The deliberative governor: Ducey’s ‘methodical’ approach to COVID-19




Ducey COVID-19 press conference 4/29/20
Gov. Doug Ducey speaks during a press conference about extending his statewide stay-at-home order on April 29, 2020. Also pictured is Dr. Cara Christ, the director of the Arizona Department of Health Services and Major General Michael T. McGuire, the director of the Arizona Department of Emergency and Military Affairs. Photo by Sean Logan/The Arizona Republic | Pool photo

Gov. Doug Ducey’s decision to modify and extend the stay-at-home order he enacted to combat the COVID-19 outbreak is emblematic of his methodical, deliberative and sometimes cautious governing style, and came as no surprise to those who have worked closely with him during his years as Arizona’s chief executive.

The executive order Ducey implemented at the end of March expires on Thursday. Under the new order he signed on Wednesday, most of it will remain in place. Many non-essential businesses, including bars, salons, gyms and movie theaters must remain closed, and large gatherings are still prohibited. But retail businesses not deemed essential by the governor’s previous orders can reopen May 4, and Ducey laid the groundwork for restaurants to resume dine-in service sometime in May, setting what he called an “aspirational goal” of May 12.

Ducey lifts some restrictions, extends stay-at-home order

To some of the people who know Ducey best, the details of his announcement on Wednesday were entirely predictable. Sources who have worked for or closely with the governor expected him to keep his Stay Home, Stay Healthy, Stay Connected order in place while easing some restrictions in a substantive way.

Kirk Adams, who served as Ducey’s chief of staff during his first term, said the governor’s decision on extending his stay-at-home order was consistent with a style that he called deliberative and decisive. 

“He is not a rash politician or a rash personality. He’s not going to jump headlong into something that he doesn’t feel is fully vetted, that (isn’t) backed up by good data and good information,” Adams said. “In all my experience with him, I have never seen him make a hot-headed decision.”

Ducey seeks a plethora of information about any big decision he has to make, and tends to hold off on making decisions if he doesn’t think he has enough information, Adams said.

Others described the governor’s approach as cautious. He’s a calculated risk-taker, if he takes risks at all, said one source who knows Ducey well, and he’s predictably hesitant to concede the gains Arizona has already made in its attempt to contain the coronavirus. At the same time, the source said, Ducey is a former business owner and understands the pain that other business owners are going through, and is inclined to modify his stay-at-home order with substantive changes that will help them.

Another source who had predicted a “cautious and slow” easing of the lockdown said the governor’s announcement was more measured than he’d expected, saying that’s likely due to Ducey feeling the weight of the more than 300 COVID-related deaths Arizona has seen, but completely consistent with Ducey’s nature.

The source wasn’t surprised that Ducey didn’t go as far as his counterparts in Georgia and Texas, where restaurants and businesses like nail salons are reopening. Ducey’s style is to look at what other states have done, which the source described as “search-and-reapply,” then reverse-engineer them to Arizona in ways that are specifically tailored to the state.

Both sources requested anonymity because they were not authorized by their employers to speak to the media.

Others familiar with Ducey disagreed with labeling the governor as “cautious,” including Adams and Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry President and CEO Glenn Hamer, a close ally of the governor. Hamer called Ducey’s decision on modifying his stay-at-home order “deliberate and fact-based.”

“I would say (he’s) more deliberative than cautious. He’s proven time and time again he’ll move very aggressively on something once he’s deliberated,” Hamer said.

By way of example, Hamer pointed to Ducey’s 2018 plan to give 20-percent pay raises to Arizona teachers, which he dubbed “20×2020.” The governor had steadfastly resisted entreaties from teachers and education advocates to fund a 20-percent pay raise, instead touting the 2-percent raise he’d already proposed. But as a teachers’ strike became more and more likely, Ducey embraced the 20-percent plan and championed it at the legislature. 

Ducey emphasized his deliberative approach as he announced his plans on Wednesday. He noted that 32 states acted before Arizona in enacting stay-at-home orders. He pointed out how many more types of businesses and commercial activities remained open in Arizona than in many other states, including construction. 

And he made a point of differentiating Arizona from states that went notably further, such as Georgia and Texas, where restaurants are now being allowed to open.

“I hope it’s not lost on anybody that we did do things differently in Arizona. We had a later timing and a lighter touch,” Ducey said.

While Ducey took a lot of flak for what some viewed as a delayed response to closing schools, bars and restaurants, and implementing his stay-at-home order, Adams said that, too, is consistent with his methodical style.

“I just don’t think, knowing him like I do, that he’s too bothered by that,” Adams said of the criticism Ducey faced from people who thought he moved too slowly earlier in the crisis. “He’s sort of willing to stand in a barrel and take the shots, if you will. If he feels like he has been properly briefed, has the adequate data and information, then he’s going to feel comfortable about that.”

2nd day of protest demanding Arizona ‘re-open’ during COVID-19 pandemic

And if Ducey’s goal was to flatten the curve of COVID-19 growth in order to avoid overwhelming Arizona’s health care system, Adams said that has been accomplished.

“In that sense I think you’ve got to say those decisions led to this success. Some may have wanted it sooner. Some may not have wanted it at all. But here we are. And, so far, the worst-case scenario has not materialized,” he said.