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Garcia lets Ducey skate in forgettable debate

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What the Devil won't tell you

Garcia lets Ducey skate in forgettable debate

Sticking to talking points only goes so far without substance

  • Ducey and Garcia, at the AZPM debate Tuesday.
    Ducey and Garcia, at the AZPM debate Tuesday.

Two days and two Arizona gubernatorial debates, with none to follow.

Predictably, they were almost identical except Arizona Public Media, which hosted Tuesday night's Tucson forum between Gov. Doug Ducey and Democratic opponent David Garcia, stuffed the candidates into clock-bound straight jackets.

Moderator Lorraine Rivera was not going to let them stray from the format, which meant little give and take and less fist to chin.

So it was the same debate two nights in a row.

Related: Gov debate quick take: None of them should win

Oddly, candidates were not asked a single question about women’s issues, from Planned Parenthood, to #MeToo and harassment in the work place or even abortion. Abortion could be critical if Roe v. Wade is overturned but even if it isn’t, a court with a Justice Brett Kavanaugh is almost certain to let states like Arizona “Jim Crow Up” reproductive rights. Technically, it’s on the books but so many restrictions are attached that it’s impossible for many to exercise. Also on the books is an for-the-time-being unenforced Arizona law making it a crime to have an abortion.

No slight on Steve Goldstein of KJZZ in Phoenix, the Arizona Daily Star’s Joe Ferguson or KUAT’s Christopher Conover, who delivered prepared questions to the candidates. They’re good and all, but a bit of estrogen might have helped.

No matter. I’m sure women will just vote how the men tell them.

My quick (for me) take on the answers to the questions asked was that Ducey skated. Garcia is aggressive and goes for the throat but seems to try to do it with his shirt-sleeve, rather than anything that might get a hold of the governor.

It’s not what he said as much as what he didn’t say.

He repeatedly launched at Ducey saying over and over and over “Arizona’s economy lags behind the rest of the country.”

Yeah, well, that’s one way to do it.

Numbers, number, numbers

Another way might be to point out that Arizona's unemployment rate has been rising since the summer and stands at 4.6 percent. That’s about 20 percent higher than the national number of 3.9 percent. Our median income, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, is 11 percent lower than the national average and the poverty rate here is the fifth-highest in the country – and 50 percent above the national number. 

Ducey raved about all the available funds in a flush economy for new spending after nearly a decade of a budget in a vice grip. Garcia never bothered to ask how the incumbent Republican plans on acting today to save us from crushing deficits come the next downturn. It will take those new revenue sources that Ducey warns will turn our state into California.

Did Ducey mean California’s 4.2 percent unemployment rate? Or was he referring to states like Iowa and Minnesota with high income taxes and unemployment rates below 3 percent?

Garcia didn’t ask. He stuck to his talking points.

Blind strike

Ducey talked up education savings accounts (state money for private education) and how one blind student managed to his account to buy Braille books. Garcia didn’t point out that kid got $21,000 from the state when the typical student without special needs would be eligible for about $3,000. Good luck attending Brophy Prep on that. Nor did Garcia suggest there should be another way for blind kids to get textbooks.

Garcia had a full day to Google this anecdote because Ducey used it in the debate the previous night. I guess he was playing one-dimensional chess.

Ducey talked up his Border Strike Force again and again. The small detachment of state police patrolling somewhere in the vicinity of the border gets funded at the same level as the Tucson City Court. I’m sure the Cali Cartel is quaking cuz the narco-trafficking tide is turning. 

Garcia said the Department of Public Safety wasn’t patrolling highways during the early hours of the morning, which may be true but the county sheriffs' deputies and the Border Patrol are on the job. So he didn’t say “it’s a waste of time and money so Ducey can say he runs something called a 'border strike force.'”

The point is, Garcia performed as if he were weak on substance. The job of a challenger is to get the incumbent fired by taking a case to the voters. The point's pointy end needs to dig deeper and poke harder.

Stick to the point, but don't stick to your point

That’s the thing about Garcia. He was over-murder-boarded or acted that way because he thought it was the best way to hit Ducey repeatedly.

A murder board is when a candidate lets his campaign team just hurl questions and then real-time correct their answers. Garcia sounds like someone told him “make every question an education question.” If you can’t do that, then just hit Ducey for “half-measures and broken promises.”

It takes a little more than that to prove the gravitas necessary to take Ducey’s job away. It takes a demonstrated command of the issues to give the pivot some wallop. Garcia effectively pulled his punches, with the candidates positioned just far enough apart that you barely ever saw them in the same camera shot. Ducey should be thankful that not only did many of Garcia's swings not quite land, but that viewers didn't get continually reminded that Garcia stood more than a bit taller behind the lectern.

Ducey knows his gig could be taken away. That's why he spent a serious chunk of his time repeating, and repeating, and mentioning again in passing, the URL of a website he's set up to attack Garcia's positions.

The upshot is that Ducey got to go largely unscathed as he tried to sell the idea of an Arizona Economic Miracle, when there was really just a tardy recovery. 

Arizona’s economy has been sluggish until recently, when it accelerated some in the slipstream of the rest of the national economy. It’s like the kid who is the late bloomer and grows from 5'3" to 5'9" during his senior year. He’s the fastest-growing kid in the graduation class but he ain’t Kevin Durant.

Yes, schools may be a big part of our economic performance (or lack thereof). It goes beyond K-12 spending, where Arizona ranks 48th in the country (pending new information after this year’s raises). Ducey’s dumbest move by far was zeroing out funding for Pima and Maricopa counties’ community college.

Garcia chirped about it just once and then dropped it. Community colleges may be the most important and under-used resource to give all workers the skills they need to compete and drive up their earning power.

If I’m having to bring this stuff up, it’s because Garcia didn’t.

These debates turned out to be a big nothing. That’s good news for Ducey, a Republican governor in a red state that hasn’t ousted a sitting governor since Sam Goddard in 1966.

Blake Morlock is an award-winning columnist who worked in daily journalism for nearly 20 years and is a former communications director for the Pima County Democratic Party. Now he’s telling you things the Devil won’t.

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