The outcome of the race for governor could turn on who can scare the middle class more, especially over the high cost of college.
Democrat Fred DuVal lashed out Wednesday at Doug Ducey, the newly named Republican nominee for governor, accusing him of “tooth fairy math” for wanting to lower taxes even as he promises more money for things like higher education. DuVal said Arizona instead should be investing in education, including colleges, to ensure that businesses want to locate here so that the thousands of students who graduate each year will find suitable jobs.
But the Republican Governors Association wasted no time following Tuesday's primary to put its own spin on the issue, launching its own commercial essentially blaming DuVal, who was on the Board of Regents and served as its chairman for one year, for a 99-percent increase in university tuition during his tenure from 2006 to 2012.
“It keeps parents awake at night, wondering about the high cost of college tuition,” says the voiceover as a parent comforts a troubled-looking child.
“Lobbyist Fred DuVal made middle class families pay more,” the commercial continues. “Come on, Fred. That’s just not fair.”
RGA spokesman Jon Thompson put the “buy” for the commercial in excess of $600,000 to run on TV and cable stations in the Phoenix and Tucson markets.
DuVal sees the issue different. He said he helped implement a new system of working with community colleges and the universities to provide online courses and get their degrees at just two-thirds of the cost.
“I produced the first zero tuition increase in modern Arizona history,” he boasted, with no net increase for students entering schools in 2012.
The truth of the matter may be somewhere in between the extremes.
Those claims of tuition hikes are true — tuition for students entering the University of Arizona in the fall of 2007 was $4,754. Five years later it was $10,035, even with no hike that last year.
But former Regent Anne Mariucci, a Republican who served with DuVal on the board, said those numbers — and the RGA commercial — don't tell the whole story.
“The tuition increase is a direct correlation with the state funding cuts, which is a direct correlation to the economy,” she said. “So it isn't to poke a finger in the eye of anybody.”
Figures from the Joint Legislative Budget Committee put average per-student state aid in the entire university system at $8,664 for the 2007 school year. By the 2012 school year the amount the Republican-controlled Legislature was providing had dropped by more than a third, to $5,389.
Put another way, lawmakers provided 29.5 percent of all funds for universities in 2007; by 2012 the state-provided share dropped to less than 17 percent, with the balance having to be made up somewhere else — including tuition.
Thompson, however, was not backing down, insisting the hikes weren't necessary.
“He had a clear choice,” Thompson said. “DuVal chose to raise costs, making college more unaffordable for middle class families.”
But Ducey, who has been closer to the state's finances in his four years as treasurer, was not anxious to join that particular attack.
“Judge my campaign by the ads I put out,” he said. And he sidestepped questions of whether the tuition hikes were essentially forced on schools because of the budget cuts.
“Fred's going to have to stand on his record and I'm going to stand on my record,” Ducey said.
Mariucci said she has been a loyal Republican, voting for both Jan Brewer for governor in 2010 and Ducey for treasurer that same year, but she said that this year she intends to support DuVal. She said the pair worked together to ensure that tuition hikes were linked to forcing the universities to shave costs whether through layoffs, greater efficiencies or shutting down entire programs.
“There's not many Democrats I know that are willing to link revenue increases with cost cuts,” Mariucci said.
But Brewer is doing her bit to put her own labels on DuVal she hopes will deter voters.
“Fred is a liberal,” she said. “He's always been a liberal. He's been brought up as a liberal.”
The governor said if there were any doubt, voters just need to know that he worked in the Clinton White House.
DuVal does not shy from that association, even keeping a photo of his family with the former president on his desk in his campaign office. But he said his main task in Washington was the implementation of welfare reform, “which was not exactly liberals' favorite topic, but it had to happen.”
But he won't be turning away help from either Bill or Hillary if it's offered.
“I've known the Clintons for a long time,” he said. “And if they come through town and campaign for me, it's great.”
As much as Ducey and his supporters hope to portray DuVal as out of the mainstream, DuVal is returning the favor.
“Doug is campaigning with Sarah Palin next week,” he said.
“He's embraced Ted Cruz, Joe Arpaio,” DuVal continued. “He's picked his lane.”