Gov. Doug Ducey is running for a second term amidst a political environment unlike any that Arizona has seen before.
As part of his re-election bid, Ducey sat down with the Arizona Capitol Times to discuss numerous issues, including education, Arizona’s economy, his re-election bid and the challenges he faces along the way to a second term. Here are the highlights.
When talking about education, Ducey touts his 20-percent teacher pay raise plan, passage of Proposition 123 and the extension of Proposition 301 as his major first-term achievements, and promises he’s not done investing in K-12 education.
But Ducey also points to a longstanding rift between state government and K-12 educators, and asks that he only be judged for his actions during his first term.
“I can’t be accountable for what’s happened the last 30 years,” he said.
One of Ducey’s accomplishments, which was touted shortly after its passage in TV commercials by the Republican Governors Association, was his proposal to grant teachers 20-percent pay raises spread out over three years. His initial budget proposal included a 1-percent pay bump for teachers this year.
Since Ducey signed the raises into law, he said lots of teachers have been grateful for the pay hikes that start this school year. His main focus now is making sure those dollars get to the classrooms, he said. He also said that with another term he wants to put more money into K-12 education, over and above inflation, but he would not specify how much.
But “Red for Ed” supporters opposed Ducey’s teacher pay proposal and representatives for the movement say teachers have an inherent distrust of Ducey and his administration because he has made empty promises before.
Ducey argues that distrust stems from before his time in office.
“I think there’s been a long history of conflict between state government and K-12 education,” he said. “I’ve worked very hard over the last three-plus years to not play divide and conquer, to not pick one section of our education system over another, but to say that these are all of our kids here.”
But K-12 education advocates have also criticized Ducey for his support of charter schools and an expansion of Arizona’s school-voucher program that he signed into law last year.
Ducey signed legislation to make all public school students eligible for state money to attend private and parochial schools.
Some parents and teachers say the expansion of school vouchers to any public school students, as opposed to just those who are disabled or attend failing schools, will starve public schools, causing public school students to receive a subpar education.
The voucher expansion also pushed Democrat David Garcia over the edge and into the governor’s race.
But Ducey attributes teachers’ opposition to charters and ESAs to misinformation from the Arizona Education Association — the teachers’ union that Ducey declined to meet with during the “Red for Ed” strike.
“That’s because people in the union are misinforming those teachers,” he said. “Our policies have put public districts and public charters on equal value in terms of the opportunities for improvement.”
Citing a growing economy and President Trump’s push to appoint conservative judges to the U.S. Supreme Court, Ducey praised the president’s leadership.
Ducey pointed to growth in Arizona and across the country, which many conservatives attribute to Trump’s Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, as a sign that Trump is working to build an economy of the future.
He also cited the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch and Trump’s nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court as proof the president is doing a good job.
But Ducey does not agree with Trump on everything. A supporter of free trade, he has spoken out against new tariffs imposed by Trump’s administration.
He also expressed some opposition to Trump’s zero tolerance, saying “no one wants to see families separated,” but he didn’t go as far as some governors who reacted by withdrawing National Guard forces from the border.
Ducey also wouldn’t say that he wants Trump’s endorsement this fall. When asked if he’ll seek the president’s endorsement in his re-election bid, Ducey sidestepped the question. Personality-wise, Ducey couldn’t be more different than the bombastic president.
It’s hard to know whether Trump’s endorsement would hurt or help Ducey. Republicans seeking the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Sen. Jeff Flake have eagerly vied for Trump’s endorsement in an attempt to prove their conservative bona fides. But in an election year where anti-Trump sentiment is growing, a presidential endorsement could hurt more than it helps.
Ducey brushed off the perception that he’s vulnerable this election cycle, and seemed unfazed by his primary challenger, former Secretary of State Ken Bennett.
As talk grows of a “blue wave” hitting Arizona this election cycle, Ducey does not plan to sit back and rest on his laurels during the campaign.
“I think in any business, you want to prepare for the worst and hope for the best, and that’s why we have that challenger’s mentality,” he said.
Elections are competitive and Ducey said he’s not taking his incumbent status for granted. Similar to his bid for state treasurer eight years ago and his first gubernatorial bid, Ducey plans to campaign across the state and tout his record.
But Ducey dismissed polls showing his favorability rating dropping. He also dismissed the perception that he’s vulnerable this election cycle because of anti-Trump sentiment and the continued opposition he faces from “Red for Ed” supporters.
“I think the media loves a horse race, so they would love to see a horse race,” he said.
As for his primary challenger, Ducey doesn’t see Bennett’s candidacy as a failing of his governorship.
“It’s a free country. The water’s warm. People are going to jump in and make their case,” he said. “The voters will decide on August 28.”
Ducey has refused to debate Bennett leading up to the primary, claiming his challenger’s comments about Sen. John McCain disqualified Bennett from public office. Ducey did not address the Democratic gubernatorial candidates in the interview.
After entering office in a post-recession era wherein the state was still strapped for cash, Ducey takes credit for helping grow Arizona’s economy and lower the state’s unemployment.
He brought his business background to governing. Ducey, who slashed state regulations and cut taxes every year that he’s been in office, thinks the best move for government is to stay out of the way as Arizona sees unprecedented revenue and population growth.
The governor attributes the growth to Arizona’s tax and regulatory environment and the state’s infrastructure, education system and reliable water supply, among other things.
“We have a momentum that’s really building on itself,” he said. “It’s time to pour the gas on.”
Holding true to a campaign pledge from his first gubernatorial bid, Ducey still aims to reduce the state’s income tax to as close to zero as possible.
Ducey’s plan to lower the state’s income tax includes working with legislative leaders to revamp Arizona’s tax code around tax conformity and a recent Supreme Court decision that cleared the way for states to collect sales taxes from online purchases.
In essence, Ducey envisions a 21st-century tax code.
“It’s not one issue that you can look at in a vacuum, he said. “I mean, the idea of reforming or improving a tax code is ideally so that you’re bringing in more revenue because you have a state that’s growing.”