Though he has served for several years on the National Rifle Association board of directors, Mills’ campaign for governor marks his first foray into public politics, and he often criticizes “the politicians” who got the state into a financial mess.
“When I look around at that and see the same old people looking to do the job… it looks to me like we’re going to need a different experience,” Mills said at the Tempe Republican Women’s Club’s candidate forum.
That experience, he says, is as a businessman who knows how to attract new jobs and revitalize the economy. Mills boasts that he has “signed the front side of a lot of paychecks,” and after more than three decades in telecommunications and other industries, the 66-year-old Paulden resident understands what businesses want, he says.
“I think it’s time that we had somebody who brings some business experience, brings some leadership, to help the Legislature get this train running on the track,” he said.
Mills decided to raise money the traditional way and avoid Clean Elections. He put $2 million of his own money into the campaign in January, triggering a lot of interest among politicos who questioned how much money the business mogul would be willing to spend. The big- ticket television ads he started airing in March provided some answers.
With 35 years of experience in the business world, Mills says Arizona needs to lower taxes to attract new businesses. He doesn’t just want to lower Arizona’s business property and income taxes, he wants to eliminate them altogether. And he says Texas, which has no capital gains or income taxes and has weathered the recession better than most states, is the model Arizona should follow when reconfiguring its tax structure.
“That property tax has got to be paid whether or not that business makes a profit or not. Right now, profits are way down,” Mills said.
“These two have got to be eliminated. Get rid of these two taxes, and then we will have a lot more interest.”
Mills speaks out against industry-specific incentives, such as the ones passed last year for solar companies. And he is opposed to the sales tax increase.
When the Legislature put the temporary sales tax on the ballot, they also approved a contingency plan to cut more than $900 million from the state budget. The contingency plan would take effect automatically if Proposition 100 fails, but Mills wants to implement the cuts immediately and without a decision by voters.
“The Legislature has a plan in place to cut a billion dollars if it doesn’t pass,” he said. “Why don’t they just cut the billion dollars? That’s kind of screwy.”
In his ads, Mills said he is willing to make the tough decisions needed to balance the budget without raising taxes. He hasn’t explained how he would do that without breaking federal rules or violating the state Constitution.
“We’ve got serious budget work yet to be done on future budgets that can be done by reducing spending. We don’t need to have any further tax increases,” he said.
Arizona spends enough on education, Mills said, but it doesn’t spend the money wisely. At a luncheon hosted by the National Federation of Independent Businesses, Mills said the state should build more charters schools and create more competition in public education.
Mills also said the state spends too much of its education budget outside of the classroom. For every teacher, he said, there is a non- teaching position on the books. He said there are similar problems in the state’s community college and universities.
“It’s not getting to the young people that are the purpose of the exercise,” Mills said of the money the state spends on education.
“They’re not the purpose of the exercise anymore. Somebody up in administration is the purpose, and that’s where our money is going.”
Mills refers to himself as a Marine who isn’t afraid to protect the border. He has said on several occasions that he supports sending the National Guard to the border to help stem the flow of illegal immigrations and violence. At recent forum in Tempe, however, he said that could be problematic for Arizona because there are so many National Guard troops on active duty overseas.
“I don’t know why we can’t have training missions all along the border, often. We need a presence,” Mills said.
Either way, he said, the state should keep pressuring the federal government to devote more money and resources to the border. In the meantime, Arizona should provide more resources to law enforcement, crack down on “sanctuary city” policies and ensure that illegal immigrants are not receiving any government benefits.
Mills said he has spent most of his life in the Episcopal Church, and said he lives by the golden rule.
Religion is a personal issue, he said, and doesn’t have any place in government. But, he said, “I don’t think a cross in the desert is going to hurt anybody.”
Other 2010 main GOP contenders’ profiles: