In the world of politics, full of polls and focus groups, “safe seats” and stacked districts, few people ever see fit to take a chance. That’s the opposite of business, where every day entrepreneurs put everything on the line in pursuit of success and happiness.
For the past six years I’ve served as the mayor of Mesa, which by some counts makes me a politician. In all that time, however, I strived to keep my businessman’s perspective. Every day in office, our team worked hard to bring leanness and efficiency to city government and to demonstrate a healthy respect for every last taxpayer dollar. As a CEO and as an elected leader, I’ve never shied away from taking measured risks.
That’s why on the morning of April 16th, I signed my name to a resignation letter and entered the Republican race for Governor of Arizona.
Is it a risk? Of course. As the pundits take joy in pointing out, we have a crowded field of GOP candidates, including some folks I consider friends. Already, I’ve been attacked by a “dark money” TV and mail campaign full of twisted half-facts and fiction. Surely that won’t be the last such smear I face moving forward. But here’s the thing: Arizona has serious issues ahead. Solving problems like how to best educate our children, how to reform Child Protective Services and how to attract high quality companies and high wage jobs will require calculated risks on our part, the same boldness demonstrated by iconic leaders like Ronald Reagan, Steve Jobs and Warren Buffet. I’m not putting myself in that league – not by a longshot – but their inspiration should remind us that you can’t solve problems by only following polls and parroting a few carefully scripted talking points.
On the eve of starting the campaign proper, I’ll confess to doing some looking back, at those six years in Mesa and what we accomplished, the risks that paid off. Naysayers shouted that the new Cubs Park wouldn’t pencil out. But the stadium is already paid for, without increasing taxes on Mesa citizens. The team’s first season drew a record crowd of more than 213,000 baseball fans. With the improved Riverview Park teeming with kids and parents, the Oakland A’s headed to HoHoKam Park next season and a new 180-room Sheraton Hotel rising, I feel certain we’ve created a winner, despite the odds.
The cynics also sniped at Mesa’s chances of landing a $2 billion Apple manufacturing facility and at the possibility of closing the $62 million budget deficit I inherited on my first day in office. The cynics were wrong, as they so often are. Today, we’re looking forward to 2,000 new quality jobs thanks to Apple. And Mesa ranks as the third-safest big city in America, with violent crime at a 40-year-low and property crimes down 19 percent. Did we take a risk by shaving the budget, cutting positions and asking our people to do more with less? We did, but through creativity and innovation, our risk paid off.
As a CPA for over 25 years, a lawyer and a father of three, I’m not a guy who takes crazy chances and “runs with scissors.” But as a CEO and an elected leader, I believe in overcoming fear, converting opportunities despite opposition and in the power of commitment to win out over complacency and ambivalence.
Yes, running for governor represents a risk. But it’s a risk I feel compelled to take in service to the state I love so much. Might I lose? Perhaps, but it won’t be for fear of a challenge.
- Scott Smith, former mayor of Mesa and a Republican candidate for governor.