Majority Leader Gowan proves that persistence pays off
Just about any political conversation with Rep. David Gowan eventually ends up at the beginning — on the documents that established the United States of America and the founding fathers who wrote them.
His love of history gives him the persistence that comes with studying men who undertook huge tasks against great odds. And Gowan has struggled against the odds himself. It took him three tries to win a seat in the House, and two tries to nail down the majority leader position, but his persistence paid off.
“I jumped in, greener than green, but with some values and ideals. And after losing, unlike some people who would have been disenchanted, I decided I’m going to continue and see how far I could go with this,” he said of his first run for office.
Gowan grew up in Stockton, Calif., and came of age during the Ronald Reagan administration — a time that he still reflects on fondly.
He moved to Arizona in 1993, earned his degree in social studies from the University of Arizona in 2003, and that same year founded the Cochise County Young Republican League with a friend. It was about that time that Gowan, a magazine distributor and karate instructor, decided to run for public office. Former state lawmaker Randy Graf had just jumped into the race for Arizona’s 8th Congressional District, leaving an open seat in the former Legislative District 30.
It took three elections, but in 2008, Gowan finally won a primary in the district with two open seats, and took his place in the Arizona House of Representatives.
With redistricting, he landed in the new District 14, one of the state’s three border districts, and the only one represented by Republicans. Gowan notes that is the busiest section of the U.S. border with Mexico for illegal immigrants and drug smugglers. He wants to figure out a way to stop the traffic and get the Tucson sector more in line with the Yuma sector, which he calls “pretty darn close” to secure.
As the leader of his caucus, Gowan takes a hands-off style of leadership instead of an out-front approach.
He sees himself as a manager of managers, and doesn’t try to make decisions for the caucus. He’s careful not to speak for the caucus before getting a solid pulse on his members’ positions on any given issue.
“I wanted to make sure we maintained our values, our principles that we’ve had since I’ve been there,” he said. “It’s for me to help get the majority message out as a whole.”
Majority Whip Gray takes an unlikely path to the Legislature
Though he’s only in his sophomore term in the House, Majority Whip Rick Gray has a long-term plan for the Legislature — to get lawmakers to set goals now for what they want to see in the state’s business climate and education system by 2020. It’s a plan he calls “2020 vision.”
And although he talks like a seasoned politician, just four years ago he considered the possibility of running for elected office about as seriously as taking a trip to the moon.
When Gray decided to retire from his plumbing business in Omaha, Neb., he and his wife Lisa bought a fifth-wheel RV to take out on the road. They planned to drive across the country, looking for the ideal place to spend their golden years.
But before they could take the rig out on the road, they received an invitation to visit friends in Arizona. They immediately fell in love with the state and decided to sell the RV and settle down in Sun City. He became involved in the local GOP, and was helping Rep. Debbie Lesko in her 2008 campaign when she asked if he had ever considered running for office himself.
“If somebody were to come up to you and say, ‘Are you planning to take a vacation to the moon next summer?’ That’s just ridiculous, that’s really the sense I had,” he said.
But he started thinking over Lesko’s question. Former Senate President Bob Burns hit his term limit in 2010, and Rick Murphy was moving up to the Senate, leaving an empty seat in the House. So Gray stepped into the race and won the primary election by about 800 votes.
He spent his first session working on the Commerce, Transportation and Ways and Means committees, but his real interest was in leadership, as it has been most of his life. Gray earned a degree in organizational leadership from Grace University, and at age 63, he is working on his master’s degree in the same subject from Crown College.
He said the Legislature tends to be reactive instead of proactive, and if he could accomplish one goal, it would be to have the caucus looking down the road several years before making any decision. He took the job as majority whip partly because he believes he will be better suited to get legislators to think about the type of business climate and education system they want in 2020 and work backward from there.
“When we truncate long-term thinking into short-term goals, we lose some perspective,” he said. “So looking farther down the road, instead of just tweaking, we will have more holistic reform. Instead of just patching here or there, we’ll be able to say we need to change this, or improve this, or accomplish this and these are the steps we can take.”
Asst. Dem Leader Gallego hoping for a voice in budget talks
Democratic Rep. Ruben Gallego spent his first term in the House fighting back against Republican supermajority with the only weapon he had at the time — his voice.
At 33 years old, Gallego has earned a reputation as one of the most vociferous members of the Legislature with his fiery speeches delivered consistently from the floor of the House to the Capitol lawn.
But he’s hopeful that this year, with increased Democratic numbers in both chambers, his party can become something more than the loyal opposition and watchdog for its constituents.
As assistant minority leader, Gallego is optimistic that this year Democrats can bring something to the table. His caucus will hold the votes necessary for some of the governor’s budget demands to become reality. And though he has bitterly opposed Republicans on almost everything in the past two years, he is welcoming an opportunity to work with the moderate wing of the GOP to form a bipartisan coalition on the budget.
“We are absolutely willing to work with Republicans in a bipartisan manner,” he said. “The problem is the way bipartisan has been redefined by the majority is — we give them all of our votes and they give us nothing in return for our constituents, and that’s not going to happen, it’s just not going to happen.”
Before he was fighting for education and social services at the Capitol, Gallego was fighting in Iraq in the Marine Corps. In military terms, he sees his assistant minority leader role as being like that of a sergeant. His job is to execute the plan and keep the Democratic caucus together.
And with 13 freshmen Democratic representatives, just getting his caucus oriented will be a challenge. His advice to the incoming freshmen is to stand up on the floor and voice their opinions on day one — just to get over their nerves.
Gallego’s father is from Mexico and his mother is from Colombia. He grew up poor in a big family, but earned a degree in international relations from Harvard University and is now the underperformer of the family, because he doesn’t have a master’s degree.
He first decided to run for office because he saw all the same political families running in his south Phoenix district and he didn’t think they were effective or helping the community.
At Harvard, he met his wife Kate, who is now running for Phoenix City Council. The irony of becoming a political family is not lost on him.
“I have no problem with people running against me. If you beat me, you beat me fair and square. What I do have a problem with is people being lazy, and any political family that thinks they can rest on their laurels,” he said. “You gotta work for it.”
House Democratic Whip Wheeler laments GOP shift to extremism
House Democratic Whip Rep. Bruce Wheeler’s first experiences with politics were in the tumultuous 1950s and ’60s in South America, where his American father worked as a geologist for oil companies while several governments underwent a coup d’etat.
He was born in Venezuela, the home of his mother, then moved to Peru, Colombia and Ecuador. He learned at an early age the importance of a stable democratic government in maintaining a robust working class and keeping the country and people from poverty.
He moved to the United States at age 18 and came to Arizona to earn his degree in international relations from the University of Arizona. At 26, after learning that his prosthetic eye would keep him from his goal of joining the Diplomatic Corps of the State Department, he did the next best thing and ran for the Arizona House of Representatives.
To Wheeler, the biggest change from his first term that started back in 1975, to the Legislature that he joined again in 2008, is that the partisan divide has expanded and those across the aisle have moved farther and farther to the right, he said.
“The extremism and ideology on the right was never there before,” he said. “Democrats and Republicans were able to work together, for instance, on university and education issues. At that time, Republicans were far more moderate and understanding of the need for an excellent public education system.”
He sees Democrats’ role at the Capitol as mostly pushing back against destructive Republican policies. But this year, with increased numbers in both chambers, he hopes Democrats can have a real role in the budget process and have something concrete to bring back to their constituents — such as expanding AHCCCS to cover people at
133 percent of the federal poverty level, and reintroducing funding to the Joint Technological Education Districts in Tucson.
Wheeler served on the Tucson City Council from 1987 through 1995. In 2006, he retired to work as a freelance journalist, visiting far-off places like Afghanistan.
He saw the struggles the region had with education, and when he returned to Arizona, he saw some of the same struggles. Schools were closing, education budgets were being cut and the education system as a whole was falling short. Wheeler decided to get back into elected office to continue the fight for adequate public education funding.
“I was in Afghanistan in 2009, and I saw the progress American aid money made in building schools and getting girls to go back to school… And I thought ‘Wow, that happens in a place like Afghanistan and here in Arizona we keep closing schools, having bigger classroom sizes and cutting curriculum,’” he said. “So I decided to get back involved.”