Doug Ducey, the former CEO of Cold Stone Creamery and current treasurer of Arizona, is running for governor of Arizona. He talked to National Review Online’s Kathryn Jean Lopez on why he wants to be governor and why it is worth the effort in a crowded primary field.
KATHRYN JEAN LOPEZ: What’s a Toledo boy doing running for governor of Arizona?
DOUG DUCEY: Like many of us in Arizona, I wasn’t born here — I’m a product of the Midwest and the working class. In fact, unless I’m talking to the cotton growers’ council, most rooms I’m in around the state are filled with people who weren’t born here but came to Arizona because it’s a welcoming place filled with opportunity. You still find a great sense of possibility here, and I want to make sure that Arizona stays that way. I want us to be the welcoming, job-creating state we’ve been from the start, a place where everybody’s got a chance.
LOPEZ: It’s a big field — there are nine of you running in the primary. Why bother?
DUCEY: When I officially kicked off my candidacy in February, I pledged that no one would outwork me on this election. And that pledge would be the same with one primary opponent or eight. Running to do a job as important as the governor’s shouldn’t be easy; it should take a lot of work, and I’m out there giving my best every day. I’ve had to cut out a lot of favorite things from the schedule, but I’m still reading my National Review!
LOPEZ: How would your tenure as governor be like or unlike Jan Brewer’s?
DUCEY: I think Governor Brewer has done a very good job navigating some tough fiscal times for our state, and I intend to keep our state’s budget in check. The next governor will have the opportunity to pick up where she left off and “up our game” here in Arizona. I’m a pro-growth, small-government conservative with a background in free enterprise. I built a business, now I want to shrink a government and grow an economy.
LOPEZ: Arizona has this national reputation at this point for harshness — toward immigrants, toward anyone with same-sex attractions. What do you make of that? Is it fair? Would you do things differently to give people a different impression of the state?
DUCEY: The idea of Arizona as a harsh, intolerant place is a storyline that liberals have been working since Barry Goldwater rose to national prominence 50 years ago. Anyone who thinks that way about our state hasn’t spent much time here. The only thing harsh about Arizona is the 115-degree temperature in the summer.
I moved out here to attend college in 1982, and when I packed up my Datsun-B210 to drive from Toledo to Tempe, I didn’t know one person here. But it felt like I fit right in, because in Arizona you meet people from all over America, and that’s still true today. What I found is a diverse state where rights are respected, hard work is rewarded, and all that most people want from government is a chance to get ahead. I had my opportunity when some friends and I built Cold Stone Creamery, and I want everyone here to have that same chance to succeed.
Just like anywhere else, you’re going to find a lot of good people who have strong feelings on the issues. And as a conservative, I can’t expect everyone to agree with me on every issue every time. But Arizonans are friendly, easygoing, and fair-minded, and my administration will reflect that spirit. We’ll treat everyone with dignity and respect. I’ll listen respectfully to different opinions, and people will always know where I stand.
LOPEZ: What’s so special about your “real-world experience” at Cold Stone Creamery that sets you apart from the others running?
DUCEY: You think it’s easy to sell a cold dessert in a hot desert? Granted, everybody likes ice cream, but we at Cold Stone Creamery managed to get a big piece of the market after starting with just a simple business concept and a few storefronts. I built and led a team that took our company from a handful of ice-cream stores in Arizona to more than 1,440 stores in all 50 states. It’s an American success story, and I’m proud that it all started right here in the great state that gave me my own start. Arizona needs a leader who has experience not only setting a vision, but also answering to customers — in this case our citizens and taxpayers. In business you have to produce results that can be seen and measured, and public office holders should do the same.
I don’t just talk about having been a CEO when people ask about my work experience, either. I’ve had lots of different jobs along the way. I was raised to respect work of every kind, especially hard physical work, and the people who do it. My dad was a cop and a proud union member; my mom waited tables; my first job was busing tables; and I am proud of the thousands of teenagers we taught to serve ice cream across a counter. A lot of jobs are like that — they’re not glamorous, but good people show up every day and put all they have into the effort. We’ve got to remember this in public-policy circles, when we talk about entrepreneurship and the “jobs of the future.” That’s all well and good, but we also have to appreciate the hard jobs that so many people are doing right now — and not only appreciate them, but respect them. Every person who is putting in an honest day’s work is helping a family and adding to this economy. My economic agenda will always focus on the concerns of working men and women — and of all the people trying their best to find jobs — if I have the chance to represent them as governor.
LOPEZ: Who are your model governors and why?
DUCEY: I think governors like Scott Walker in Wisconsin and former governor Mitch Daniels in Indiana are role models for what can be done to reform a state in the best possible ways. Walker is a strong leader who made tough choices to ensure a stable financial future for his state. And when all the special interests went after him hard, he showed that conservative ideas — when we are willing to fight for them — are also winning ideas.
Mitch Daniels’s example also has a lot to teach us. Here was a popular conservative Republican who won reelection in 2008 by a big margin even as Barack Obama carried the state. He enacted big changes, and maybe we could have avoided the disaster of Obamacare if more states had enacted health-care reforms similar to Indiana’s. Governor Daniels’s innovations included adding Health Savings Accounts into Healthy Indiana, the state’s Medicaid program, in a way that has not only promoted personal responsibility but also kept costs down — while having a 96 percent satisfaction rating among participants. To me, that’s great conservative policymaking. And that’s why, after I got to thinking seriously about running for governor, one of the first things I did was get on a plane to Indianapolis and sit down with Mitch Daniels and his team to learn more about turning good ideas into working reforms.
LOPEZ: What has surprised you about being treasurer?
DUCEY: How fast government can spend taxpayer dollars.
Whether it’s Phoenix or Washington, nothing will validate a person’s fiscal-conservative convictions like seeing the everyday mechanics of government. The inefficiency, the confusion, the casual treatment of tax dollars — it can be pretty depressing. That’s one more reason I hope to move up to the top floor in the capitol — so I can start making some of the spending decisions.
LOPEZ: How quickly can your no-income-tax dream become reality?
DUCEY: My pledge is to start reducing personal and corporate income taxes right away, with the goal of bringing them both all the way down to zero. I won’t trade in false promises by saying it can all happen overnight. Eliminating state income taxes is one of those big, structural reforms that can change so many other things for the better in a state, and we’ll get started on the day I take office.
To give you some quick background here, Arizonans were asked in 2012 to vote on a statewide initiative called Proposition 204. It would have authorized a permanent 1 percent increase in the sales tax. In reality it would have been a permanent windfall to the bureaucratic union establishment — without the least guarantee of any actual reform in our public schools. All the usual interest groups played this measure up as an essential new investment in government — “for the children” — and you could sense their confidence that a majority of voters would go along with that elite opinion.
Except, well, we didn’t. I led the campaign against that permanent tax increase, and thanks to a lot of conservative activists, Prop. 204 went down in defeat. Arizona voters saw the measure for what it was. Far from promoting the interests of children, the initiative would have simply continued to underwrite the status quo. In the most unmistakable terms, the voters said no.
Our state is a leader in education reform — with a vibrant charter-school movement that is showing the way — exactly because we are trying our level best to steer clear of the establishment mindset. Central control, unlimited budgets, special-interest politics — these don’t work any better in public education than they do in health care.
I see my campaign for governor as picking up where we left off in defeating the billion-dollar-a-year tax increase sought by Prop. 204. Other states can make their own choices, but my aim is to make Arizona the place to be for investment, job creation, and opportunity for all. Eliminating our state income tax is essential to that objective, and we’re going to get it done.
LOPEZ: Does being the father of all boys give you a certain perspective on the world?
DUCEY: Raising three boys, really three young men, is my proudest achievement — right along with marrying Angela, who is making better men of all of us. My three boys all share a room like I did with my brother growing up, and they have become each other’s best friends, allies, and confidants, but also their biggest antagonizers. After all, they’re brothers. Anyone raising boys will tell you it’s difficult to rein in that much energy and competitiveness. It’s taught me that fathers matter. You have to do your best to instill discipline, respect for others, and consequences for your actions. Every parent knows the rigors, and having just turned 50, I like to think the guys are keeping me young.
LOPEZ: How does religious faith play a role in your life as a public servant?
DUCEY: I hope it’s playing the same role in every part of my life — keeping me grateful for all that I have, especially my family and my freedom as an American, and alerting me to the needs of others. I’m a Catholic, and in the era of Francis it’s easy to feel strengthened and renewed in your Christian faith.
LOPEZ: There was a lot of confusion about the religious-liberty-protection effort earlier this year. I know you’ve said you would have done what the governor did in vetoing that controversial bill, but are you concerned about religious liberty in America today?
DUCEY: The religious-liberty issues that SB 1062 attempted to address are legitimate ones, and I believe there is a way to draft language that would address the concerns of everyone involved and avoid the acrimony and notoriety that followed this bill’s passage. As governor, I would seek to bring all the parties together to reach a consensus, so there would be no need for a veto. We can find common ground without insult to anyone and without risk to the vital principle of religious liberty.
— Kathryn Jean Lopez is editor-at-large of National Review Online.