By Howard Fischer Capitol Media Services
Gov. Doug Ducey promised last week to make another attempt to let police and courts take guns away from potentially dangerous people if voters return him to office in November.
In formally launching his re-election bid, the governor touted what he said is the turnaround of the state’s financial fortune, including a balanced budget, new jobs in the private sector and more money for education. Ducey said he also recognizes more needs to be done, particularly in that last category.
“So this campaign is going to be about what’s next,’’ he told Capitol Media Services.
Ducey did acknowledge that his 2014 campaign promise to push state income taxes to “as close to zero as possible’’ has not been accomplished.
Tax rates remain the same. Instead, there have been a series of very discreet changes in tax law, like indexing tax brackets for inflation.
The governor said, though, voters need patience.
“To lower our income tax and for major tax reform, we’re going to need a term or two,’’ Ducey said.
“We’re going to need a growing economy,’’ he continued. “And we have a plan.’’
But it is the issue of school safety – and particularly the question of letting judges take away weapons – which could end up being the key dividing issue in the Republican primary between Ducey and former Secretary of State Ken Bennett.
Bennett has staked out the position that it is possible to deal with school violence without the Severe Threat Orders of Protection that Ducey wants but was unable to get lawmakers to approve earlier this year.
These would allow both police and family members, roommates and school officials to seek a court order to have someone’s weapons seized, at least temporarily, if a judge determines someone is a potential threat to self or others.
Lawmakers did approve some proposals aimed at school safety, like more money for mental health counselors. But Ducey told Capitol Media Services he remains convinced that STOP orders are necessary.
“When I look what happened in Florida, Kentucky, Texas and other instances, I want our law enforcement leaders and our mental health professionals to have a tool where they can be proactive in a dangerous situation,’’ he said. And that, he said, means some version of a STOP order.
“You don’t sit on the sidelines and say, ‘There’s nothing we can do,’” Ducey said. The governor said what happened at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, proves his point.
“Nikolas Cruz gave every indication, with 39 visits from law enforcement and social services, being identified by name to the FBI, and posting on YouTube that he wanted to be known as a school shooter. I think good policy is that you can stop someone like that,’’ the governor said.
That, however, is not Bennett’s idea of a school safety plan.
“Instead of removing guns from law-abiding Americans, it will focus on getting guns where they can help protect our children,’’ he told Capitol Media Services. “The best way to stop a bad guy with a gun is to have one or more good guys with a gun.’’
What that means, Bennett said, is a plan similar to Ohio’s to train “willing, competent and capable’’ school staffers in armed response, including carrying firearms in schools for those who want. In fact, he said, there should be tax credits available for those who are willing to carry guns.
The plan, he said, also would train staffers in crisis management and emergency medical aid.
As far as dealing with people who may pose a threat, Bennett said there are existing laws that allow a judge to have someone locked up for evaluation if they pose a danger to self or others, meaning they will not have access to firearms. And he brushed aside claims by some mental health professionals that procedure does not work in cases in which the threat is only potential.
Ducey’s announcement he wants another term is hardly a surprise.
His campaign committee actually has been in operation – and gathering donations – since September 2016, and he has collected more than $3 million.
Bennett, however, is choosing to run with public dollars. If he gets the required 4,000 $5 donations he will get $839,704 for the GOP primary.
The two candidates won’t be debating school security or any other issue in the primary, as Ducey won’t debate his Republican foe, with an aide calling Ken Bennett a “fringe’’ candidate, despite the fact he was elected secretary of state in 2010.
J.P. Twist, who is managing Ducey’s re-election campaign, said the incumbent sees no reason to share the stage with Bennett, pointing out that the two faced off in a multi-candidate race for the GOP nomination four years ago. Ducey won the primary – Bennett placed fourth – and later went on to beat Democrat Fred DuVal.
“If Bennett intends to debate, he can argue with himself,’’ Twist said.
There is no legal requirement for Ducey to do anything other than organized campaign rallies – if even that, given that the governor has the benefit of incumbency and the free media that generates every time he makes a pronouncement.
The Republican Governors Association and the business-backed Arizona Education Project already have spent on TV commercials extolling the virtues of what Ducey has done for public education.
Only Bennett, who plans to run with public financing – assuming he can get the requisite 4,000 $5 donations – is required by law to debate.
Tom Collins, executive director of the Citizens Clean Elections Commission, said if Ducey doesn’t show for the scheduled Aug. 1 debate, he will have the entire half hour on public television to answer questions, all without being contradicted by Ducey.