With Gov. Ducey, Az doubles down on broken political party
Doug Ducey was elected governor of Arizona with a 36.24 percent voter turnout, the lowest in recent history. It may seem unfair to judge him so soon. But, no. The days when a GOP office holder was independent-minded are gone, replaced by a party ruled by a nihilist ideology.
As Jonathan Rauch wrote in the New York Times, "America does not have a broken political system. It has a broken political party: the Republicans." This is what those Arizonans who vote continue to double down on.
In his inauguration address, Ducey's explicit or implied comments were in the ALEC-Koch brothers "mainstream" of the party. Taxes must always be low or cut further. Government spending must be cut further. Get government "out of the lives of the people" (except, presumably, for the Social Security recipients and defense spending that prop up the state economy). Change regulation to support certain favored businesses ("deregulation"). And the all-important "economic freedom."
Ducey reprised the old Newt Gingrich meme of "opportunity," after their fashion:
Opportunity is not a government program planned and distributed by some expert class any more than personal freedom is a favor granted by those in public office. Opportunity is a new job or training for a better job. It’s the kind of school where every child can grow in knowledge and in character, the kind of neighborhoods where families feel protected, a state where enterprise is welcome and hard work is rewarded.
In other words, Arizona can expect more of the same, only perhaps even worse.
It took some brass for Fife Symington, the onetime disgraced developer and governor, to attend the inauguration — and as a named guest of honor, no less.
Yet Arizona is so full of newcomers, most don't remember the Symington who was elected governor in 1990 and seen as a pragmatic relief after the embarrassment of Evan Mecham. But who turned out to be a self-absorbed ideologue whose policies and inaction left the state so far behind in the fast-growing 1990s.
They don't remember Symington lionized as a businessman, not a pol, but who turned out to be something quite darker. He legally gamed the Phoenix City Council to approve his Esplanade project at 24th Street and Camelback. This totally out-of-scale development destroyed the lovely low-rise neighborhood and set the stage for more mid-rises and gutting downtown.
Then there was walking outside the law. Even in his first term Symington was investigated as part of the failure of Southwest Savings and Loan but was cleared. In his second term, he was indicted on federal charges, including defrauding his lenders and extorting a (ha ha ha, labor goons, suckers!) union pension fund. Symington was forced to resign as governor in 1997. Eventually he was pardoned by President Bill Clinton.
Symington should have given pause to all who want government "run like a business" or who see every "entrepreneur" as a heroic champion ideal for public service. Even taking out the sociopaths who are so prominent in business today, business and government are very different.
Government serves the public good, the commons, things that don't compute in today's "business models" and whose duties can't be assessed with balance sheets and algorithms. Business seeks maximum profits for itself alone and to kill off competitors (and turn regulation in its favor). The scandals of Wall Street, war private contractors, private prisons and the charter school racket are all cautionary tales of business gaining traction in government.
The new governor embodies the kind of businessmen Thomas Frank writes about in What's the Matter With Kansas. Although they have done very well under the mixed liberal system of big government and private enterprise, they are full of grievances against the former. They think they did it on their own. And government, and more broadly the commons and public good, are a socialist plot against them.
Ducey's tenure at Cold Stone Creamery carries a whiff of Symington. At least he isn't a developer. On the other hand, there's the sour irony of the new governor in a state plagued by low-paid jobs — Wal-Mart is the biggest employer — making his fortune off franchises that profit from...low-paid jobs.
There's nothing in Ducey's resume or rhetoric that would qualify him to address the state's most pressing troubles — or even identify most of them — much less push back against the Kookocracy in the Legislature. When he's talking about Arizona's lagging economy, he's looking at a result of years of political monopoly by a nihilist and Palinesque party, his party.
So will he propose a new Commerce Department with the full toolkit for economic development? Nope. Raising taxes to move the state beyond Mississippi on school funding, infrastructure, trains between Phoenix and Tucson, investing in universities? Un-uh. Urban responses to the troubles, and the backlog of years of backlogged infrastructure, that plague the mostly urbanized population of the state? No way. We hate the SOCIALISTS in cities. An aggressive program to prepare for the consequences of climate change? Huh? That's a hoax. Policies to improve opportunities for the Hispanic underclass? Get out of here.
The richest part of his speech was where he said his budget "will not meet with general approval among the special interests — and if they did approve, I would start to worry."
What "special interests" did he mean? Sandy Bahr? Roosevelt Row? Me?
The special interests in Arizona that have power are clustered about the Real Estate Industrial Complex. They would not approve of growth boundaries, taxes on sprawl, serious limitations on building outside traditional city-and-town footprints and stopping exurban development in shady land swaps.
They don't have to worry, so neither does Gov. Ducey.
Perhaps he sees himself as a low-rent version of Florida Gov. Rick Scott. Maybe he looks in the mirror and says, "Good morning, Mr. Vice President."
H.L. Mencken famously said, "Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard."
So Arizona will continue to ignore the First Rule of Holes: When in a hole, stop digging. Ducey brings a fresh shovel.
Good and hard.
Jon Talton is a fourth-generation Arizonan who runs the blog Rogue Columnist. He is a former op-ed and business columnist of the Arizona Republic, and retired as the economics columnist of the Seattle Times in 2019. Talton is also the author of 12 novels, including the David Mapstone Mysteries, which are set in Arizona.