Before we get into the second annual year-end Hammer awards, I want to share with you the following quote that I think makes clear how fortunate we are to live in America.
“The easier America makes it for talented foreigners to work and study there, the richer, more powerful, and more respected America will be. America’s ability to absorb the world’s talent is the crucial advantage no other culture can match as long as America doesn’t forfeit this advantage with visa rules written mainly out of fear.”
James Fallows, Postcards from Tomorrow Square (a book about China’s rise)
For those who do not get the point:
“Use your open eye, Frank.”
Capt. Ed Hocken to Lt. Frank Drebin in The Naked Gun.
With all of our issues and challenges, the world’s best, brightest and hardest workers still aspire to be U.S. citizens. That says something about the country we have built and live in.
Ok, on to the awards:
National Political Star: The Hammer goes to Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, chairman of the House Budget Committee. Ryan authored the gutsy House budget that provided premium support for Medicare, a version of which was embraced by U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Oregon). I still believe there is a chance that the Republican ticket in 2012 will be Ryan and last year’s Hammer winner, Sen. Marco Rubio. (I’m the only person I know of that holds this opinion, but remember: you heard it here first.)
Bad Year to be a Dictator Award: If you were an unelected tyrant, 2011 was a rotten year. The passing of the Dear Leader, Kim Jong Il (not so dear and not so much a leader), wins him a Hammer, edging out Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak, Libya’s Moamar Gadhafi and Tunisia’s Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali. I’m hoping Syria’s Bashar al-Assad will find himself in this category next year.
Most Likely to Solve a Rubik’s Cube in Less Than Three Minutes: Michael Hunter of the Governor’s Office. Fairly low-profile, but brilliant, Michael wins the Hammer for helping to develop the formula that allowed for a deal on the once-in-a-generation competitiveness package. An alumnus of the Arizona Tax Research Association, his training there served him well in 2011. (For the record, I’ve solved the Cube, although I did need to read considerable literature on the matter.)
Brent Gaff/Tom Gorman Award: Gaff and Gorman were the unsung heroes of the N.Y. Mets’ 1984 90-win campaign. Although both relievers were out of baseball soon after the season, their memory lives on. This year’s most obscurely named award, the Gaff/Gorman Hammer Award, goes to the Diamondbacks’ bullpen. Great middle relief wins ballgames. After a few years of rocky bullpen work, it all clicked this year and Arizona and its fans enjoyed a memorable ride to the playoffs. We will make this an annual award if I can remember the name of the award next year.
Rookie of the Year Award: Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery wins the Hammer for a textbook first year in office. He’s been all the more impressive given the turmoil that preceded him. Montgomery has done the work of the county attorney with a dogged determination to get the job done, not grab headlines. One of his key players, Danny Seiden (recognized by the Capitol Times as the Best Political Operative) is one reason why the office has had such a strong year. I’m not sure if Danny will repeat in this category, but I’ll bet he’s gearing to be a perennial in the paper’s Best Hair category.
Rookie of the Year Honorable Mention: Doug Ducey has quietly learned the ropes as our new state treasurer and is ready to roll in 2012. Unlike Montgomery, Treasurer Ducey inherited an office that was turned around by former treasurer Dean Martin. Treasurer Ducey gave a talk at a recent Chamber event that made it clear to the audience that he is a primetime player. The former ice cream magnate has national potential.
Congressional Quality Award: Rep. Kimberly Yee. The freshman Rep. Yee wins the Hammer for her masterful work on legislation dealing with drug use in the workplace and on tort reform. Don’t be surprised if national Republicans come courting this likely powerhouse candidate.
The Who Do You Think You Are? Award: Leif Solomon, acting general counsel of the National Labor Relations Board wins this dubious distinction Hammer. Solomon authored letters challenging Arizona’s popular ballot referral protecting secret ballots in union organizing elections, and he was in the middle of the agency’s (since abandoned) move to try to block Boeing from building a new factory in South Carolina.
Worst Federal Agency of the Year Award: The NLRB went rogue this year, which earns the agency a Hammer for Worst Federal Agency. Whether it was blocking a Boeing expansion, pushing an agenda to do away with secret ballots in union elections or requiring employers to push a pro-union message, the headlines that came out the NLRB in 2011 were bad news for employers.
Worst Federal Agency of the Year Honorable Mention: The Environmental Protection Agency. If you’re looking for an agency that considers giant dust storms a reason to threaten an entire county with stiff sanctions, then look to the EPA. Businesses can do a lot of things, but we can’t control the weather.
The We’re Expecting Really Big Things Award: Pearl Chang Esau, the former executive director of Teach for America in Phoenix and the new head of Expect More Arizona, is focused and passionate when it comes to K-12 education reform. She’s a leader in education in our state and I fully expect that she’ll be a leader on other tough issues facing Arizona very soon.
Best Online Tool Award: The Arizona Charter Schools Association wins the Hammer for its outstanding Web-based Education Evaluator. Kudos to the association and its president, Eileen Sigmund, for their work to make more data available to parents looking for the best educational options for their kids.
Guts and Courage Award: I have been in this business for some time and the work that Sen. Adam Driggs did to explain to his colleagues the problems with last session’s immigration bills was probably the most impressive display of a member turning the tide I have ever experienced. He’s representing his district with distinction and is putting good policy before politics, and for that he wins a Hammer and the respect of his constituents and colleagues.
Bill of the Year Award: Without question, the competitiveness package wins the Hammer for Bill of the Year. As far as we can tell, no other state passed legislation slashing its corporate income tax by 30 percent, reduced business property taxes and created what I believe will be a legacy item in the public-private Arizona Commerce Authority. Another state, Illinois, went in the opposite direction, increasing personal and corporate taxes, producing story after story about businesses fleeing. It is no accident that Arizona is once again creating jobs. The governor and legislative leaders made this the first substantive bill of 2011 and it set the tone for a very productive session.
All of us at the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry want to wish you and yours a safe and prosperous New Year. We’ll be back in 2012 to continue our advocacy for our state’s job creators and working hard to make Arizona’s economy stronger.
Glenn Hamer is the president and CEO of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry