Arizona’s “Ice Cream Man” Governor Freezes Higher Education, Melts State Future

Republican Doug Ducey is Arizona’s 23rd and current governor. The governor is perhaps best known for having been CEO of Cold Stone Creamery until he and his partner sold the ice cream chain in 2007. He also served as the state’s treasurer, and he is Arizona’s first male governor to hold office since Fife Symington in the 1990s. Ducey is once again making the Arizona news thanks to his budget plan. He is also sounding the alarm that Republican politics are purely self-interested, and that they are anachronistic and detrimental to the public interest at best. The governor and the Republican leadership in the state’s House and Senate agreed to an awful budget this past week. Then, to the chagrin of many Arizonans, legislators pulled an all-nighter and approved a $9.1 billion budget proposal on Saturday, March 7. One of the most detrimental pillars of the budget slashes resources to state universities.

Ducey and his Republican legislative cabal connived behind closed doors to work out the notorious new budget. Local reporters and journalists noted the pushback from “rank-and-file” lawmakers that came to light earlier on in the week as Arizona’s ruling Republican coalition revealed their new financial plan for the state. Still, many lawmakers threatened to vote against the budget unless significant changes to the proposal’s “deep cuts” to higher education were made. Ultimately, however, reductions to the cuts proposed by the governor were minimal: Cuts to funding were only reduced by $5 million, or from $104 million to $99 million.

Arizona State University President Michael M. Crow issued a statement in response to Ducey-and-company’s state budget on the same Saturday that it passed. Crow wrote, “This drastic remedy to the state’s budget troubles represents a setback for Arizonans who already are frustrated by the state’s sluggish economic recovery.” He remarked that the actual consequences of the cut “will be felt not only by Arizona’s institutions of higher education but also by the students whom we serve.” Indeed, Ducey’s state budget is an attack on Arizona’s higher education students and more. For Arizona’s state economy in particular, ASU President Crow was right to surmise that “the ramifications for the state’s economy will take years to play out because it is [Arizona’s] colleges and universities that produce Arizona’s strongest asset: educated young men and women trained to play leading roles in a rapidly changing world.”

Crow noted that the implementation of Ducey’s budget cut took into consideration zero input from Arizona’s higher education leaders. Crow also reassured recipients of his statement on the budget that ASU would assess the total impact that budget cuts will have, and that the university will devise a plan accordingly to “minimize the effects” on its campuses. ASU hopes to brace for setbacks while, as Crow put it, “continuing to advance ASU as an institution dedicated to access for all qualified students, excellence in teaching and research, and progress for Arizona.” He promised that ASU would not allow this setback to prevent it from developing as a “comprehensive knowledge enterprise” that dedicates itself to Arizona’s economic and cultural success.

For the Arizona State Senate, one Democrat, Senator Carlyle Begay, was pivotal in aiding the Republicans to get their measures across the governor’s desk. Two Democrats in the House voted for a couple of budget bills, citing their votes as “accidental” due to the fact that they were “too tired to think straight.” Though some Democrats endeavored for hours to propose budget amendments that would restore kindergarten through twelfth grade funding, funding the university system, and also state aid to low-income families, their work was dead on arrival. One Democratic Senator from Tucson, David Bradley, touted the Ducey budget as “death by a thousand cuts” for the state’s disenfranchised who simply cannot survive losing state aid. An incredible amount of teachers, students, and parents protested outside the State Capitol last Thursday evening.

Once again, Republican policymakers have not acted in earnest on behalf of the public interest, but rather, their conceptualization of ‘public interest’ here is warped and nearsighted due to political pressure and urgency. They’re only in it for the short-run and personal gains, paying no mind to economic consequences that cutting funding to higher education will surely have. This has been the Republican slash-and-burn policy model for too many years, harkening back to Nixon’s push for a “war on drugs” policy that, by most, if not all, degrees has resulted in decades of catastrophic failure and taxpayer loss. In fact, the parallel is so obvious that when the Arizona State Legislature pleaded with Governor Ducey to refrain from hurrying through a state budget without first giving lawmakers or the public time to consider it, he responded, “Slow this down? What are we waiting for? I ran on this budget!”