In his seminal essay, Civil Disobedience, the American philosopher Henry David Thoreau stated, “That government is best which governs least.” Written 168 years ago—after spending two years, two months and two days at Walden Pond—Thoreau was expressing the belief that governments are typically more harmful than helpful, and that people are at their best when they are self-reliant and independent.
Thoreau’s words were echoed generations later as Ronald Reagan entered the White House in 1981. In his first inaugural address, facing a country beset by sustained inflation and high unemployment, Reagan channeled his inner Thoreau with the oft-quoted phrase, “Government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.”
Despite the warnings of a philosopher and a highly-successful president, at every level of government, private companies and individuals continue to suffer unrelenting bureaucratic encroachment into every nook and cranny of our lives. To quote another Reagan gem, I think we all can agree that the nine most terrifying words in the English language are, “I’m from the government, and I’m here to help.”
Every once in a while, however, someone does show up from the government who really is here to help. Enter Arizona Governor Doug Ducey. In 2014, he won election on a pledge to, “Make Arizona the best state in the country to live, work, do business and get an education.”
Several short years later, Governor Ducey is delivering on his promises. On day one, he inherited a $1 billion budget deficit. Today, Arizona boasts a balanced budget (thanks, in part, to a state employee hiring freeze). And this fiscal feat has not been achieved on the backs of Arizona’s people or businesses.
In fact, quite the opposite is true. After he boldly announced to the Washington Post in March that his goal is to get the state’s income tax “as close to zero as possible,” he followed through by signing a bill that increases the personal income tax exemption, allowing individuals to keep more of what they earn. Ducey has also managed to reduce corporate taxes, making the tax rate for Arizona businesses the fourth lowest in the nation.
The result? Arizonans are reinvesting their income in the economy and its businesses are thriving. Go figure.
Governor Ducey also placed a moratorium on new administrative rules and initiated an internal review of existing ones. All with the goal of promoting job creation and customer service-oriented state agencies. As he told the National Review last year: “My aim is not to pass laws, it’s to repeal them.”
What a novel concept.
Where does this type of rational governance and emphasis on limited government come from? For Ducey, and many other successful public administrators, I believe it comes from firm roots in business and the pursuit of entrepreneurial endeavors.
After graduating from Arizona State University with a degree in finance, Ducey first worked for Proctor & Gamble before starting a little business called Cold Stone Creamery. Along with his partner, Ducey grew this company from a local ice cream shop to more than 1,400 locations in every state plus 10 foreign countries.
His experiences in growing a small enterprise into an international franchise have undoubtedly shaped his approach as governor. He understands the role of businesses in creating jobs and driving the economy. He understands the stifling effects burdensome regulations and bureaucratic red tape can have on economic growth. And he understands the imperative for government to be accountable to its constituents and prudent stewards of taxpayer resources.
Ducey’s belief in pulling back the reins on government was perhaps best illustrated in his State of the State speech earlier this year: “Here in Arizona, we’ve demonstrated: Government can work when it respects its limited role, and listens to the people.”
During his nearly three years in office, Ducey has exhibited his capacity to do just that, to listen. Especially to Western Growers members and our friends in the broader business community. But Ducey doesn’t just listen. He presses on his administration to support our industry where needed, and to get out of the way when necessary.
For example, the governor has supported several pieces of legislation critical to Arizona agriculture, including a bill directing several state agencies to research and identify areas of the state where new water storage can be developed to ensure that farmers have access to a reliable supply of water in the face of future urban growth. Ducey also signed a bill expanding funding for the Arizona Department of Agriculture’s Plant Services Division’s export certification program, making up for the loss of federal money.
Additionally, the governor has overhauled several state programs to reduce unnecessary licensing requirements, which resulted in the elimination of a costly and irrelevant agricultural harvesting license.
As I survey the gubernatorial landscape across this country, Governor Ducey stands out for his effective leadership and adherence to the philosophy of limited government, which has demonstrated its merits time and time again in American history. Thoreau and Reagan would be proud.
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