Gov. Doug Ducey finished the last session of his first term in office with a bang, overseeing a budget process that he threw a bomb into mid-session, all in an effort to avoid a historic teacher strike. The strike still happened, but Ducey is now happy to be labeled by some as the “education governor” after promising teachers a 20-percent raise by 2020. Ducey had other successes, and some failures, amid a session that went in every possible direction — from addressing the opioid epidemic to tackling sexual harassment at the Capitol.
I thought it was a big win this session. I thought is was a really positive session. I really think the last three and a half years have been very positive. This session started off with the special session of the Opioid Epidemic Act, which we were able to pass in four days with a unanimous, bipartisan support, so we thought that was a positive. I think the focus that we’ve had on education over the last four years, highlighted of course by accomplishments like Prop. 123 and this session, the extension of Proposition 301, was a victory. And then I would also give our team a lot of credit for being able to listen, and adapt to changing circumstances, which I think is part of the definition of leadership. Sometimes you’re able to set a vision out there and present the agenda and chart the course and run it the way you want to run it, and other times there are changing circumstances, and I think the best leaders and best teams adapt to those circumstances, make sure they understand what’s happening, and are able to provide a solution.
I see the proposal in April for a significant boost in teacher pay as a good example of adapting. What was the turning point for you, to get to that proposal?
I’m not only observing and listening to what’s happening in Arizona. I can see what was happening around the country. And you could see an organized movement in West Virginia, Kentucky, Colorado, North Carolina, Oklahoma and other states. I know these governors. And what I wanted to do of course is, my number one concern in education, are kids in the classrooms. So I did not want to see a school shutdown. I did not want to see a teacher strike. So I wanted to answer, prospectively and proactively, not only what this year could look like, but what the next three years could look like.
Why is it so hard to reach a consensus on education funding? There’s always disagreement on how much funding is enough.
First I would say that I think there’s very little that you come to consensus on. This is why we have a Legislature with a House and a Senate and Republicans and Democrats and independents, is to roll these ideas through as to what can achieve the accomplishment of passage in a budget or in legislation so that we can address these issues. The thing that I think we’ve had broad support on is that our teachers deserve a raise. Our teachers have earned this raise. And what I don’t want to do as the chief executive is make spending the measure of success. And I’ve been vocal about the objective of focusing on outcomes and results inside the classroom… Arizona is improving faster than any other state in the country.
Can you address the failure to get a school safety bill out of the Legislature?
I am disappointed with what happened with school safety. I wanted to do more. I’m happy that we were able to fund these background checks, which I think is really part of what’s missing, not only in Arizona but across the country, and we have the ability now to dramatically improve our background checks. We have some dollars in there as well for behavioral health and counselors inside the schools. But I think the STOP order, the Severe Threat Order of Protection, is an excellent plan, and it was put together by listening — to kids in classrooms, teachers, principles, law enforcement leaders, mental health professionals, prosecutors from around the state, rural and urban, Republican and Democrats. And then politics intervened.
When will you continue the push for that bill? Perhaps a special session?
We wanted to get this done in the regular session. So I don’t’ know why I would call a special session to have folks come back here just so they could receive per diems and continue to play politics with this. We have seen a lot of interest since the national attention has happened around the advocacy of the plan, so we’re going to continue to work with lawmakers. I would think just like public education and the focus on results, school safety is something we’ll want to continue to focus on.
Did you like how the bill was amended in the Senate? They watered down parts of it, including eliminating part of the STOP orders.
It was still in movement, and we traditionally don’t comment on legislation as it’s moving, so I don’t know what a final product would have looked like. And I also want to acknowledge that things changed. Circumstances on the ground changed, and the top priority became teacher pay. So we did have a focus on that. So we were able to accomplish a portion of the school safety plan. That’s why I say there’s more left to do.
One campaign talking point from 2014 that went unfulfilled was lowering income tax rates. Why is that?
I said as I campaigned and I’ve said as I’ve governed that to lower our income tax, you’re going to need three things: You’re going to need a term or two; you’re going to need a growing economy and you’re going to need a plan. Now we have two of the three, the third is still to be determined. But when we came into office we had a $1 billion budget deficit. I’m a big believer that tax reform can improve the state and improve our revenues and improve our K-12 education system. But we had to get our finances in order. We have them in order now, so now there’s opportunities to look to broader tax reform and improvement.
What does that plan look like?
We’ll be talking about what our plans are during the campaign cycle and the election season. But I think the health of the economy, the attractiveness of the state, the continual job creation and formation always leads with a discussion around tax policy.
How do you feel about your re-election odds given the political climate: A potential blue wave the year after a Republican was elected president?
I’m proud of our record of accomplishment and achievement. I am confident and optimistic that when we run our campaign and communicate directly with voters, they’ll see the change in Arizona over the past four years. At the same time, I think you need to prepare for the worst. And hope for the best.