We need leadership to make the most of this billion-dollar opportunity




Photo by Gage Skidmore | Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0

Arizona is in desperate need of leadership.

Normally, the role would fall upon the governor, the head of our state, the CEO and chief vision-setter.

But vision has never been Gov. Ducey’s strong point. In fact, if there’s one thing both Republicans and Democrats can agree on, it’s that this governor is as status quo and milquetoast-y as they come.

Even conservative Arizona Republic columnist Robert Robb, once a huge Ducey proponent, has admitted the best title he can offer Ducey is that of “in-box governor,” as in, he only tackles what’s absolutely necessary.

This static governance style has been most evident when assessing Ducey’s ability to respond to scandal in his own administration.

In Ducey’s four-plus years in office, a long list of agency directors – individuals Ducey personally chose – have been fired or forced to resign due to incompetence or mismanagement.

The firings occurred after journalists uncovered major scandals such as drunken behavior, improper use of taxpayer resources and discriminatory practices against employees with health issues.

In most cases, Ducey failed to act when the first instances of incompetence were brought to light. He waited until the scandals multiplied and created public outcry too overwhelming to ignore.

Even today, Ducey continues this pattern of reluctant leadership, refusing to fire Charles Ryan, the longtime director of the Department of Corrections.

Ryan isn’t new to controversy. He’s been under fire for years for safety and mismanagement issues that include a failure to provide adequate healthcare for inmates. He was even held in contempt of court.

Last week, ABC15 uncovered another security issue within the DOC, broken locks on inmate cell doors. The locks have been damaged for years, resulting in violent assaults against correctional officers and inmates. And Ryan, the individual who oversees the prisons, was apparently aware of the situation, but failed to fix it.

Putting the lives of correctional officers and inmates at risk should justify a firing, but instead, the governor expressed his support for Ryan and authorized a third-party investigation of prison security.

Ho hum.  

Reluctant leadership can be found on the policy side of the Ducey administration, as well.

After convincing education advocates to settle a lawsuit for less than what schools were owed, Ducey promised to make public education funding a top priority.

Instead, he championed universal vouchers for private and religious schools.

Last spring, in the wake of a teacher shortage crisis, Ducey insisted the state’s budget couldn’t support anything more than a one percent pay increase for teachers. But after 75,000 teachers marched on the Capitol, he magically located enough money for nine-percent raises.

It seems crisis must literally knock down the governor’s door before he is willing to act.

That’s a real shame, because this year our leaders have an opportunity to use a billion dollars-worth of surplus monies to do something bold, to address problems before they skyrocket into a full-blown crisis.   

The governor wants to sock most of the surplus into the rainy day fund. For Ducey and those who’ve bankrolled his campaigns, the skies are sunny, and excess cash can be saved.

But it’s still cloudy for our public-school classrooms and still storming for a quarter of the kids in this state who live below the poverty line.   

The governor’s inability to see beyond his own neighborhood wouldn’t be much of a problem if we had a legislature willing to keep him in check.

But legislative Republicans, who control both the House and Senate, might be even more tone deaf than the governor. Instead of using money to shore up public school classrooms or help low-income children receive health care coverage, Senate Republicans are floating a budget that does the opposite, freezing KidsCare and offering even less funding for schools than the Ducey budget.

Legislative Democrats have indicated they’re willing to strike a deal: more money for the rainy-day fund in exchange for additional funding for public schools.

A compromise budget would mean the governor wouldn’t get everything he wants, nor would the Democrats or the Republicans. But Arizona kids could finally get some relief.

I’d like to say I believe this deal is possible, but if the past is indicative of the future, then we have a greater probability of lighting striking the Capitol than of the governor extending a hand across the aisle or taking action in advance of a crisis.

Still, I’ll hold out hope that this year the governor might do something radically different: lead.

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Julie Erfle hails from North Dakota, but has called Arizona home for more than twenty years. She began her career in Phoenix as a creative services producer at KPHO-TV5 and 3TV. Blending her background in communications with her passion for community activism, Julie launched the political blog Politics Uncuffed in 2011, and began working as a communications director and consultant on candidate and initiative campaigns. She is the former executive director of Progress Now Arizona, a progressive communications and advocacy non-profit, and a fellow with the Flinn-Brown Arizona Center for Civic Leadership and Leading for Change.

1 COMMENT

  1. “Lack of leadership” is more accurately described as mismanagement. Occasionally under intense public pressure Ducey and R’s in the legislature do something not as terrible as they had planned. They shouldn’t get credit when a minority of them move slightly and belatedly to the Democratic position.

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