By Tim Linden
Robert Medler joined Western Growers in mid-January as the organization’s new manager of Arizona government affairs. He hit the ground running as the Legislature was in session, but the transition was seamless as he was previously the chief lobbyist for the Tucson Metro Chamber of Commerce.
Q: Briefly detail your path from college to Western Growers?
A: I was employed by the Tucson Metro Chamber of Commerce from 2007 to last month (January 2021). In the early years, I focused on local city and county government, eventually running our entire policy program. While working, I earned my master’s degree in organizational leadership from Gonzaga University (which is in Spokane, WA). During my career, I was involved in many different aspects of the chamber but at the end, I was focusing on state and federal government as vice president of government affairs.
Q: What was the impetus for change?
A: I was looking for a change and something new. The chamber is focused on the entire business community, which is both a blessing and a curse. I was looking for a new challenge. My wife actually found the Western Growers job posting and thought it sounded perfect for me.
Q: Of course, you are still representing business before the Arizona Legislature. Do you see the two jobs as being similar?
A: There is synergy between the two but there are also differences. Agriculture is a specific type of business so there are issues that were very similar to the ones I dealt with for the chamber. At the chamber, our goal was to help businesses prosper in the most efficient manner as they work through various governmental rules and regulations. And that piece will be similar. When I was at the chamber, I worked very well with the agricultural industry lobbyists. But there are also new issues that are very important to agriculture that I didn’t deal with, such as pesticide regulations and immigration issues. Currently, we are dealing with many issues surrounding COVID-19, including vaccinations and agricultural workers being identified as front line workers.
Q: Arizona was in the middle of the action this election season as President Biden carried the state. Has Arizona’s political atmosphere changed as much as pundits say?
A: Of course, things have changed a lot in the last 20 years. I came to Arizona to go to college in the summer of 2001. Three weeks later we had 9/11 and the whole world change. Arizona has changed demographically, economically and politically. And more changes are coming that are very difficult to predict. But I do not agree with the assessment that Arizona is now a ‘Blue State’. Arizona is some shade of light purple. We are blue federally, but a solid red below that. Democrats won the presidency and the Senate, but they lost a lot of legislative races that they thought they were going to win. We are a mixed bag. I see my job as creating coalitions on both sides of the aisle to create sound public policy. It is important for Western Growers to be a leading voice on all issues that affect agriculture.
Q: Arizona government has a reputation of being business friendly. Do you think that is an accurate assessment?
A: I do. Our track record for attracting businesses to Arizona over the last six years has been very good. Under Governor Ducey, Arizona has made a strategic decision to entice business to relocate here and that has gone very well. The proof is in the pudding as they say. You are either growing or decaying…there is very little room in-between. I believe Arizona offers a very good environment for businesses to grow.
Q: Does agriculture still enjoy a fair amount of clout in the state?
A: Agriculture definitely has clout. I witnessed that firsthand during my years at the chamber. Agriculture is still one of the top five industries in the state and is a huge part of Arizona’s economy. People do listen to agriculture. That was always apparent, and a good example was legislation surrounding water issues. Agriculture always argued if you don’t have water, of course, you can’t grow your crops…and that message was heard. Historically, currently, and into the future agriculture is very important to Arizona and government officials know that.
Q: What are you most looking forward to in your new position?
A: I am a people person and when the legislative session is over, I plan to travel around the state and get acquainted with all of our members in Arizona. I want to introduce myself and learn firsthand about each company and the issues they face.
• • •
Name: Robert Medler
Title: Manager of Arizona Government Affairs
Hometown: Marana, Arizona (between Tucson & Phoenix)
Upbringing: I was a military brat and lived in many places in the United States and around the world including California, Alabama, Virginia, Connecticut, England, and West Germany.
Family: My wife, Bonnie, and I have a three and half year-old daughter named Katherine.
Favorite Childhood Home: We lived in London from 1993 to 1996. It was a great place to be a 10-year-old boy with all the nearby castles.
Education: I went to undergraduate school at the University of Arizona and graduate school at Gonzaga. My dad joked that I picked my colleges based on their basketball programs. I almost always have two teams in the NCAA March Madness Tourney.
Favorite Hobbies: I love spending time with my wife and daughter. I love lots of outdoor activities: playing golf, fly fishing, hunting, scuba diving.
Favorite Vacation: We love to travel. We love Hawaii and in recent years we’ve also been to China, all of Scandinavia and the Dominican Republic.
Personal Motivation: I am an education geek. I am always looking for new things to learn. I especially love getting out and learning.
Fun Fact: After I applied for the Western Growers position, I noticed that Kim Sherman (senior director of membership) worked here. We had been friends as we met at conferences and were in a chamber leadership class together when we both worked for different chambers of commerce. I reached out and she raved about Western Growers and said it was a great place to work.
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