Gov. Janet Napolitano wowed both her democratic supporters and a classroom of antsy first-graders during a Tuesday visit to Payson.
In the Frontier Elementary School library, the governor read "The Seed and the Giant Saguaro" to about 30 students who all received their own personal copy of the book.
The governor said she chose the book because Tucson author Jennifer Ward wrote it, the book was published in Arizona and a panel of elementary school librarians recommended it.
"It's a great story," she said.
Since 2003, the governor has given free books to every first-grader in the state as a part of her literacy program.
This year, more than 94,000 students around the state received the book.
To pay for the books, the governor said she enlisted the financial help of Phelps Dodge and Southwest Gas Corporations.
Prior to her visit to FES, the governor attended a luncheon at the Payson Public Library, sponsored by the Northern Gila County Democratic Party.
About 90 people packed the library conference room to hear her deliver a short, post-luncheon speech that focused on her campaign goals of promoting quality education, creating high value jobs and protecting Arizona's children.
At the head table with the governor was Payson Vice Mayor Tim Fruth, Star Valley Mayor Chuck Herron, Tonto Apache Tribal Council Vice Chairman Kenny Davis and students and teachers from Frontier Elementary School.
Fruth, Herron and Davis welcomed the governor to Payson and the school children presented her with a handmade thank-you card.
Davis also thanked the governor for the work she had done for the tribe, and assured her many tribal members would support her in the upcoming election.
Fruth, who is a Payson High School vice principal, thanked the governor for her contributions to public education which included signing a state budget that made available $100 million to pay for all-day kindergarten and teacher pay increases.
In a telephone interview with the Payson Roundup Monday, Napolitano said her office had worked very hard to secure the money, and she was "very upset" when she learned that some districts around the state were using the money for purposes other than she intended.
"That was a hard-fought battle, and I feel badly for those in the districts where the money is not being used (for kindergarten and teacher salary increases)," she said.
Napolitano also said she was very proud of the "education governor" label she's been tagged with, and she considers public education a top priority.
She said that the formation of the Governor's P-20 Council will better align early education, the K-12 public school system and the job market.
The "P" refers to preschool education and the "20" to the idea that education must continue beyond high school.
At FES, while reading "The Seed and the Giant Saguaro," the governor showed she had the makings of a strong elementary schoolteacher.
"Quiet, I'm doing the talking now," she scolded a first-grader who was chatting with a classmate.
Before leaving Payson to travel to Globe where she was scheduled to visit Gila Community College, the governor said she enjoyed her cooling respite in the Rim Country and the mid-70s temperatures were a welcome relief from the searing desert heat of Phoenix.