As COVID rages, Ducey scraps large State of the State plans for virtual speech

Gov. Doug Ducey gives his 2019 State of the State address on Jan. 14. Photo by Jerod MacDonald-Evoy | Arizona Mirror

Rather than cram hundreds of people onto the floor of the Arizona House of Representatives amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic as he kicks off the new legislative session, Gov. Doug Ducey will deliver a virtual State of the State address.

The speech will be broadcast live from Ducey’s office on Jan. 11, the opening day of the 2021 legislative session, the governor’s office announced Monday.

Traditionally, the State of the State address is the highlight of the opening day of a new legislative session. All 90 members of the legislature, along with their guests, other elected officials and sundry dignitaries from various walks of life, sit on the House floor while the governor lays out his or her agenda for the new session.

The inability to socially distance with so many people led the governor’s office to begin exploring alternate venues for the speech late last year. None of those other venues turned out to be feasible, so Ducey opted to deliver his address virtually instead, spokesman C.J. Karamargin said.

The 2021 session opens as the nine-month-old COVID-19 pandemic reaches its worst point so far, with total case numbers, hospitalizations and other metrics breaking new records on a regular basis. Vaccinations began last month, but Arizona, like most other states, has had a slow start to its vaccination program.

Ducey’s speech will almost certainly mark the only time a governor has delivered a virtual State of the State address. It’s unknown whether a governor has ever delivered the State of the State address from a location other than the legislature, but lobbyists who have worked at the Capitol since the early 1970s say they’ve never seen the speech given from an alternative location. 

Although tradition mandates that the speech be made to the assembled lawmakers, the Arizona Constitution only requires that governors “shall communicate, by message, to the legislature at every session the condition of the state, and recommend such matters as he shall deem expedient.” A virtual speech — or even a letter — would satisfy that constitutional requirement.

Jeremy Duda
Associate Editor Jeremy Duda is a Phoenix native and began his career in journalism in 2003 after graduating from the University of Arizona. Prior to joining the Arizona Mirror, he worked at the Arizona Capitol Times, where he spent eight years covering the Governor's Office and two years as editor of the Yellow Sheet Report. Before that, he wrote for the Hobbs News-Sun of Hobbs, NM, and the Daily Herald of Provo, Utah. Jeremy is also the author of the history book “If This Be Treason: the American Rogues and Rebels Who Walked the Line Between Dissent and Betrayal.”