Ducey took short path from political obscurity to Ninth Floor

Jeremy Duda//January 9, 2015

Ducey took short path from political obscurity to Ninth Floor

Jeremy Duda//January 9, 2015

Doug Ducey is sworn in as Arizona’s 23rd governor by Arizona Supreme Court Chief Justice Scott Bales on Jan. 5 in Phoenix. (Photo by Ryan Cook/RJ Cook Photography)
Doug Ducey is sworn in as Arizona’s 23rd governor by Arizona Supreme Court Chief Justice Scott Bales on Jan. 5 in Phoenix. (Photo by Ryan Cook/RJ Cook Photography)

When Jan Brewer learned she would become Arizona’s 22nd governor in late 2008, few members of Arizona’s political establishment had ever heard of the man who would become the 23rd.

Most of Arizona’s governors in recent years had been longtime fixtures in Arizona’s political scene before they became governor, or in some cases, before they even won their first election. For Gov. Doug Ducey, the road to the Ninth Floor was far shorter, taking him from political cipher to gubernatorial heavyweight in just a few years.

Prior to 2007, Ducey had no involvement in Arizona’s political scene. He didn’t go to meetings. He’d never even written a check to a politician until 2007, when he gave $2,300 to U.S. Sen. John McCain’s presidential campaign.

That all started to change in 2008 when some friends asked Ducey to help raise money for McCain’s presidential run. He took his first steps on a journey that would culminate in his Jan. 5 inauguration as Brewer’s successor.

People close to Ducey and who were there when he began his foray into politics say he accomplished his  quick rise in the same way he built Cold Stone Creamery from a handful of stores into a global brand – through an intense commitment to learning everything he could and reaching out to people who could teach him. Years of business connections and a second-to-none Rolodex didn’t hurt either.

David Rauch, an attorney who represented Cold Stone Creamery for several years during Ducey’s tenure, said Ducey had long been interested in politics and policy, especially issues revolving around taxation, regulation and the Arizona business climate. But by the time he left the company in 2007, his experience in the political world was practically nonexistent.

“I would say he’s always been interested and passionate,” Rauch said.

Ducey’s introduction to politics came when some old friends at Hensley Beverage Company asked him to raise money for McCain. Ducey joined the finance committee on McCain’s Arizona leadership team and started collecting checks for Arizona’s favorite-son presidential nominee. He also started writing checks of his own, contributing to McCain, Congressman John Shadegg and congressional candidates Tim Bee and David Schweikert.

It was through his contributions to Shadegg that he came to know Sean Noble, a longtime aide to the congressman. Ducey and Noble became friends and after the 2008 election they started discussing the possibility of Ducey running for office.

“He had mentioned that, hey, I’ve done well, I’m a big believer in the free market and the American dream, I kind of feel like I want to give back a little through public service,” Noble said. “In 2009, he got pretty serious about wanting to give back, serve in some capacity.”

Ducey considered federal office – he lived in Shadegg’s district, and the eight-term congressman’s 2010 retirement opened the door for a run for his seat – but he thought a state-level, executive office would be a better fit. Initially, he considered running for governor, Ducey’s friends and associates say, but was talked out of seeking Arizona’s top office in his first campaign.

Arizona’s last few elections are replete with business people who went straight for the state’s top offices and failed, including one of Ducey’s main opponents in the GOP primary.

Noble was one of several people who urged Ducey to seek another office.  He put Ducey in touch with someone who had the personal experience to counsel him on the subject – former Colorado Gov. Bill Owens.

“There’s something to be said about running for something smaller and then running for something bigger. At the time, there was a pretty good example of that model, and that was Bill Owens,” Noble said.

Owens was a businessman and state legislator who got elected as Colorado’s state treasurer in 1994 and later used that position to launch a successful campaign for governor. He said he told Ducey the business and political worlds are very different and that jumping straight into a governor’s race would be a bad move.

“My advice … was that he should run for treasurer, and if he did have a desire to serve, use that experience to make the case for then being governor. That’s actually what I did,” Owens said. “You can either run as an outside businessman or you can run as an outside businessman who’s proven himself as state treasurer.”

Ducey said the “fatal conceit” of some business people who get into politics is they mistakenly believe that because they ran something in the private sector, it means they can automatically run something in the public sector. The people he talked with as he moved into the political world didn’t see that attitude with Ducey.

“Lots of business leaders who try to move into politics think that they are identical worlds,” Shadegg said. “And they’re not. And I think Doug understood that and appreciated that.”

Ducey took the advice from Owens and others to heart. He said he decided state treasurer was a good fit because, as a businessman, he’d be well-suited for an executive position that deals with finance.

The Treasurer’s Office also had another benefit that the Governor’s Office lacked – it was available. Brewer was seeking a full term as governor in 2010, and Treasurer Dean Martin decided to challenge her in the GOP primary rather than seek re-election.

Ducey told the Arizona Capitol Times during his 2014 campaign that if Martin had not jumped into the governor’s race, he may not have gotten involved in state politics.

“I saw that and thought, that’s an opportunity,” Ducey said.

Ducey’s friends and associates say he never takes on a new task half-heartedly. When he sets his sights on a goal, he goes all in, immersing himself in the issues and devouring as much information as he can. That’s the approach Ducey said he took when he first came on board with Cold Stone and was determined to expand.

“Doug’s a consummate student of every topic, every issue,” said Kevin Donnellan, who worked for Ducey for several years at Cold Stone and later worked for him at the Treasurer’s Office.

Ducey’s entry into the treasurer’s race was no different.

Rauch, the former Cold Stone attorney, recalled, “I remember him telling me stories about when he first graduated from ASU and was working for Proctor and Gamble, and he’d come home and sort of devour all kinds of business books, really just trying to understand what made things tick. He did the same thing when he decided to start getting involved in politics.”

Once he decided to run, Ducey set out to learn as much as he could, both about the political scene and about the Treasurer’s Office.

He got to know members of the congressional delegation, including Shadegg, then-U.S. Sen. Jon Kyl – who later became a co-chair of his gubernatorial transition team – then-Congressman Jeff Flake and McCain, Noble said. Ducey started attending legislative district meetings, fundraisers and other GOP functions, Noble said, and learned as much as he could from business associates who were part of the political world.

“There was a lot of work put into this and a lot of planning, as far as meeting with individuals, politicians, with party leaders. He was very disciplined and very systematic,” Noble said. “He just started to get kind of schooled on Arizona politics, Arizona government. And he was a really quick study.”

Ducey was also determined to learn as much as he could about the Treasurer’s Office and the issues it dealt with as well, friends say. He met with Martin, the outgoing treasurer, and reached out to many others who could educate him on the issues.

Alan Maguire, an economist and consultant, said Ducey called him out of the blue one day. He’d never met Ducey, but the aspiring politician asked to meet with him to discuss the Treasurer’s Office and the “public policy landscape” in general.

Since then, Ducey and Maguire have met every few months to discuss policy issues, the economist said. Sometimes, Maguire will recommend a book, and the next time they meet, Ducey will always talk with him about what he read in it.

“He thinks about, what do I need to know to be able to make a decision? What do I need to know to try to make the best decision? Where can I get that advice? Where can I get that information? It’s a very sort of methodical, very businessman-like approach,” said Maguire, now a member of Ducey’s transition subcommittee on the budget.

Ducey’s approach to the treasurer’s race, along with strong fundraising and a substantial amount of self-funding, paid off. After defeating a field of veteran GOP politicos in the primary, he notched a double-digit win over Andrei Cherny, the Democrats’ well-funded and well-connected nominee, in the general election.

By the time he was elected treasurer in November 2010, Ducey’s supporters were already buzzing about his prospects for the 2014 gubernatorial race.

The Treasurer’s Office isn’t generally viewed as a good stepping stone to the Ninth Floor. In fact, prior to Ducey, no Arizona state treasurer had ever become governor.

For nearly his first two years, Ducey kept a fairly low profile in an office that already has a pretty low profile to begin with. While Martin, his predecessor, was known for his boisterous and vocal style, Ducey kept his head down for most of his first two years in office.

In late 2012, Ducey finally started making some noise. During that election, he spearheaded the opposition campaign to Proposition 204, a ballot measure that would have permanently continued a temporary 1-cent sales tax increase that was set to expire the following year.

One longtime acquaintance of Ducey’s said the governor’s race was in the back of his mind when he got elected treasurer, but he wanted to make sure he enjoyed public office and was good at it before he decided on a gubernatorial run. By 2012, the acquaintance said, he knew he wanted to run, and the anti-Prop. 204 campaign was intended to set the stage for his upcoming governor’s race.

While he didn’t get much name ID from the campaign, despite appearing in television commercials, Ducey gained a lot of credibility with GOP activists and, with the defeat of Prop. 204, had an achievement that he could tout on the campaign trail, the source said. That same year, Ducey also championed Proposition 118, which restructured the way K-12 schools get funding from the state land trust.

When Ducey jumped into the governor’s race, he had years of connections to rely on as he built up a coalition of support and amassed millions for his campaign war chest.

Jason Rose, a Republican public relations consultant and early supporter of Ducey’s gubernatorial aspirations, said it was obvious that Ducey was an up-and-comer. He was likeable, was solidly conservative and had a backstory that appealed to the GOP base. But most importantly, Rose said, he had spectacular connections.

“He’s got a Rolodex at another level with business leaders and entrepreneurs that instantly gave him the financial resources to convey the first three elements that I just mentioned,” Rose said.

Those connections came from a lot of places. Multiple sources said Ducey benefited tremendously from his membership in the Arizona chapter of the Young Presidents Organization, a network of young business executives. It was with YPO that Ducey took his first trip to Washington, D.C., in 2008. Some who know Ducey said the role his membership in that organization played in his political rise has been vastly underappreciated.

Ducey is a member of the Phoenix Thunderbirds, another group that helped him build his connections. And after he got involved in politics, Ducey started attending conferences sponsored by the conservative industrialist Koch brothers, whose gatherings are filled with politically influential people.

The extensive Rolodex that Ducey built up through the business world, YPO and his entry into the political world helped make him a fundraising powerhouse in the 2014 election. He raised more than $4 million to go along with about $3.7 million in self-funding. His connections also helped bring in millions of dollars in support from independent expenditure committees, several of which were connected to Noble.

And those connections helped Ducey build a massive coalition of support from prominent Republicans. Within Arizona, Ducey surrounded himself with what Shadegg described as a “whole cadre of young conservatives here in town who found him open and solid philosophically and in it for the right reasons.”

Outside the state, he built up support from some of the biggest names in the Republican Party. One of the defining features of Ducey’s campaign was a cavalcade of endorsements from national Republican luminaries, including U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker.

Noble said it was Ducey’s hard work that got him those endorsements.

“Candidates don’t get endorsements based on references,” Noble said. “If you’re a candidate for governor, and you are seeking the endorsement of major political figures, that only happens because you’ve earned that endorsement.”

He added that Ducey’s many connections in the political world helped him get his foot in the door with those Republican stars. Those supporters reached out to major national figures they knew on Ducey’s behalf, which ensured that he could get on the phone with them. But once that happened, Ducey reached out and convinced them to back him. For many of those endorsements, the source said, Ducey was the only gubernatorial candidate who bothered to ask.

Donnellan, a colleague at Cold Stone and the Treasurer’s Office, said Ducey’s approach to building his coalition was similar to the one he used when building his business.

“Doug is a strategic planner. He knows who he needs to get to to open a door and create a new opportunity,” he said.