Go Daddy Internet executive and political novice Christine Jones would love to have the contest for the Republican nomination for governor focus on her sweet spot — reviving the economy by attracting high-tech entrepreneurs and manufacturers.
But in a crowded, often strident Republican primary focusing on conservative red meat issues like illegal immigration, she’ll have to settle for being witty and fast on her feet.
Jones brought her once-dark horse, now front-running (sort of) campaign to Rim Country for a second time last week before a small, well-heeled crowd at The Rim Club. She took a softer line with fewer references to prayer and defying the federal government than at her last appearance here before the Payson Tea Party.
But she hit the same basic themes, stressing her role in helping transform the internet service Go Daddy from a modest, Scottsdale startup into an internet giant with thousands of employees.
She’s trying to move to the front of a crowded field of Republican candidates vying to replace incumbent Republican Gov. Jan Brewer. Most polls show half of the Republican primary voters still undecided. Jones is in the neck-and-neck front tier of candidates in the polls, which also includes Secretary of State Ken Bennett, Mesa Mayor Scott Smith and Jones. None have broken out of the single digits when it comes to support.
The second-tier candidates include former Congressman Frank Riggs, State Treasurer Doug Ducey, State Sen. Al Melvin and former Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas.
Smiling and joking, but looking all the while focused and intense behind rimless glasses and sharp features, she also underscored her role in defying the National Security Agency, which wanted access to the company’s servers as part of its massive digital snooping operation focused on thwarting terrorist planning activities.
She said her record demonstrated she’s tough enough to stand up to the federal government on a host of issues, like health care reforms, wildfire policies, control of lands policy and preventing the flow of illegal immigrants across the state’s border.
“You have to do what you can do,” she said of resistance to the growth of federal power. “You have to get it into your head what the federal government is actually entitled to do.
“Edward Snowden was the guy who revealed that the NSA was engaged in this huge spying program. Google, Microsoft, AOL, You-Tube, all went for it. Then they came to me and said ‘Wouldn’t it be nice if we could put our machines in your data center?’
“Today Go Daddy provides technology services for 12 million small businesses. About a third of internet traffic passes through Go Daddy servers. If you see a third of traffic going through these servers, you say ‘jackpot.’
“You know what I said? ‘No. No. Not on my watch.’ Because I actually read the constitution. You have a constitutionally guaranteed right to be protected from unreasonable search and seizure. They keep pushing and pushing, taking over and taking over. They’ve done it with water, with energy, with health — so many areas. You have to stand up and be strong and face the federal government.”
She spoke with force and charm, taking positions with humor and energy and enough distinctive expression, without actually challenging conservative orthodoxy or revealing many policy specifics.
For instance, she opposed adoption of national Common Core standards in Arizona schools, and called for more creative and rigorous schools. She stressed the importance of education, but didn’t object to state policies that have made Arizona last in per-student funding.
“I think we can establish a set of state standards and they ought to be higher standards — not lower standards. But we also have to have standards for schools and teachers — and parents. Some of those schools that are not doing it so well, they either have to improve or they have to go away. If you guys will support me on this, I’m willing to do that. If we are to be the brightest [state star], we have to set the playing field so they [students] can succeed in life. We should be filling the pipeline with really well-educated, well-trained people.”
Arizona has struggled for years to implement the state standards at the heart of the AIMS test, but had to repeatedly change the test to improve the initially terrible pass rate. The state and federal governments have also experimented with programs that shut down schools whose students score poorly — almost all of them impoverished schools where most parents have never been to college. Most attempts to pour money into those schools in turn-around operations have achieved only mixed results.
Jones focused on illegal immigration, which remains a hot-button topic among Republican primary voters — and her fellow candidates.
She said the nation needs a much better, high-tech system to both monitor the border and keep track of when people over-stay their visas. She wants to station the national guard on the border, because “It’s a universal human condition that people respect people in uniforms. We have to have a physical presence.”
She noted, “I really feel like we should be enforcing immigration law — if we just enforce the laws that are on the books, it would have an immediate impact.
“Because I’m not a career politician, I really try to get to the facts of what’s going on. Why can’t we get this fixed? You can put a fence on the back yard. You can put a lock on the door. Here’s what we found out — the border with Texas is pretty good — the border with California is pretty good. The border all the way to the Yuma sector — pretty good. That has the effect of funneling illegal immigration right into the Tucson sector. So congratulations, Arizona taxpayers; you’re now paying for a disproportionately large share of the illegal immigration in the country.”
She said the border near Tucson is porous to illegals — but resistant to legal traffic, with a 10-mile line to get through customs for commercial trucking.
“In Nogales, there’s a 10-mile line of trucks. In McClellan Texas, there’s a 10-minute wait. You know why? Customs agents. That’s what happens when you peel back the layer. The only difference is that the federal customs authority has allocated resources to Texas and California. That strikes me as punitive. That’s the federal government saying, you know, Arizona, we don’t like you so much.”