As we approach the primary election, Arizona is in an envious place right now. Of the six Republicans running for the governor’s office, each of the four front-runners arguably have the credentials to become a good governor for our state.
From a political experience perspective, Ken Bennett has the most extensive public service. He has served in numerous public positions from his early tenure as a Prescott City Council member, through the Arizona Board of Education and eight years in the Arizona Senate and on to his current position as Arizona’s secretary of state. Bennett says that his time in the Legislature and his ability to work with both parties sets him apart from the other candidates. Recent polls place Bennett behind Doug Ducey, Scott Smith and Christine Jones.
Smith spent the last six years as Mesa mayor. By most accounts, his tenure in the position was very successful pulling the city out of deep financial problems, and he is well-liked in the city. He has shown the ability to work the political process well and was rewarded by being elected as the president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors. Smith polled well early on, but has slipped behind both Ducey and Jones in recent weeks.
Ducey has spent the last four years as the Arizona state treasurer. He ran for this office after leaving the CEO position for Cold Stone Creamery and also fought the Proposition 204 one-cent sales tax initiative. Many think Ducey is the front-runner for governor, and the current polls indicate he is ahead in the race.
Jones does not have elected-office experience. She does have a law degree though, and claims extensive experience lobbying governmental agencies at both the state and national level. Jones enjoys positioning herself as a political outsider with new ideas and has been making some strides in the polls over the last few weeks, pulling ahead of Smith and gaining some ground on Ducey.
The remaining two Republican candidates, while not realistically in the running according to the polls, each have elected-office experience. Frank Riggs was a three-term, on-again, off-again congressman in California during the 1980s before moving to Arizona. Andrew Thomas served six years as Maricopa County attorney with his tenure marred by frequent controversy and clashes with local media and judges.
Each of the four front-runners also has business experience. Bennett has worked for many years in his family’s oil distribution business, working his way up from gas station attendant to running the company. Ducey points to his tenure as CEO of Cold Stone Creamery even though his tenure was marred by claims from some franchisees claiming they were not treated fairly. Smith founded and sold a successful residential development company. Jones retired from a long-term position as general counsel for GoDaddy.com in order to run for governor.
From a position perspective, one candidate explained that a sitting governor gets to pick their high-priority items while a candidate for governor gets the issues picked by the public for them. It makes sense then that economic development, education and public safety (read immigration) show up in most of the candidates’ platforms.
Bennett’s platform starts with improving the schools and driving the economy by focusing on improving the state infrastructure and eliminating the state income tax. He admits that improving the schools could be a significant expense on top of the current $400 million state deficit, but believes that his tax initiative will close the gap. When pressed about the detrimental impact that a flat sales tax would have on low-, fixed- and retirement-income residents, he explains that some things like food might have to be kept off the sales tax list. His nod to security and immigration issues revolve around improving the economy in both Arizona and Mexico and refocusing on being good neighbors.
Smith also focuses on the economy, education and infrastructure. Smith seems to be the most realistic candidate on the issue of immigration, taking the position that his work there would be focused primarily on working with the federal government to address the issues our state faces. He also seems to be the most realistic in recognizing that the state is already in a deep deficit and that additional expenditures will be difficult until the situation returns to fiscal balance. Smith has taken unpopular positions by supporting Gov. Jan Brewer’s decision to expand the state Medicare program.
Ducey promises to cut taxes each year by reducing regulation and cutting the number of state employees. Ducey has the goal of eventually eliminating the state income tax. One has to wonder why these ideas were not implemented during his term as treasurer, which may be the reason he emphasizes his business experience rather than his elected experience in stump speeches. Ducey’s immigration position has a key focus of putting pressure on the federal government and also includes a focus on reducing violent crimes by illegal immigrants through the use of harsher penalties. He believes we should explore the use of technology, including radar and video, to help control the border.
Jones’ campaign has a big focus on immigration control. Her plan includes the use of the National Guard, expanded physical and technological border barriers and increased funding for sheriff offices in border counties. She admits the border protection will be expensive but believes she can get the federal government to pay for it even though that approach has not worked in the past. She also believes that her initiatives to improve the economy will help foot the bill. A key part of Jones’ economic platform revolves around Arizona becoming more attractive as a state where technology firms can locate and grow. She supports bioscience funding, improved technology-focused education and infrastructure investments. Jones’ position on taxation is that it is not realistic to predict the elimination of the income tax.
At the end of the day, it is a difficult decision. How can we support a candidate that promises to cut the state income tax when we know in our hearts that it is most likely impossible? Both Ducey and Bennett fall into this trap. They simply will not be able to deliver on the fiscal promise they are making. Likewise, it is hard to support a candidate that promises to build a wall at the border when that is most likely a federal issue. But these are not as unrealistic as the fiscal promises Bennett and Ducey make, so if immigration control is the most important issue, possibly Jones should get the nod. Smith’s plan does not contain any fatal flaws or promises that are unrealistic. His experience indicates he can pull people together and deliver good results. So our endorsement goes to Smith with Jones as a secondary option.
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