Oct. 22 marked International Stuttering Awareness Day, a day intended to raise public awareness of an issue faced by 1% of the world’s population and roughly 3 million Americans.
Subsequently, it was also the same week that Gov. Doug Ducey came under scrutiny by national syndicates and others for allegedly mocking presidential hopeful Joe Biden’s stutter at a rally for President Trump.
Critics and naysayers alike accused the Governor of ridiculing Biden on the basis of a seven-second clip circulated on social media and immediately concluded that he was guilty.
Scrolling through the disparaging comments and articles including one that implied if the Governor were in high school, he would be expelled for being a bully, I began to ponder my first introduction to Ducey and how I was treated with utmost respect.
My first years of my life I communicated with sign language and spoke my first word at age three. Taunted by bullies throughout my life, I have had my intellectual ability questioned due to my fluency and even had a parent once tell me that I would “most likely not be successful” because of my speech.
Despite my life challenges, I have managed to build a thriving yet youthful career in government relations and even had the privilege of being mentored by United States Secretary of the Air Force, Barbara Barrett. I do not view my situation as a disability or something that impedes my success; rather I deem it as something that I can and will overcome.
I first met the Governor at a fundraiser for then Congresswoman now United States Senator Martha McSally in 2018. One of the youngest attendees invited, I was surrounded by statesmen and leaders alike including former US Senator Jon Kyl and former Congressman now Fox News contributor Jason Chaffetz. A setting full of well accomplished people, I was easily one of the most inexperienced individuals in attendance and my nervousness overpowered my fluency, which resulted in a struggle to simply say my first and last name. Greeting the Governor, I forcibly introduced myself. In a stutterer’s mind, these consequential moments seem like an eternity but only last a few seconds. Finally expressing my statement, the Governor smiled and asked me where I went to college. I promptly responded, “The University of Arizona” and the Governor, an Arizona State University alumnus quipped, “Mark, when I was running for Governor, I said I would be a leader for all Arizonans…. even a Wildcat like yourself.” As others, including high profile individuals and donors, lined up to speak with him, Governor Ducey listened intently and never interrupted me nor walked away, in contrast to the many in my lifetime who have. This moment served as a testament to the person and leader who Governor Ducey is – a compassionate, respectful leader who looks past your challenges and sees your potential. He is a leader who believes that adversity does not build character but rather reveals it. Subsequent encounters with Governor Ducey have been equally respectful. He has gone out of his way to say hello, remembering my name and exchanging encouraging words.
At the 2020 Democratic National Convention in August, arguably the most widely talked about event of the week was 13-year-old New Hampshire teen Brayden Harrington who spoke on behalf of Biden. A heartfelt moment, I saw many similarities between the young teenager and myself. Aside from our similar speech patterns, we shared another thing in common: we both had leaders of two different ideologies care and listen to us as we spoke. My personal interactions with the Governor have been shared countless times. I always conclude that stuttering will never deter you from success. Most accomplished leaders will take into account your opinion even if it takes lengthened time to speak.
The United States remains at a time of hyper partisan divide, where leaders are demonized solely by association with another. Those who participate on social media remain keen on attacking and mischaracterizing anyone who does not fit their political narrative and ideology. If one does not believe in similar principles, critics will find any means to speak negatively about you. We need to look past partisan like behavior and ideologies and rather recognize each other for our virtues and moral character.
Arizona is fortunate to have a compassionate leader like Governor Ducey. He is a good man who has always treated me with utmost respect. He should be characterized on the virtues he puts forth, not on a seven second clip taken out of context.
Mark Fitzgerald is a Legislative Assistant at Arizona Governmental Affairs.