By Daniel Scarpinato
Arizona has long had an outsized spot on the national political stage, and that will likely put our next governor right smack in the middle of a pretty big spotlight.
Since 1964, we’ve had four prominent figures from our state run for president. Our political leaders often find themselves household names: John McCain, Sandra Day O’Connor, Jan Brewer. From SB1070 to the recent debate over SB1062, Arizona has been at the tip of nearly every major national issue of the last four years.
And our footprint is likely to increase.
We are growing in population and influence. When my parents moved here in 1978, our state had only six presidential electoral votes. Today, we have 11. In the next decade, we’ll probably have even more.
Recently, we haven’t been viewed as a competitive presidential state, but we could be. Bill Clinton won Arizona in 1996. The Southwest is where it’s at for future presidential elections.
All that makes the stakes extremely high in this year’s race for governor.
Why? Because our state’s next chief executive will have the opportunity to funnel these political realities into a national platform that could be significant for themselves and for us.
Think of it this way: Only 50 men and women in our entire country of 315 million people are executives of states.
Reporters who cover the yearly gathering of the National Governors Association will tell you that they can count on one hand the number who are impressive. Hence, governors – even of itty-bitty states – are instantly seen as credible contenders for leader of the free world. Think Howard Dean (from Vermont, the second-smallest state in America) or Sarah Palin (from Alaska, which has fewer residents than metropolitan Tucson).
So why haven’t recent Arizona governors been the subject of such speculation? For many reasons, but one big one: In the last 25 years, only two governors came to office elected in their own right. One resigned early (Fife Symington) and the other left to work for Obama (Janet Napolitano). The two who inherited the office – Jane Hull and Jan Brewer – made clear they were at the tail-end of their careers.
What am I getting at here?
Of the major gubernatorial candidates – Republican and Democrat – the median age is only 54. If the eventual victor is smart, competent and stays out of trouble, he or she could easily be a player on the national scene. And don’t even be surprised if you hear his or her name tossed out for President or Vice President.
Arizona congressman-turned-presidential candidate Mo Udall once joked that “Arizona is the only state where mothers don’t tell their children they can grow up to be President.”
That was back before the Brady Bunch was even in reruns, but four decades later, a new crop of Arizona moms are still waiting for that opportunity.
(Editor’s Note: Daniel Scarpinato is a native Tucsonan, former political reporter for the Arizona Daily Star, and current National Press Secretary for the National Republican Congressional Committee in Washington, D.C.)