastating recession, Brewer predicted that more state government jobs will be lost, and services will be curtailed or eliminated. Saying that no one present in the House of Representatives chamber that day had done more for job growth than she has, Brewer subsequently launched into her economic development accomplishments and goals.
The governor introduced officials of two solar energy firms that have moved to Arizona recently, and said the state needs “to do more to unshackle our job creators.” She cited steps she has taken, including the formation of a Governor’s Jobs Cabinet and the Governor’s Commerce Advisory Council, as evidence that she’s serious about jobs. The advisory council, under the leadership of sports icon Jerry Colangelo and Commerce Department Director Don Cardon, “will transform the Department of Commerce into an engine for job creation,” Brewer said.
That’s the same Commerce Department that some Republicans have been targeting for elimination. It’s also the same agency, though considerably leaner due to layoffs, retirements and other administrative moves, that was closest to Symington. There is no question that the Commerce Department played a key role in Symington’s successful re-election campaign.
Some lawmakers, especially Democrats, considered Jim Marsh, the Department of Commerce director at the time, a cheerleader for Symington. Indeed, he touted Symington’s attributes every chance he had. Marsh also ran an extremely efficient Commerce Department.
Efforts to attract new businesses and help existing companies expand were paramount. Recruitment trips were made to major cities, including Chicago and New York and to targets in California, often in partnership with the Greater Phoenix Economic Council. International offices were maintained in Mexico, Europe and the Far East, seeking companies that would consider relocating to Arizona or finding markets for Arizona businesses.
Every time a company agreed to move to Arizona or expand its presence in the state – and if Commerce had a hand in it – the agency put out a press release laced with Symington quotes. If the expansion was big enough, the Commerce Department and the Governor’s Office staged a press conference or media event to hail the creation of more jobs.
Media events were approved by Marsh and the governor’s top advisers, including Coughlin, Cole and Heiler.
The Commerce Department executive staff led by Marsh regularly toured the state to meet with local elected and economic development officials. Those visits, often packaged around a lunch, gave locals a feeling that they had a direct line to the Commerce Department and therefore to the governor.
Democrats cringed every time they saw a newspaper article or TV report touting another business expansion or relocation. Symington’s campaign no doubt was aided by programs run by the Commerce Department, such as a popular one for job training. It’s not surprising that Brewer, in her State of the State address, announced that she will allocate $10 million of federal stimulus money specifically for job training.
Symington handily defeated Democrat Eddie Basha by nearly 93,000 votes, 52.5 percent to 44.3 percent. Whether Brewer can parlay a campaign heavy on job creation into a victory celebration depends in large part on the job she does pulling Arizona out of a crippling economic slump.
– Don Harris is copy editor and a reporter for the Arizona Capitol Times. He was communications director for the Arizona Department of Commerce during a portion of Gov. Fife Symington’s administration.