In elec­tion year, Ducey aims at mid­dle ground

State of the State lacked hot-but­ton is­sues, open­ings for op­po­nents

The Arizona Republic - - Front Page - Yvonne Wingett Sanchez

“There’s noth­ing that’s go­ing to hap­pen from here on out that doesn’t have some­thing to do with the 2018 elec­tion. It’s elec­tion sea­son. And we’re in it.” David Ber­man, se­nior re­search fel­low at Ari­zona State Univer­sity’s Mor­ri­son In­sti­tute for Pub­lic Pol­icy, on Gov. Doug Ducey’s ap­proach

Fac­ing re-elec­tion, Gov. Doug Ducey used his most im­por­tant mo­ment of the year to ap­peal for unity.

This week, in his fi­nal State of the State ad­dress be­fore ask­ing vot­ers to re­turn him to the ex­ec­u­tive of­fice, the Repub­li­can gover­nor was not the bigtalk­ing can­di­date of three years ago.

He did not take on hot-but­ton so­cial is­sues or un­veil a sig­na­ture pol­icy is­sue, other than ed­u­ca­tion fund­ing — one he has long dis­cussed.

Ducey sought to avoid a re­peat of last year’s speech, in which he raised hopes of a bi­par­ti­san ap­proach to ed­u­ca­tion and sig­nif­i­cant pay raises for teach­ers. He gave Democrats few open­ings to at­tack him, though they did pounce on his lack of de­tails.

The speech was so safe, it could have been de­liv­ered by any of his ri­vals — and sev­eral po­lit­i­cal ob­servers say that was by de­sign.

He in­voked is­sues that should bridge any po­lit­i­cal or ide­o­log­i­cal di­vide, such as fight­ing opi­oid abuse, seiz­ing il­le­gal drugs and guns at the bor­der, and go­ing af­ter im­paired wrong-way driv­ers.

From a purely po­lit­i­cal stand­point, ob­servers say, Ducey’s 56-minute speech Mon­day af­ter­noon was likely in­tended to ap­peal to mod­er­ate vot­ers — par­tic­u­larly Repub­li­can women and in­de­pen­dents, a por­tion of the elec­torate that tra­di­tion­ally is up for grabs.

“He’s tai­lor­ing it for a broad ap­peal ... and he’s

float­ing the net to make this group happy and that group happy,” David Ber­man, a se­nior re­search fel­low at Ari­zona State Univer­sity’s Mor­ri­son In­sti­tute for Pub­lic Pol­icy, said of Ducey’s ap­proach.

“He’s try­ing to do what he can to pre­vent some kind of dis­as­ter for him­self and for the Repub­li­can Party here. There’s noth­ing that’s go­ing to hap­pen from here on out that doesn’t have some­thing to do with the 2018 elec­tion. It’s elec­tion sea­son. And we’re in it.” In an in­ter­view with The Ari­zona Repub­lic prior to giv­ing his ad­dress, Ducey, 53, said that for him, elec­tion time won’t start un­til the leg­isla­tive ses­sion ends.

“Then be­gins the cam­paign sea­son,” he said. “Then be­gins the po­lit­i­cal cy­cle. But I’ve got a day job this time around, and I’m go­ing to fo­cus on it.”

The last time Ducey ran, he was state trea­surer.

Ducey, also a for­mer CEO, was first elected in 2014 on prom­ises to not raise taxes while re­duc­ing the in­come tax, cut reg­u­la­tions, sup­port the re­peal and re­place­ment of the Af­ford­able Care Act, and de­fend the right to life.

Ducey has drawn two well-known Demo­cratic chal­lengers: Sen. Steve Far­ley, D-Tuc­son, and David Garcia, an as­so­ci­ate pro­fes­sor at Ari­zona State Univer­sity.

The Demo­cratic can­di­dates con­tend the race is com­pet­i­tive, and the na­tional Demo­cratic Gover­nors As­so­ci­a­tion has tar­geted the race and has al­ready taken shots at Ducey.

Ducey and his aides ap­pear con­fi­dent, given the state’s es­ti­mated 4point GOP reg­is­tra­tion ad­van­tage, his fundrais­ing ca­pa­bil­i­ties, his con­nec­tions to the con­ser­va­tive Koch donor net­work and the ad­van­tages of in­cum­bency.

The speech, said Repub­li­can con­sul­tant Chuck Cough­lin, “seemed like it was a check­list of things he wanted to check off ” ahead of his cam­paign launch. “And he did that.”

Ducey is most vul­ner­a­ble on ed­u­ca­tion-fund­ing is­sues.

Over the past three years, he has faced in­tense pres­sure to get more money to pub­lic schools and has been be­sieged with crit­i­cism by ac­tivists, pub­lic-school pro­po­nents and some busi­ness lead­ers.

They say he has fo­cused more on cut­ting taxes than on find­ing sig­nif­i­cant ad­di­tional fund­ing for stu­dents and teach­ers be­cause of po­ten­tial re­sis­tance from fis­cally fo­cused Repub­li­cans.

Among many in that crowd — and to the gover­nor’s frus­tra­tion — he has re­ceived lit­tle credit for re­solv­ing a long­stand­ing law­suit stem­ming from the state’s un­der­fund­ing of pub­lic schools since the Great Re­ces­sion.

In 2016, Ducey mus­cled through his bal­lot ini­tia­tive, Propo­si­tion 123, that used the state land trust to give schools less money than vot­ers had in­tended, but re­solved the dis­pute.

He was silent on Propo­si­tion 301, the state’s 0.6 per­cent sales tax that funds ed­u­ca­tion and will soon ex­pire, though he re­it­er­ated fre­quent talk­ing points about some top-per­form­ing schools, teacher pay and his “full com­mit­ment to ac­cel­er­ate” K-12 spend­ing.

“In fact, 80 per­cent of our new bud­get pri­or­i­ties” will be ded­i­cated to pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion, he said.

He did not of­fer a dol­lar fig­ure. The next day, Ducey an­nounced a plan he said would “re­verse Re­ces­sion­era cuts” to school fund­ing, start­ing with $100 mil­lion “per­ma­nent” and “flex­i­ble” school cap­i­tal fund­ing.

He said his 2019 bud­get pro­posal, which he will re­lease to­day, would also pro­vide $300 mil­lion in ad­di­tional fund­ing for other ar­eas of K-12. That fig­ure in­cludes re­quired fund­ing for stu­dent growth and in­fla­tion.

“There will be many that will say that’s not enough,” said Cough­lin, the GOP con­sul­tant. “But in an ’18 cy­cle, that sounds like lib­eral scream­ing, and he can say, ‘It’s never enough for you (ed­u­ca­tion ad­vo­cates).’ ”

Be­yond ed­u­ca­tion, Ducey charted a be­nign route through main­stream Ari­zona is­sues: safety on high­ways. Bol­ster­ing the state’s wa­ter sup­ply. Help­ing freed pris­on­ers re­join so­ci­ety. Ex­pand­ing his pro­gram to let par­ents take new­borns to work.

Ob­servers said only the most hy­per­par­ti­san vot­ers could ar­gue with the agenda.

“I don’t think that’s a co­in­ci­dence,” said Repub­li­can con­sul­tant Matthew Benson, the for­mer spokesman for exGov. Jan Brewer.

The gover­nor called for a con­cur­rent spe­cial ses­sion to tackle the opi­oid epi­demic, a cri­sis claim­ing hun­dreds of lives and touch­ing the poor and rich, ru­ral and sub­ur­ban, ed­u­cated and un­e­d­u­cated.

“For grand­par­ents and soc­cer moms — for ev­ery­body — it’s a fam­ily is­sue,” said An­drew Clark, an in­de­pen­dent with lib­er­tar­ian lean­ings, and the state di­rec­tor for Amer­i­cans for Pros­per­ity. “You know some­body who’s been on drugs or who has OD’d.”

He wrapped his in­come-tax plan around veter­ans, a po­tent con­stituency, tak­ing the is­sue of re­duc­ing state rev­enues away from crit­ics.

He bran­dished his Sec­ond Amend­ment cre­den­tials with five words buried mid­way through his speech. It was tucked into a heart­felt story about a Good Sa­mar­i­tan — a for­mer felon, no less — with a gun who saved the life of a state trooper.

“Thomas Yox­all says the good Lord put him there that day — and we are blessed that he did,” Ducey said. “And that fact, com­bined with the Sec­ond Amend­ment and a cit­i­zens’ God-given right to keep and bear arms, ended up sav­ing Trooper (Ed) An­der­s­son’s life.”

Ducey made a pub­lic over­ture to­ward Mex­ico, the United States’ old­est neigh­bor, but one that has taken the brunt of Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s rhetoric.

And he com­pletely avoided il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion, a di­vi­sive sub­ject that helped pro­pel Trump to the White House, but one that cre­ates prob­lems with mod­er­ate and Latino vot­ers.

With his si­lence, he kept his Demo­cratic ri­vals — namely Garcia, who is bank­ing on a strong turnout from tra­di­tion­ally un­der­rep­re­sented vot­ers such as Lati­nos — from scor­ing points.

Ducey stuck to his eco­nomic mes­sage, us­ing the speech to play up the im­por­tance of trade with Mex­ico. He struck a dis­tinctly dif­fer­ent stance than Trump, who has said the U.S. is on the los­ing end of the the North Amer­i­can Free Trade Agree­ment.

He went fur­ther, invit­ing the leader of a for­eign state, Sono­ran Gov. Clau­dia Pavlovich, as his guest; she sat along­side his wife, Angela. Since the ear­li­est days of Ducey’s gov­er­nor­ship, Pavlovich, the first woman gover­nor of the Mex­i­can state, has served as the em­bod­i­ment of his ad­min­is­tra­tion’s eco­nomic ties to Mex­ico.

“That ac­tu­ally did strike me as bold,” said Richard Her­rera, an ASU as­so­ci­ate pro­fes­sor of po­lit­i­cal science who stud­ies the state’s gover­nors.

“At a time when peo­ple are still talk­ing about bor­der walls in Ari­zona, and the re­la­tion­ship be­tween Mex­ico, and the po­lit­i­cal and eco­nomic re­la­tion­ship be­tween the U.S. and Mex­ico, not be­ing painted in a pos­i­tive light by many state and na­tional politi­cians ... that ac­tu­ally is a re­ally good move on his part.”

It is a mes­sage that could also res­onate with busi­ness-minded vot­ers, south­ern Ari­zona vot­ers and Lati­nos. The gover­nor’s re­marks cen­tered on the states’ trade, economies, jobs and in­creased bor­der se­cu­rity.

Ducey did not men­tion il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion but touted the work of a state bureau, known as the Bor­der Strike Force, that has seized il­le­gal guns, drugs and am­mu­ni­tion. He framed the seizures as a pub­lic-safety is­sue as op­posed to tra­di­tional bor­der-se­cu­rity en­force­ment.

Benson said Ducey ap­proached the topic in a way that could make vot­ers feel he is keep­ing them safe.

“By talk­ing about it in that way, he’s avoid­ing what would be a con­tro­ver­sial side of the is­sue,” he said: “Does the state have a role in bor­der se­cu­rity?”

Ducey opened his speech with an anti-sex­ual-ha­rass­ment mes­sage that would ap­peal to one of the state’s most cov­eted vot­ing blocs: women.

That por­tion of the elec­torate helped Democrats take the Vir­ginia gover­nor’s of­fice in Novem­ber and will be a po­tent force dur­ing Ari­zona’s gen­eral elec­tion.

Ducey’s re­marks drew bi­par­ti­san ap­plause.

And his big­gest oc­cu­pa­tional-li­cens­ing re­form, a fa­vorite of spe­cial-in­ter­est groups such as the Gold­wa­ter In­sti­tute, would most af­fect women who pa­tron­ize hairstyling busi­nesses.

Ducey en­dorsed leg­is­la­tion by Rep. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, R-Scotts­dale, that would elim­i­nate reg­u­la­tions on hair­styl­ists who blow-dry hair.

The gover­nor said the state re­quires too much train­ing and ex­pe­ri­ence, and Ugenti-Rita has said lob­by­ists from a well-known blowout bar, Dry­bar, ap­proached her about the leg­is­la­tion.

The com­pany is known for its fast blowouts and hair­styles that can be done in less than an hour.

Blowouts cost $45 (not in­clud­ing tip), gen­er­ally mak­ing the ser­vice some­thing for women with dis­cre­tionary in­come.

Dry­bar has a lo­ca­tion in east Phoenix and two in Scotts­dale, some of the state’s high­est-in­come ar­eas that are home to many high-ef­fi­cacy vot­ers.

House Mi­nor­ity Leader Re­becca Rios, D-Phoenix, said the shout-out for the leg­is­la­tion was “con­de­scend­ing” in light of other is­sues women in par­tic­u­lar fight for.

For ex­am­ple, she said, Ugenti-Rita’s bill that would make it il­le­gal for chil­dren younger than 18 to marry, even with a par­ent’s con­sent, is more weighty than a “cot­ton candy” is­sue of hair-dry­ing.

“I would not be sur­prised if the in­tent was to play into the base, given the lo­ca­tions” of the blowout busi­nesses, she said. “And that would play to a seg­ment of the (Repub­li­can) base.”

“I’ve got a day job this time around, and I’m go­ing to fo­cus on it.” Gov. Doug Ducey, on wait­ing un­til the end of the leg­isla­tive ses­sion to think about his re-elec­tion cam­paign

MICHAEL CHOW/THE REPUB­LIC

Gov. Doug Ducey de­liv­ers his State of the State ad­dress Mon­day at the state Capi­tol in Phoenix. The speech was no­table for its lack of con­tro­ver­sial top­ics — and sev­eral po­lit­i­cal ob­servers said that was by de­sign.

TOM TINGLE/THE REPUB­LIC

Gov. Doug Ducey speaks dur­ing his State of the State ad­dress Mon­day. Be­yond ed­u­ca­tion, Ducey charted a be­nign route in the speech.

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