Owen “Buz” Mills is hoping the mystery that generated so much interest in his gubernatorial campaign will now give way to support for a candidate who can apply the lessons of the business world to a state government he believes is badly in need of strong leadership.
Mills formally filed as a candidate in the 2010 governor’s race on Jan. 27, launching a campaign based on his decades of success in the private sector. The 66-year-old Paulden resident has never run for office.
He told the Arizona Capitol Times that he decided to enter the race because doesn’t believe any of the other candidates for the Republican nomination can match his experience as a businessman who has created thousands of jobs and earned millions of dollars.
“I look around at the folks who are out there running, and you don’t have an executive in the race,” Mills said. “Everybody’s an administrator. The governor came up through the administrative ranks. The treasurer is an administrator. The other folks that are piddling around out there in the race, they all come from administration.”
After starting out in the construction industry, Mills founded Talbot Communications in Maryland, which developed what he said were some of the first 9-1-1 emergency systems in the country. He founded a number of other communications companies, sold them and then moved to Arizona 10 years ago to take over Gunsite, a tactical firearms training school in Paulden.
Like the other candidates who are challenging Gov. Jan Brewer in the Republican primary, Mills is opposed to the governor’s call for a temporary 1-cent sales tax increase to help balance the budget. He said he would balance the budget – which still faces a $1.4 billion deficit in the current fiscal year and a $3.2 billion deficit in fiscal year 2011 – without a tax hike, but did not explain how he would do so.
“If I had a magic wand, I would just wave my wand and it would be done,” Mills said. “The bottom line is we’ve got to get our expenditures in line with our revenues, and there are a lot of different ways of doing it.”
In a campaign video on his new Web site, Mills promotes himself as “the strongest conservative running for governor,” and proclaimed himself a candidate who would oppose tax increases, cut spending, secure the border and promote pro-life and pro-traditional marriage values.
Mills said his focus would be to balance the budget, create more jobs and get government “out of the way of business and families.”
Prior to the launch of his campaign Web site on Jan. 25, Mills had been completely unknown, even to most political insiders at the Capitol. The only way to even see what he looked like was to watch an online video he made several years ago during a campaign to become an National Rifle Association board member.
He grabbed some attention when he wrote a $2 million check to his campaign in early January.
But the mystery may end up being an advantage.
“That’s probably a positive thing to be an unknown quantity,” he said. “I’m being overwhelmed with phone calls (from people saying), ‘Come talk to me. Come talk to my group. We want to see you. We want to know what you look like, make sure you don’t have one eye in the middle of your forehead.’”
Rep. Andy Tobin knows Mills better than most others at the Capitol. Tobin, a Paulden resident, lives near Mills and has known him for seven or eight years.
Tobin, the House majority whip, said he thinks Mills will be a formidable candidate. Mills is largely unknown now, but Tobin said that could change quickly. After all, he said, because of term limits, many of the state’s most prominent politicians were unknown just a few years ago.
“Arizona likes to see new faces. They like to see people who are not in politics, especially nowadays,” Tobin said. “They like to see someone who is a performer. And it’s hard to argue that Buz Mills has not been a performer.”
Sen. Steve Pierce, a Republican from Prescott, also knows Mills. Few voters know much about Mills, but that can change quickly, he said.
“When you have the money to do it, you can buy name recognition very quickly,” he said.
Mills referred to the $2 million loan he made to his campaign as seed money to help make him a bit less unknown to voters. He wouldn’t put a dollar figure on the amount of his own money he’s willing to spend in the campaign, but said he’s willing to do, “whatever we have to do to win this thing.”
Mills is the fourth Republican to officially enter the race, along with Brewer, state Treasurer Dean Martin and former Arizona GOP Chairman John Munger. Democratic Attorney General Terry Goddard recently filed his candidacy as well.