Former Congressman Frank Riggs stressed his knowledge of the federal government, his fierce opposition to federal Common Core standards and his long political experience in his pitch for the Republican nomination for governor to a select audience at Chaparral Pines in Payson recently, the latest in a parade of Republican candidates to make repeated visits to Rim Country.
The staunchly conservative Riggs managed to get elected in a heavily Democratic, but conservative California district, in part by railing against environmental restrictions that undercut the timber industry in his district.
One of his last votes in Congress was in favor of the impeachment of then-President Bill Clinton. Keeping his promise to serve a limited number of terms, he went back into business and then launched an advocacy group to crusade for charter schools and other ways to give parents school choice. He moved to Arizona to further that cause, before deciding to jump into the crowded Republican primary struggle in the governor’s race.
Polls remain notoriously unreliable with a crowded field of little known challengers. Some recent polls put State Treasurer Doug Ducey in front with former Go-Daddy executive Christine Jones with the other candidates strung out along behind, including Secretary of State Ken Bennett, Mesa Mayor Scott Smith, Riggs and former Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas.
The whip-thin, genial, voluble and endlessly enthusiastic Riggs said he’s used to underdog campaigns — and problem solving. He’s also often unpredictable, taking a sometimes unexpected tact on particular issues — despite his conservative philosophy.
For instance, he said he would immediately revoke the state’s adherence to the national academic standards known as Common Core — but he also said the Legislature should comply with a recent judge’s ruling that the state should immediately restore $316 million in inflation funding for K-12 schools, which lawmakers illegally withheld during the recession.
“We should adhere to the court ruling and increase the base (per-student funding level). My priorities are public safety, jobs and kids. I spent 16 years working to improve and reform K-12 education and expand school choice. But we’ve been engaged in a race to the bottom in K-12 funding in this state.”
He said districts should remain free to adopt the Common Core standards if they want, but shouldn’t be coerced by a state mandate.
He said, “The very top issue has to be fixing the state budget mess.”
That’s why he opposes the call by several other candidates for governor to repeal the business and corporate income tax in Arizona, which provides about 40 percent of the state’s general fund budget.
“I would not increase taxes anywhere, but I’m sure going to look at every special interest loophole and eliminate anything that smacks of corporate welfare.
The former police officer and Army veteran said, “I have the deepest, most proven leadership record, because I’m the only veteran in the race. I was a military policeman and in civil law enforcement. But I also have a deep background in K-12 education. I’ve been a school board president, I’ve been founding president of a statewide online schools organization. I can walk my talk when I say I will be the education governor. I’m ready to lead. I’m ready to face the challenges that confront us.”
He adopted conventional Republican positions on the border, calling for building a fence in large sections, mobilizing the National Guard for surveillance and support and pressing the federal government for tougher enforcement. He said his experience as a member of commerce would make him much more effective than the other candidates for governor when it came time to negotiate with the federal government.
But he also offered some creative and unconventional ideas, with a conservative twist.
So while he said the key to attracting business to the state remains improving the K-12 schools, universities and vocational training programs — he also proposed establishment of a state infrastructure investment bank.
He pointed to Payson’s effort to use private investment money to build a university campus here that could serve as the model for a state college system.
“The other thing I would do is create a state infrastructure investment bank — and the model is right here with your (university) SLE (separate legal entity). In fact, I’d probably try to talk (Payson Mayor) Kenny (Evans) into taking on the challenge. We take a small amount of state taxpayer funding and over a period of a couple of years leverage that and secure private capital investment money for infrastructure projects. So that’s very similar to the Rim Country Educational Alliance project. The state taxpayer funds sit there as a first loss or debt service fund so investors know there is a liquid amount of funding they could tap in the event of a loss.”