Monday Musings: Ducey for president – but in D.C. or Tempe?

February 3, 2020 8:46 am

Gov. Doug Ducey speaks during a rally for President Donald Trump at the International Air Response facility on Oct. 19, 2018, in Mesa. Photo by Ralph Freso | Getty Images

An often-asked political question by State Capitol observers these days: what will Gov. Doug Ducey do when his current, final term in office is over? What’s his next dream job?

President, of course. Don’t all governors aspire to live in the White House? I’m sure Ducey is no different.

He has been increasingly loyal to President Trump, now serving as a ceremonial chair of his Arizona re-election campaign. 

Here’s one theory. If Trump is re-elected in November, Ducey gets appointed to a major cabinet position. How about Homeland Security or Commerce Secretary? 

Ducey is also close to Vice President Mike Pence. If Pence wins the 2024 GOP presidential nomination, Ducey would certainly be on the short list as his running mate. A future Ducey GOP presidential run is not far-fetched.

The only problem with this scenario is that Arizona currently has a Democratic Secretary of State who would succeed Ducey if he went to D.C. in early 2021. Would Ducey “pull a Napolitano” and hand over the last two years of his term to Katie Hobbs? 

I doubt it. So, Ducey would have to wait until 2023 to accept a Trump cabinet nomination. That’s certainly doable.

But what happens if Trump is defeated in November? Anyone who has fully embraced Trump would be forever tarnished politically. A Ducey presidential run becomes far more problematic.

How about a different presidency – of Arizona State University? A couple of the governor’s top staffers have privately discussed the possibility of Ducey succeeding longtime ASU president Michael Crow.

Such a scenario is plausible. Ducey is a proud Sun Devil graduate. And there are other examples of governors becoming university presidents: Popular two-term Republican Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels became president of Purdue University in 2013, and still holds the position today. 

Ducey appointees overwhelmingly control the Arizona Board of Regents, the body that hires and fires state university presidents. The board would certainly bless Ducey as the next ASU boss. Not a bad gig that pays almost a million dollars annually.

As a former regent who proudly served on the 2002 ASU presidential search committee that selected Michael Crow, I don’t want to see him go. But as Crow approaches 20 years of brilliant leadership, the regents could diplomatically suggest that 2023 might be the year for a smooth transition to a Ducey presidency. The timing might just work. 

So, as Ducey dreams about his future, a presidential campaign may be in the cards. But will it be a noisy national campaign, or a quiet, behind-the-scenes campaign to enter the world of academia?

Tempe’s spirited mayoral election

We don’t have to wait until the fall to experience lively 2020 election campaigns. Tempe voters are in the middle of one right now!

The Tempe election is March 10 – one week before Arizona’s Democratic presidential preference contest. It’s an all-mail process, but completed ballots can be hand-delivered to vote centers on Election Day. Ballots will be sent to voters Feb. 12.

Incumbent Mayor Mark Mitchell is seeking a third term. His biggest campaign advantage is his last name, which is golden in the university town. His father, the iconic former Tempe mayor and congressman Harry Mitchell, is actively campaigning for him. As expected, his fundraising is solid. The firefighters’ political muscle is also behind him.

But the race remains close due to an aggressive campaign being waged by Corey Woods, a popular former two-term Tempe councilman. Woods’ fundraising has been strong. He is more personable and a better communicator than Mitchell. 

Top campaign issues are growing homelessness, the lack of affordable housing, and traffic congestion. Despite Tempe’s $520 individual contribution limit, total spending between the two campaigns should top $300,000.

Endorsements in local elections are important. Woods is easily winning the endorsement race, drawing nods from former and current Tempe councilpersons, current state legislators, neighborhood activists and the Tempe Chamber of Commerce. Interestingly, as I write this, Mitchell has not announced the endorsement of a single current or former Tempe councilperson.

If I was a Tempe voter, one person’s endorsement would guide my choice for mayor: Vice Mayor Lauren Kuby. She is an intelligent, thoughtful, experienced public official who cares deeply about her city and knows both candidates well.

Kuby has endorsed Corey Woods. But Mark Mitchell shares his wonderful father’s magical last name. And in Tempe, that might be enough to win re-election.

Just Say No to vouchers

Only 15 months ago, in a record-breaking non-presidential election turnout, Arizona voters crushed the attempt by Ducey and GOP legislators to expand school vouchers in the state. The ballot measure was defeated resoundingly, 65 to 35 percent.

An effective coalition of hard-working parents and educators led the charge to squish the attempt to expand Empowerment Scholarship Accounts (ESAs), Arizona’s voucher system promoted by right-wing “school choice” proponents like the Kochs, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, the Goldwater Institute, ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council), Trump and Ducey.

Surely, Republican policymakers at the State Capitol got the message loud and clear:  voters don’t want voucher expansion. Period.

Nope. Ducey continues to tout voucher expansion to anyone who will listen, especially wealthy conservative voucher proponents who fund his and GOP legislative campaigns. Forget the 65 percent of the Arizona voters who rejected voucher expansion.

As we approach what will be another record-breaking general election turnout this fall (perhaps as high as 80 percent), voters need to be aware that legislators are proposing to roll over the large majority that rejected voucher expansion in 2018.

The Grand Canyon Institute policy research organization published a paper last month reviewing what they determined is the unsuccessful private school voucher system that exists today in Arizona. As a former GCI board member, I respect their policy analysis of our state’s educational system.

GCI points out that the current dual ESA and tax credit system allows public taxpayer dollars to be utilized in private schools that are overwhelmingly religious entities. Public monies for religious schools? Sounds unconstitutional to me.

In fact, the U.S. Supreme Court heard a Montana case just two weeks ago challenging a very similar and far less robust private school tax credit mechanism. If the court rules against Montana’s system later this year (and I hope it does), Arizona private school vouchers and tax credits will die a sudden death.

In Arizona today, 48,000 kids attend private K-12 schools. The religious schools can refuse enrollees that don’t meet the tenets of their faith. They can turn away children of same-sex couples. They can teach that homosexuality is evil. They can teach creationism, rather than science. And they can receive taxpayer dollars via parental and corporate tax credits and ESAs. Unconscionable!

Arizona’s 20-year private school experience has existed with a dollar-for-dollar tax credit of up to $1,000 for individuals and $2,000 for married couples, along with a minimum of $5,000 for corporations. The cost of these tax dollars diverted away from our public schools, along with ESAs, is $200 million every year!

GCI Research Director Dave Wells points out in his brief that “Arizona’s private school subsidies are very expensive programs that primarily benefit religious schools with no academic accountability (unlike charter schools)… Research shows that academic outcome from private school vouchers are disappointing.”

GOP “school choice” politicians still want to expand the current voucher system, even though Arizona voters have told them loudly and clearly: Just Say No to vouchers.

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Chris Herstam
Chris Herstam

Chris Herstam has four decades of experience at the Arizona state Capitol. He has been an elected lawmaker, a gubernatorial chief of staff, a lobbyist, director of the Department of Insurance and president of the Arizona Board of Regents. Find him on Twitter at @chrisherstam.