Ducey, now an attention-seeking culture warrior, goes full Trump by torching Nike deal

Nike Air Max 1 "Fourth of July" shoe. Image via Nike

Meet Doug Ducey, culture warrior. 

Also, meet Doug Ducey, attention-seeker.

In the same way that some conservatives burned their Nike apparel last year after the company created an ad campaign featuring former football player Colin Kaepernick – whose respectful silent protest of police brutality against minorities forced people to confront ugly realities about existing racial problems in our society – our governor Tuesday morning publicly torched a package of state tax give-aways to Nike.

Ducey, who rode to the governor’s office as a champion of economic-growth-at-all-costs and had never seen a corporate tax break he didn’t like, suddenly is throwing in with the own-the-libs crowd who set their shoes ablaze and smashed their Keurig coffee machines to make a political point.

Those who destroyed their own property last year because someone had a different perspective on life did so with a “look at me” attitude. Likewise, Ducey’s Nike-related declaration is clearly aimed at getting attention and burnishing his bona fides as a Trump-era conservative. 

But unlike those people, Ducey is using the power of government to bully a business and threaten the future high-paying jobs of more than 500 Arizonans.

The governor is incensed because Nike had the audacity to make a business decision not to offend some of its customers. Specifically, it chose to scuttle plans to sell shoes featuring the 13-star “Betsy Ross” flag. Nike’s decision came amid a private complaint from Kaepernick and public criticism from other people of color that the flag has been appropriated by white-supremacist groups and that it represents a time in American history when anyone who was not a white man was oppressed.

In a middle-of-the-night Twitter thread that was oh-so-coincidentally timed to get him maximum play on the national stage – the thread posted at 2 a.m. Arizona time, or 5 a.m. on the East Coast, just in time to make the morning national news shows – Ducey slammed Nike for abruptly canceling sales of the limited-edition $140 sneakers

“Instead of celebrating American history the week of our nation’s independence, Nike has apparently decided that Betsy Ross is unworthy, and has bowed to the current onslaught of political correctness and historical revisionism,” Ducey wrote on Twitter. “It is a shameful retreat for the company. American businesses should be proud of our country’s history, not abandoning it.”

To retaliate against Nike, Ducey announced that he is ordering the Arizona Commerce Authority to “withdraw all financial incentive dollars under their discretion” that were being given to Nike so it would build its plant in the West Valley and hire some 500 or so Arizonans. 

That amounts to about $1 million from the Arizona Competes Fund, which exists to use tax dollars to provide subsidies for large companies to relocate or expand to Arizona. To receive grants from the ACF, companies must meet specific thresholds for number of jobs created, average pay and capital investment. All of which is to say that the purpose of the fund is to attract high-wage jobs to a state that ranks 38 in per capita income

Not to worry, though, because Arizona’s economy will keep humming along even without Nike. “We don’t need to suck up to companies that consciously denigrate our nation’s history,” Ducey wrote on Twitter.

The City of Goodyear might disagree that losing Nike is no big deal. On Monday night, the city council agreed to give away $2 million to lure Nike to invest $185 million on a building and hiring at least 500 workers. Those jobs will pay on average more than $48,000 a year – about 36% more than the $35,000 per capita income in Goodyear as a whole. 

And Ducey’s hand-waving the jobs away because “Arizona’s economy is doing just fine without Nike” surely means little to the people who would actually perform those jobs when the plant opens a few years from now. 

(Whether large tax incentives are actually good public policy is a separate debate, but there’s no disputing that Ducey has long favored them as a way to attract businesses to Arizona.)

Already, Ducey’s reaction to Nike has prompted New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham to publicly court the company.

It’s no coincidence that President Donald Trump, who Ducey has suddenly become very enamored with after years of keeping his distance, hates Kaepernick and hammered Nike over its ad campaign. 

Ducey’s strongman routine against Nike marks the third time in recent months that the governor has stiff-armed big business as he scampered to show fealty to a president who values shows of loyalty above all else. In April, he flip-flopped on Trump’s threat to close down the U.S.-Mexico border. In May, Ducey was the only border governor who stood with Trump’s call to implement stiff tariffs on Mexico in response to a surge of migrant families seeking asylum in the U.S.

trump and ducey
President Donald Trump, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey and New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu, from left, at a White House meeting where Ducey talked about the state’s occupational licensing recognition law. Photo by Miranda Faulkner | Cronkite News

Whether Ducey is angling for a spot in Trump’s cabinet or has his eyes on 2024 (maybe as a potential running mate for Vice President Mike Pence’s bid for president), it’s clear that he has concluded that the only way his political career continues beyond his current office is to embrace the Trumpification of the Republican Party. 

And as Trump has demonstrated again and again, the currency of today’s GOP is overwhelmingly white grievance. 

Only a few years ago, Ducey told the legislature to stop sending him controversial measures that made Arizona a national punchline and professed that his administration’s “main focus is our economy.” 

Now, he’s singing from the same hymnal as the man he once called a diversion and governing by tweet.

Jim Small
Jim Small is a native Arizonan and has covered state government, policy and politics since 2004, with a focus on investigative and in-depth policy reporting, first as a reporter for the Arizona Capitol Times, then as editor of the paper and its prestigious sister publications, the Yellow Sheet Report and Arizona Legislative Report. Under his guidance, the Capitol Times won numerous state, regional and national awards for its accountability journalism and probing investigations into state government operations.


  1. Was this a news article or editorial?

    PS . The liberty bell was around during slavery. Should we scrap it?

  2. Really, that’s how you see this? Because I see it as “we the taxpayers” should not have to pay for tax incentives to a company that disrespects OUR American Flag. Bravo for the Governor for standing up for the tax payers of AZ. And they can still build their company here if they so choose to do so….they just won’t get the tax incentive.

    • Good comment. I might disagree slightly: I can accept tax breaks as incentive to bring in a new employer, but NOT any kind of taxpayer-supplied subsidy.
      When politicians feel they have some kind of permission or, worse, mandate to hand out the money stolen (as taxes) from the working and producing people, eventually they find all kinds of reasons and excuses to hand out more and more. And more.
      And it’s always the working and producing people who must then shell out even more of what they earned to bribe the politicians and the politicians’ favored recipients.

  3. Great commentary. It has been very clear for some time now that Mr. Ducey seeks a position within the Trump administration. But how fortunate are we that he can`t go anywhere, as long as Katie Hobbs is Secretary of State.” NOT!”

  4. It is a sad commentary that in his flailing to be noticed, perchance procure a future appointment, Ducey has adopted Trump style demagoguery targeting those seeking racial equity or representing non-white residents of this or another country. The willingness of the Gov. of AZ to easily sacrifice the needs of AZ residents and businesses reveals his priority…himself!

  5. “Small” is an apt definition.
    Claiming to read the mind of another, with whom he disagrees, and thus an ability to divine motives, is indeed “Small.”
    Then the usual left-collectivist rant that those with whom he disagrees are just “white racists” is also very “Small.”
    According to the description of the author, he claims to have a journalist background, and I fear that his being such is just one more example of why more and more people have nothing but contempt for the whole business of “news.”
    And I say all that sadly, having spent many years myself as a journalist — reporter, photographer, editor, and, yes, opinion columnist.

    • Thanks for reading, Michael. But I’d argue that people who have contempt for news have reasons far beyond my nearly two decades as a professional journalist.

  6. I think the governor was wrong to get involved in a company moral [possibly] decision to promote himself.
    I definitely agree with Mr Small that this kind of “Trumpism” needs to stop which will only happen when the “right” side of politics [the Left] takes over this backward state!!


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