PHOENIX — Republican Doug Ducey was sworn in as Arizona governor Monday, taking command amid a looming budget crisis that he said won't crimp his reform agenda and declaring "it's time to up our game" to reawaken the state's sluggish economy.
Ducey said in his inauguration speech that he won't let the deficit be an excuse for raising taxes, and he said it won't distract him from trimming government, boosting the economy and improving the state's school system.
"It will be said that the state has already found all the savings that can be found, cut every line item that can be cut, and now, every option exhausted, it is for the people to pay for the shortfall with higher taxes," Ducey said. "And I will reply: Not on our watch."
The governor said he will make good on a campaign pledge to reform the state's schools and provide funding so that children in failing schools can move to high-performing ones. He did not, however, explain how he planned to do that.
"For as long as anyone can remember, we have heard ringing promises of a day when every Arizona parent could count on equal access to good public schools. As it is, we've got some great public schools, among the best in America, but Arizona's children do not yet have equal access. We can do better," Ducey said. "Yet, for so many other families, it is a long wait, on a long list, while years go by — years that can never be regained in the life of a child. I cannot and will not accept this inequity."
Outgoing Republican Gov. Jan Brewer was in the front row as Ducey took the oath, kissed his wife, Angela, hugged his three sons and headed to the podium to deliver his speech.
Ducey's inauguration marks the end of nearly a year of campaigning for the 50-year-old outgoing state treasurer and former Cold Stone Creamery CEO, and with that comes the burden of leadership that he's sought since leaving the corporate world in 2007 and entering politics. He faces an estimated $1.5 billion deficit in the next 18 months, much of that from a court-ordered boost in basic school aid that the state failed to fully fund during the recession.
He promised that not only the wealthy will be able to benefit from school choice — an oft-heard criticism of opponents of the state's school choice initiatives.
"And no matter how much we grow in prosperity, the right to a real education will not depend on family wealth or sheer luck," he said. "It will be a first principle of my agenda that schools and choices available to affluent parents must be open to all parents."
Since his November election, he's been vague about how he'll manage the budget shortfall and has hesitated to fill in the blanks left in the talking points of his election stump speech. During the campaign, he promised to shrink state government, grow the economy, reform education and rework the state's new Common Core standards. He promises to provide more specifics in his Jan. 12 State of the State speech and in his budget proposal to be released Jan. 16.
During his inauguration speech, he returned again to the themes of opportunity for all Arizonans, making sure that businesses feel confident enough to move to the state — and he hinted at efforts to reshape the state's anti-immigrant image.
"It bears repeating that I have pledged to be a governor for all the people. Opportunity is just a platitude unless all Arizonans are included, everyone given a fair chance and even a second chance, no one forgotten, no one written off. Whatever your age or background, wherever life finds you today, you have a stake in all that happens at this Capitol," he said.
Top Republicans in the Legislature are hoping that Ducey meets their expectations on budget cuts, revamping education and cutting state regulation.
"I believe that for him working with the Legislature is a priority," Senate President Andy Biggs said in a recent interview. "I think he has an agenda that he wants to get through. And I think he recognizes that you have to have the Legislature's support."
Democrats too are hopeful, but for different reasons.
"I'm thinking that Gov. Ducey does have the integrity to govern, not just run for re-election," said Sen. Steve Farley, D-Tucson, the assistant minority leader.
Ducey was joined on inauguration day by a new crop of Republicans in other statewide offices. The GOP swept every office from the governor to mine inspector.
The new leaders include Michele Reagan, who becomes secretary of state, Mark Brnovich as attorney general, Jeff Dewit as treasurer and Diane Douglas as superintendent of public instruction.