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April 1, 2015

A Tale of Two Cities (and Two States)

For several decades, conservative political scholars have warned of the dangers of the federal government’s increasing reach into the affairs of the states.

Along the way, some of this political discourse has suggested that the ability of the states to chart their own unique policies—to be the “laboratories of democracy”—has been lost.

I share this concern, and I continue to believe that the power of the federal government has far exceeded the limits our founders imposed in order to protect states’ rights.  Last month, however, a two-day visit to Phoenix, Ariz., reminded me that there are still very stark differences among the states and their policies toward economic activity and commerce.

WG’s Executive Committee, accompanied by our Arizona board members, met in Phoenix for our annual leadership meetings with statewide elected officials and legislative leaders.  WG board members who make the annual trek to Sacramento for WG’s Board of Directors meetings there would consider our Phoenix experiences to be therapeutic.

We met the state’s new Governor, Doug Ducey, a Republican who created opportunities for thousands of small business owners and their employees by taking Cold Stone Creamery from a small local business to a nationwide chain.  Governor Ducey clearly intends to make economic growth and opportunity his top priority.  Secretary of State Michelle Reagan—a Republican former state legislator—underscored her commitment to modernizing her office’s services to businesses as an important part of the state’s economic vitality.  Republican State Treasurer Jeff DeWitt described the many steps he is taking to clear red tape from the state’s regulatory structure and modernize his office’s investment practices.  He clearly is qualified to do so, having started his own commodities trading firm, growing it to more than 500 licensed traders.

Legislators of both parties showed similar enthusiasm for policies that emphasize freedom for private enterprises to create opportunity and prosperity.  The Speaker of the State House of Representatives, David Gowan, and state Senate President Andy Biggs both clearly embrace farmers and our affiliated businesses.  These leaders, along with Democratic legislators from the Yuma region in partnership with their Republican colleagues, worked together to advance legislation proposed by WG.

When the WG group parted ways and I stepped aboard the plane that would return me in one short hour to California, I couldn’t help but think again of the stark contrast between the attitudes and policies of our elected leaders in Phoenix and Sacramento.

California is a beautiful state.  From its inception, California has been the place to pursue dreams, to start over, to be free of the constraints of the Old World traditions of the East Coast.  California captured the imaginations of innovators and risk-takers everywhere because it was a place that promised individuals with a vision the freedom to try, to succeed or fail. Today, in its tortuously complicated laws, regulations and lawsuits, California stifles free enterprise.  The Golden State places heavy shackles around the ankles of those engaged in business enterprises while its leaders happily declare it “The World Leader” on climate change regulations, environmental regulations, workplace regulations, etc.

Through it all, WG members in California persevere, innovate, and find a way.  But I worry about the future.  I worry because I suspect there must be a limit to the regulatory burdens any industry can bear, and I worry that California’s leaders don’t believe that to be true, or lack the political courage to confront it.

We must do more to help California’s political class see the damage to our economic future that will be realized without a fundamentally different approach by the Legislature and the Governor’s regulators.  It will be very tough for California politicians to admit that over time, California has lost connection with the spirit that once defined it and made it the economic and social powerhouse of the United States.  I am convinced that Arizona’s leaders have embraced that spirit and are acting to let its magic work for all Arizonans.