‘Spirit of Ser­vice’

Ducey seeks mid­dle ground in an­nual ad­dress

The Arizona Republic - - Front Page - Yvonne Wingett Sanchez, Dustin Gar­diner and Ryan Ran­dazzo

In his fi­nal State of the State speech be­fore his 2018 re-elec­tion cam­paign, Gov. Doug Ducey touted his ac­com­plish­ments while pre­sent­ing an agenda of tack­ling the opi­oid cri­sis, in­creas­ing school fund­ing and adopt­ing new poli­cies for ex-pris­on­ers and the child-wel­fare sys­tem.

In a speech that lasted 56 min­utes Monday af­ter­noon, Ari­zona’s Repub­li­can gover­nor, first elected in 2014, did not iden­tify fund­ing sources for his many pro­pos­als.

His ad­min­is­tra­tion plans to re­lease some of his education-fund­ing pro­pos­als in the com­ing days, which could in­clude state money found through gov­ern­ment re­forms. He is sched­uled to un­veil his full bud­get on

Fri­day.

The theme of the speech, “Spirit of Ser­vice,” paid homage to Ari­zona’s po­lit­i­cal giants, in­clud­ing the late Gov. Rose Mof­ford and U.S. Sen. John McCain, who is bat­tling a deadly form of brain can­cer called glioblas­toma.

He used that theme to call on law­mak­ers to put par­ti­san pol­i­tics aside to tackle the state’s most press­ing needs, say­ing they must do so with “integrity, hu­mil­ity” and “by for­get­ting about who should get the credit.”

Ducey, known for his ten­dency to play it safe in his pub­lic re­marks, avoided con­tro­ver­sial sub­jects that tend to di­vide Repub­li­cans and Democrats, such as il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion and health-care re­form.

In­stead, as he pre­pares to ask vot­ers to re­turn him to the ex­ec­u­tive of­fice, he fo­cused on is­sues that could gal­va­nize Ari­zo­nans from both par­ties.

For the fourth year in a row, Ducey did not an­nounce plans to elim­i­nate or sig­nif­i­cantly re­duce per­sonal in­come taxes, a high­light of his 2014 cam­paign.

In­stead, his tax plan this year would al­low Ari­zona veter­ans to keep more of their re­tire­ment pay. He said it has been nearly three decades since the state cre­ated a tax ex­emp­tion for mil­i­tary pen­sion­ers, which is capped at $2,500. He wants to in­crease the ex­emp­tion cap to $10,000.

He said he wants to in­crease the ex­emp­tion, which ap­plies to roughly 50,000 of the state’s 600,000 veter­ans.

“Their ser­vice has earned them a life­time ben­e­fit from our na­tion,” he said. “So please, send me a bill that increases the ex­emp­tion and demon­strates to our vets that we value this ser­vice.”

Ducey’s guests in­cluded his wife, An­gela; McCain’s wife, Cindy; and Sono­ran Gov. Clau­dia Pavlovich, who made his­tory by be­com­ing the first woman elected gover­nor of the Mex­i­can state on Ari­zona’s south­ern bor­der.

McCain and An­gela Ducey shared an emo­tional em­brace af­ter the gover­nor told her “you and Sen. McCain have all Ari­zona’s love, prayers and sup­port.”

The gover­nor also in­vited two school su­per­in­ten­dents; Thomas Yox­all, the man who saved the life of a state trooper; and Xavier Kennedy, a 9-year-old boy who raised money to send a fos­ter child and her fam­ily to the Wizard­ing World of Harry Pot­ter.

House Speaker J.D. Mes­nard, a Repub­li­can from Chan­dler, said Ducey touched on the state’s most press­ing is­sues. “I look forward to see­ing the specifics in terms of dol­lars,” he said. “From a leg­isla­tive stand­point, there were no sur­prises, which is prefer­able.”

Law­mak­ers gath­ered at the Capi­tol un­der a cloud of al­le­ga­tions about sex­ual ha­rass­ment by some mem­bers of the Leg­is­la­ture.

Sto­ries of sex­ual ha­rass­ment and wide­spread sex­ism cre­ated a more sober set­ting than previous open­ing days.

Ducey chose the venue to take on the is­sue.

“It should go with­out say­ing, but it bears re­peat­ing: Ev­ery in­di­vid­ual de­serves to be treated with dig­nity and re­spect,” he said. “Al­ways. No ex­cep­tions. Pri­vate sec­tor. Pub­lic sec­tor. In my of­fice. In state agen­cies. In this cham­ber. And every­where else.”

He did not specif­i­cally men­tion the on­go­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tions into al­le­ga­tions of sex­ual ha­rass­ment by Repub­li­can Reps. Don Shooter and Michelle Ugen­tiRita, which have loomed over the Capi­tol in re­cent months.

The gover­nor planted a flag on a life­and-death is­sue: opi­oids.

Over the past year or so, Ducey has worked to try to re­duce opi­oid-re­lated deaths by bol­ster­ing aware­ness and crack­ing down on over-pre­scrib­ing of the drugs.

Early in his speech, he called for a con­cur­rent, spe­cial ses­sion to com­bat opi­oid use, say­ing lead­ers must be more ag­gres­sive in fight­ing the prob­lem.

“These are real lives and real peo­ple. Gone. Some­one’s mom, their dad. Daugh­ters and sons. All ages. All in­comes,” he said. “Fam­i­lies, mar­riages and lives torn apart, trag­i­cally and un­ex­pect­edly be­cause of a po­tent drug mis­pre­scribed, over­pre­scribed — and then, be­fore you know it, it’s too late.”

The gover­nor said his leg­isla­tive pack­age will pro­tect those suf­fer­ing from chronic pain. But, he warned, “All bad ac­tors will be held ac­count­able — whether they are doc­tors, man­u­fac­tures or just plan drug deal­ers.”

Top aides in his ad­min­is­tra­tion said be­fore the speech the gover­nor will re­lease his leg­isla­tive pack­age some time next week.

That pack­age al­most cer­tainly will draw heav­ily from rec­om­men­da­tions made last year by the Ari­zona Depart­ment of Health Ser­vices.

A re­port from the depart­ment in­cluded about a dozen leg­isla­tive and pol­icy changes, in­clud­ing leg­is­la­tion that would ban pre­scribers from dis­pens­ing opi­oids and re­quir­ing phar­ma­cists to check a statewide data­base to en­sure pa­tients are not pre­scribed both opi­oids and ben­zo­di­azepines, like Xanax. That is a potentially deadly com­bi­na­tion.

About mid­way through his speech, Ducey piv­oted to the is­sue at the top of the minds of law­mak­ers and his po­lit­i­cal ri­vals: education fund­ing.

While Ari­zona’s pub­lic schools con­tinue to rank near the bottom in the na­tion, Ducey said the state doesn’t get enough credit for its im­prove­ment. He noted sev­eral schools and dis­tricts are graded among the na­tion’s best.

Ducey, who calls him­self the “education gover­nor,” said he plans to present a bud­get that will re­store lin­ger­ing re­ces­sion-era cuts to schools. His speech did not in­clude any de­tails.

“We can al­ways do more for our kids and our teach­ers,” he said. “In fact, 80 per­cent of our new bud­get pri­or­i­ties you’ll see Fri­day will be for pub­lic education.”

Ducey has come un­der fire for his education-fund­ing pro­pos­als since the ear­li­est days of his ad­min­is­tra­tion — and as re­cently as a rally at the Capi­tol on Satur­day.

Crit­ics ac­cuse him of un­der­fund­ing class­rooms and teach­ers while cut­ting taxes for corporations and ex­pand­ing a school voucher-style pro­gram of­ten used by wealthy fam­i­lies.

Even be­fore his re­marks, Demo­cratic law­mak­ers said they have lit­tle faith Ducey’s pledge to bol­ster school fund­ing will be mean­ing­ful.

Hours be­fore he de­liv­ered his speech, the Leg­is­la­ture’s Demo­cratic cau­cus held a press con­fer­ence where they blasted Ducey for pay­ing “lip ser­vice” to education fund­ing in past years.

They doubted 2018 would be much dif­fer­ent.

“We hope that’s not the case, but we’ve learned the hard way not to get too ex­cited by some­thing that sounds great in a speech,” said House Mi­nor­ity Leader Re­becca Rios.

“Last year, the gover­nor’s pro­pos­als for education and our teach­ers were a mile wide and an inch deep.”

Af­ter the speech, Rios praised his plan for a spe­cial ses­sion to tackle opi­oid abuse, but said that, too, was “short on sub­stance, when you talk about treat­ment for those that are al­ready ad­dicted.”

Se­nate Mi­nor­ity Leader Katie Hobbs, D-Phoenix, said at the ear­lier press con­fer­ence that the mi­nor­ity party would fight to en­sure chil­dren go to school in class­rooms that aren’t “over­crowded or crum­bling” and learn from teach­ers who earn a de­cent wage.

The Demo­cratic lead­ers re­leased their agenda for the year that calls on Ducey to find a long-term, sus­tain­able education-fund­ing source given the loom­ing ex­pi­ra­tion of Prop. 301, the ex­ist­ing tax that helps fund education. That 0.6-cent per dol­lar voter-ap­proved sales tax ex­pires in 2021.

The gover­nor did not men­tion Prop. 301 in his speech.

Ducey also set his sights on wrong­way driv­ers, which have emerged re­cently as a more ur­gent pub­lic-safety is­sue. He has al­ready or­dered state agen­cies to take steps to com­bat the driv­ers.

In his re­marks, he called on law­mak­ers to pass a bill that would al­low pros­e­cu­tors to charge im­paired wrong-way driv­ers with felonies — even if they do not cause fa­tal crashes.

“Those reck­less enough to put lives on the line by driv­ing the wrong way on our high­ways, un­der the in­flu­ence of drugs or al­co­hol, should face a felony con­vic­tion and prison time,” he said.

He said the state Depart­ment of Pub­lic Safety will step up fund­ing to en­hance its wrong-way driver pro­gram, known as “Wrong-Way Driver Night Watch.”His of­fice an­nounced his bud­get would in­clude $1.4 mil­lion to in­crease pa­trol cov­er­age for the pro­gram.

Ducey said he also would push for the state to do more to pre­vent for­mer in­mates from re­turn­ing to the prison sys­tem, say­ing the state must spend more money and education and less on prison beds.

He out­lined plans to ex­pand “sec­ond chance” cen­ters in Phoenix and Tuc­son, which the state opened last year, to help 975 more in­mates an­nu­ally. At the cen­ters, in­mates sched­uled to leave prison soon are taught skills to help them find jobs and read­just to life in so­ci­ety.

Ducey ref­er­enced the fed­eral gov­ern­ment’s over­sight of horses in the lower Salt River to tran­si­tion to his ef­forts to elim­i­nate “need­less” state reg­u­la­tions.

He said last year that the state elim­i­nated 676 reg­u­la­tions.

He men­tioned Juan Car­los Mon­tes­deoca, a Tuc­son man who was threat­ened by the State Board of Cos­me­tol­ogy last year be­cause he was giv­ing free hair­cuts to home­less peo­ple.

He said Ugenti-Rita, R-Scotts­dale, has a bill that would end reg­u­la­tions on stylists who want to blow-dry hair.

“Let’s get more Ari­zo­nans to work and get it passed,” he said.

Ducey closed with what sounded like a call for bi­par­ti­san­ship.

“I don’t want to sound naive,” he said. “I re­al­ize that we are a coun­try di­vided and in many ways a peo­ple di­vided. Our state as well. But as a coun­try we’ve been here be­fore — in more dif­fi­cult cir­cum­stances.”

He fin­ished that thought with a quote from Abra­ham Lin­coln ref­er­enc­ing “the bet­ter an­gels of our na­ture.”

PHO­TOS BY MICHAEL CHOW/THE REPUB­LIC

TOP: Gov. Doug Ducey ac­knowl­edges law­mak­ers at the Capi­tol on Monday fol­low­ing his State of the State ad­dress. ABOVE: Cindy McCain re­ceives ap­plause at the Capi­tol.

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