The 2014 governor’s race just hit Payson.
Democrat Fred DuVal journeyed to Rim Country last week to rouse Payson Democrats to action at what he called a “tipping point” for the state’s future.
A former member of the Arizona Board of Regents who worked in the White House for President Bill Clinton and helped run the Clinton-Gore presidential campaign, DuVal noted that this year marks the first time in a century that not a single Democrat holds statewide office in Arizona. Republicans hold both U.S. Senate seats, all the statewide offices, the governorship and a 17/13 margin in the state Senate and a 36/24 margin in the state House.
However, he said the state’s has also become a punch line for comedians nationally — and has all but abandoned its history of big ideas and innovations.
“We are optimists. We are go-getters. We have the highest percentage of business starts — and bankruptcies. We’re more Libertarian than Republican. And when our backs are against the wall — we do big things.”
As examples, he cited the formation of the Salt River Project and the construction of Roosevelt Dam that provided the water and flood control necessary to settle the Valley. He also said that although Arizona became the last state to set up a Medicaid program for the poor, we ended up developing the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System — a health maintenance model that offers better care at a lower cost than any other Medicaid system in the country.
“But I don’t recognize my state’s current predicament — we’re stuck.”
He said one recent survey found that most students enrolled at the state’s three universities expect to leave the state after they graduate. “The best of our students don’t think this state will offer them opportunities. We’re at a tipping point. Now, these tipping points don’t happen fast. But at some point Arizona is going to lock into a Mississippi economy unless we change. We have two, or five or eight years — and I believe that the 2014 race is the time to change.”
“What we need is a strategy for producing products that the rest of the country will buy” and an education system that will attract people and businesses.
As an example, he cited changes in the funding approach to the universities made while he served on the Board of Regents. He said the universities had previously received their funding based on student enrollment. As a result, the universities got money for enrolling large freshmen classes — even if half of those students never obtained a degree. However, he said he pushed for a shift to base much of the funding for the universities on students who graduated.
“That completely changes the incentives — and we’re already seeing the results.”
By contrast, he said, the Republican approach in the past several years has been to drastically reduce state funding for schools — especially higher education.”
The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities recently reported that between 2008 and 2013 Arizona cut per-student support for universities and colleges more than any other state — about 50 percent. As a consequence, Arizona’s three universities in that same period imposed the biggest tuition increases in the country — a 78 percent increase.
Other studies show that Arizona also cut K-12 schools more deeply in the recession than almost any other state.
“The Arizona Legislature has cut education deeper than any other state,” said DuVal.
He recalled walking out into the parking lot after a Board of Regents meeting after the Regents approved a $200 increase in ASU’s tuition. “A student followed me to my car and shared his budget. He said, ‘I am sleeping on a sofa and living on Top Ramen and I have a 4.0, but this is going to break me.’”
DuVal said he also pushed hard while on the Regents for stronger connections between the universities and the community colleges — and an increase in lower-cost, online learning options to give students a way to get a degree cheaper.
He expressed confidence that ASU will build a campus in Payson. “It’s a matter of time — sufficient space and facilities. It will happen here — it just hasn’t happened yet.”
DuVal’s political career started with work as a senior aide to Arizona Gov. Bruce Babbitt in the early 1980s, where he worked with the Legislature. He managed Babbitt’s campaign for governor in 1978 and then Babbitt’s unsuccessful bid for the Democratic presidential nomination. He served on the Democratic National Committee twice, served as deputy chief of protocol at the U.S. State Department and deputy director of intergovernmental affairs for Clinton.
He also lost a bid for Congress.
He said he believes Arizonans don’t want extreme government — they want effective, limited, efficient government.
He suggested the Republicans will alienate the voters with harsh, anti-Hispanic policies and deep cuts to programs voters value — like schools.
“If we’re prepared and organized to be the adults in the room, then we have a chance,” said DuVal. “I’m good at change. That’s what Arizona needs.”