The governors of Sonora and Arizona said they are not going to let the rhetoric of the presumed Republican presidential contender get in the way of their efforts to expand the cross-border economy.
In an interview Friday with Capitol Media Services, Sonora Gov. Claudia Pavlovich said she is trying to build a “mega-region” with Arizona designed to attract companies interested in doing business on both sides of the border. She said that means more trade, more tourism and more emphasis on convincing businesses that the border is not a barrier but instead simply separates two halves of a whole.
Yet all that comes amid statements by Donald Trump calling Mexican immigrants “rapists” and saying he will build a wall along the border “and make Mexico pay for it.” Pavlovich said she is not blind to all that.
“We have to overcome all the obstacles that are before us,” Pavlovich said. “Gov. (Doug) Ducey and myself will overcome all the obstacles that we see in front of us.”
Ducey, who has agreed to back Trump as his party’s nominee, said the candidate’s rhetoric is just something that has to be dealt with.
“There are certain political realities we need to be aware of,” he said of the presidential campaign and the possibility that Trump could be the next occupant of the White House. The trick, said Ducey in his own interview with Capitol Media Services, is not letting those comments and the political race get in the way.
“If we focus on what the goal is, what are objectives are in terms of growing the economy, having safer communities, improving tourism and trade, we can work around those,” he said.
The pair were at the meeting this past week of the Arizona-Mexico Commission, an annual event that brings together political, business and civic leaders from both countries to discuss ways of improving the economy of both states. But this isn’t their first meeting.
Ducey has made smoothing relations with Sonora a priority since taking office last year. And he has specifically tried to heal over what has at times been a heated relationship between his predecessor, Jan Brewer, and officials south of the border.
That goes beyond Brewer’s 2010 decision to sign SB1070, designed to give state and local police more power to detain and arrest those believed to be in this country illegally. Brewer, who continues to revel in her reputation built on her opposition to illegal immigration, also issued an executive order in 2012 denying Arizona driver’s licenses to those brought to this country illegally as children.
Even at her own last Arizona-Mexico Commission meeting in 2014, Brewer made a point of talking about illegal immigration and flailing the federal government for flying migrant families and unaccompanied children into Arizona after processing facilities in Texas were overwhelmed. Yet Guillermo Padres, at the time the governor of Sonora, instead chose to talk about ensuring the safety and civil rights of those detained.
By contrast, Ducey has made special efforts to build ties with Sonora and specifically with Pavlovich.
This is not their first meeting. He attended her inauguration; she has visited Phoenix before.
“I think the relationship with Mexico, the relationship that I’ve built with Gov. Pavlovich in Sonora has been a positive,” Ducey told Capitol Media Services.
He said trade between the Arizona and Mexico, much of which goes through and is attributed to Sonora, has increased by $1 billion during the past 12 months.
“That’s an excellent start,” Ducey said, with Mexico being the state’s largest trading partner.
The Eller School of Business at the University of Arizona puts Arizona exports to Mexico last year at $9.2 billion, with imports of $7.6 billion.
“So it’s incumbent for me to build this relationship and to build up our economy,” Ducey said. “And I think that’s a benefit to both of us.”
Trump, said Ducey, is just a diversion.
“What I try to do is prioritize what’s most important,” the governor said. That includes growing the economy.
Ducey, however, has not ignored the public safety aspects of being along the border.
Earlier this year, he asked lawmakers to provide an extra $31.5 million for the Arizona Border Strike Force Bureau within the state Department of Public Safety, saying it would help fight those who smuggle drugs and people. Lawmakers provided $26 million.
Ducey acknowledged that some of the border issues, like immigration, transcend Trump.
“That’s a job for Washington, D.C.,” he said. “And that’s a job where we’ve seen zero leadership from both sides over the past 10 years.”
And does Ducey think Trump as president will change all that?
“I’m going to focus on my day job,” the governor responded.