The 2015 Hammer Awards

Glenn Hamer

December 31, 2015

It’s the time of year we’ve all been waiting for. Before we turn the calendar over to 2016, it’s time for Glenn Hamer’s annual super-sized Hammer Awards, where the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry president and CEO recognizes those whose accomplishments deserve a final shout-out, as well as a few dubious distinctions we’d rather forget.

Arizona had a great 2015. Gov. Doug Ducey enjoyed a fantastic first year as governor. We’ve got an attorney general in Mark Brnovich willing to stand up to the federal government’s seemingly constant overreach, an NFL team that is bound for the playoffs (and hopefully more), and we received word last week that we’ve eclipsed Massachusetts in state population numbers, showing that Arizona is where people and businesses want to be.

So let’s close out 2015 and head into 2016 on a positive note. Let’s hand out some Hammers.

Best First Year Since Ted Williams: Gov. Doug Ducey. I think in baseball terms for much of my political analysis. The Splendid Splinter in 1939 hit .327, had 31 home runs, and 145 runs batted in as a rookie, setting the stage for what would be one of the all-time great Major League careers. Doug Ducey just wrapped up an equivalent year, his first as governor, and for that he’s an obvious choice for a Hammer Award. Consider just a small sampling of his season stats:

  • He assembled an outstanding team led by Chief of Staff Kirk Adams.
  • Gov. Ducey started out the year instituting a regulatory moratorium to ensure that businesses won’t have to contend with more red tape
  • The state landed a huge new investment from Apple.
  • He and the Legislature then quickly moved to pass the civics bill, which ensures that 12th-grade graduates have at least some mastery of American civics.
  • The governor then pivoted to making Arizona a welcoming place for emerging businesses, with new laws paving the way for industries ranging from ridesharing, to microbrewing, to speedier lab tests to crowdfunding.
  • He worked with legislative leadership to pass a state budget that sets us on the road to structural balance.
  • In his State of the State address he said that the state’s income tax brackets should be pegged to inflation, so that taxpayers aren’t hit with hidden tax increases if a modest raise bumps them into a higher tax bracket. He delivered, and the state’s taxpayers are better off.

What might prove to be his most consequential accomplishment this year was negotiating the language of Proposition 123 with the Legislature and education stakeholders. Passage of Prop. 123 next May will finally put an end to a lawsuit over education funding that has been hanging over the K-12 system for too long, and inject $3.5 billion into public education without raising taxes.

He ended the year strong with a great pick for the Arizona Corporation Commission in former House Speaker Andy Tobin.

The Arizona Republic got it right when its editorial board named Gov. Ducey its Arizonan of the Year. The governor had a very good year. I can’t wait for year 2.

The Field General: Michael Bidwill. The Arizona Cardinals president earns the Hammer for his work building the NFL’s most exciting team and for his work to make Arizona’s economy the country’s most vibrant.

On the gridiron he’s assembled a team that has made Sunday afternoons and five primetime appearances this season appointment viewing. He had the foresight to tap General Manager Steve Keim and Head Coach Bruce Arians to run the football operation, both proving to be great hires. Keim is the reigning Sporting News NFL Executive of the Year and Arians is reigning AP Coach of the Year. I don’t get a vote, but if I did, they’re back-to-back winners in my book.

In the boardroom, Michael is co-chairing Gov. Ducey’s Zanjeros group along with Tucson Hispanic Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Lea Márquez Peterson. The Zanjeros, a group of business community ambassadors representing the best Arizona has to offer, couldn’t have a better one-two punch than Michael and Lea. He sees the big picture, and fiercely guards Arizona’s reputation. We are fortunate to have him on our team.

Most Consequential Legislator on Earth: Sen. John McCain. It’s always a privilege when Sen. John McCain takes time out of his schedule (side note: I thought my calendar was packed. Sen. McCain’s schedule would cause a millennial chugging Red Bull to cry uncle!) to visit with Arizona’s business community.

I was at a recent event where Sen. McCain was running down a list of accomplishments he had a hand in during 2015. Along with talking about the latest in the Syrian refugee crisis, and our relationship with Russia, I was struck by his insight on topics ranging from forest health, to wildfire preparation, to water conservation, to mining, and transportation, all issues of incredible importance to Arizona.

Some on Capitol Hill have been phoning it in for years. Not John McCain. We are incredibly fortunate to have him looking out for Arizona in the U.S. Senate.

When Idealism Pays Off: Sen. Jeff Flake. Sen. Jeff Flake was accused of tilting at windmills when he took on earmarks. Now they’re a thing of the past. Critics said it was a waste of time and energy for an Arizona senator to be so invested in the U.S. relationship with Cuba. Now you can plan a spring break in Havana.

Sen. Flake doesn’t shrink from seemingly insurmountable odds, and he takes on challenges with a level of class rarely seen in elected officials. His recent address at a Valley mosque was classic Jeff Flake. Self-effacing, humble and thoughtful; the anti-You-Know-Who. We could use more leaders who conduct themselves like Sen. Flake.

The Trade Promoting Authority: Rep. Matt Salmon. Congress granted President Obama Trade Promotion Authority this year in order to pave the way for the final negotiation of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a huge multi-party trade deal that will open new markets for U.S. goods in Asia, and soon the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership with Europe. On a Capitol Hill deeply suspicious of the White House, this was and is no easy lift.

So give a Hammer to Rep. Matt Salmon, the Mandarin-fluent chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee’s Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific, who once again burnished his credentials as one of the most impactful members of Congress on the issue of international trade, especially with Asia. Rep. Salmon was the pro-business, pro-trade voice the GOP conference needed in a debate over TPA that was going the wrong direction.

Most Welcome Legal Decision: Colorado Supreme Court says lawsuit loans are…loans. The Colorado Supreme Court earns a Hammer Award for finding that lawsuit loans should be regulated like other consumer loans.

Lawsuit loans are cash advances to plaintiffs awaiting resolution of their case. These advances come with big interest rates, though, and could encourage plaintiffs to reject settlement offers and instead to extend expensive litigation in hopes of garnering a bigger settlement in order to pay off the debt. These loans make litigation more expensive and, in Arizona, they operate without any rules. Here’s hoping Arizona takes a page from Colorado and states like Tennessee and puts some guardrails around this financial product, and strikes a blow for a commonsense civil justice reform.

Next Stop, Network TV: Jaime Molera. Jaime Molera is a previous Hammer Award winner for his political prowess. But this year I’m recognizing the respected politico for his work in front of the camera as host of Politics in the Yard on CW6. The show is fast-paced, fun and Jaime’s a great host. C-SPAN it ain’t. I was honored to be the first guest on the show.

Taking Care of Business: Andy Biggs. Senate President Andy Biggs said at the outset of the 2015 legislative session that he expected it to go fast. Capitol veterans who were used to sessions dragging on were skeptical, but President Biggs rode herd over the Legislature and delivered the quickest session since the moon landing.

Months later, President Biggs put his efficient work ethic in motion by working with the governor, Speaker David Gowan and the education community to corral the votes necessary to send Proposition 123 to next May’s ballot.

For his diligence and commitment to good government, President Biggs deserves a Hammer.

The Brand Manager: Michael Crow. What a year for Arizona State University’s brand. ASU was named the nation’s Most Innovative University by US News and World Report, NASA tapped the school to lead a satellite mission to orbit the moon, one of its researchers topped Fast Company’s Most Creative People in Business rankings, and it landed on Military Times’ Best for Vets list.

All of the good stuff happening at ASU doesn’t happen without President Michael Crow. He has an infectious vision not just for the potential for higher education in Arizona, but for K-12, economic development and so much more.

The Today Show doesn’t interview university presidents every day, but Dr. Crow is shaking things up in such a positive way that he was featured on the show earlier this year. He’s one of Arizona’s jewels and deserves a Hammer.

Most Unwelcome Trend: Cities Gone Wild. This year’s first Dubious Distinction Hammer goes to the disturbing trend of Arizona cities venturing into areas that are way outside their lane. Wage policies, sick leave policies, the regulation of plastic bags (no, I’m not joking) were all topics explored by Arizona city councils this year.

City governments have important jobs. Public safety, transportation and sanitation should offer plenty of material to keep councils busy. Let’s hope in 2016 that more city councils stick to their day jobs.

The Persevering Tax Cutter: State Rep. David Livingston. Thumbing through the past several editions of the Arizona Chamber’s annual Business Agenda, one will find reference year after year to our desire to reduce the insurance premium tax. We hadn’t been able to get it done, but thanks to the hard work of Rep. David Livingston, that changed in 2015. Give the man a Hammer.

Insurance companies don’t pay corporate income taxes on their profits. Instead, they pay a gross receipts tax on their premiums and, as a result, have missed out on the phase-down of the corporate income tax being enjoyed by other businesses. Rep. Livingston understood the inequity and made it his personal obsession to fix it. He successfully shepherded the bill to the governor’s desk and it was signed into law, making a major industry in Arizona more competitive nationwide.

Giving the Passport a Workout: Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton. Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton wins a Hammer for his commitment to strengthening our relationship with Mexico in a way that is bearing real fruit. His dozen-plus trips south of the border have helped land a ProMéxico trade office in Phoenix and a new terminal for TAP Royal International bus lines. The Chamber has been involved in a number of these delegations, and we can attest that Mayor Stanton’s trips are paying off.

A Tort Reformer Built for Speed: State Rep. Sonny Borrelli. Remember the long, drawn out lobbying battle at the Capitol this year to reform the way asbestos claims are handled in Arizona? Neither do I.

That’s because Rep. Sonny Borrelli, the retired Marine from Mohave County, did in a few weeks what legislators across the country for years have found to be a near impossibility: pass legislation to add greater transparency to the asbestos exposure claims process.

Trial lawyers met their match in Rep. Sonny Borrelli this year, and for that he earns a Hammer.

Mr. Education: Matt Ladner. Dr. Ladner’s blogs on NAEP scores and the outstanding performance of Arizona’s charter schools, which put us in a statistical dead heat with top-performer Massachusetts, were must-reads for education wonks and those of us tired of reading only the bad news about Arizona’s K-12 system. Dr. Ladner offers readers a welcome and needed national perspective. We are lucky he is based here in Arizona. He’s the Paul Goldschmidt of education policy: he’s a gentleman, generous with his time, and produces the equivalent of quality at bats every game.

The Ambassador: David Farca. Arizona is in the midst of a major re-blossoming of its relationship with Sonora and the rest of Mexico. Much of the credit for our improving cross-border bond is due to David Farca, who Gov. Ducey appointed as president of the Arizona Mexico Commission.

Farca knows Mexico. I had the pleasure of being part of Gov. Ducey’s first trade mission to Mexico and got a chance to see how respected Farca is by members of the Mexican government and its business community. Farca comes from the private sector and he knows what it takes to conduct business across borders and across cultures. He’s the perfect choice to be Gov. Ducey’s point man on Mexico.

The Andrew “Dice” Clay Award: Donald Trump. Blowhard Donald Trump sucked up so much oxygen in the presidential race that I still have to remind myself that the Democrats are having a presidential primary. (Bernie has kept things mildly interesting, but the GOP contenders are battling for the right to take on Hillary Clinton in next year’s general election.)

National Leader of the Year: Speaker of the House Paul Ryan. Being speaker of the House is not the job Rep. Paul Ryan wanted, but the job – and his party – needed him. He’s the National Leader of the Year in my book for proving that Congress can still get big things done when it matters.

National Lobbying Group of the Year: U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Yes, I’m biased, but there wasn’t a more relevant national business advocacy group in 2015 than the U.S. Chamber. Major deals on the Ex-Im Bank, transportation, tax extenders and trade don’t get done without the business community’s 800-lb. gorilla exercising its considerable muscle.

Worst Deal of the Year: The Iran Nuclear Agreement. Remind me again why the administration is so confident in the trustworthiness of the Iran regime. This was a bad deal all the way around, worthy of a Dubious Distinction Hammer.

A Formula for Success: Kim Chayka. One of the most rewarding aspects of our involvement in A for Arizona, a joint venture with the Tucson Hispanic Chamber of Commerce to highlight the work of high performing schools in low income areas, is getting to meet inspiring school leaders.

I’m giving a Hammer to Kim Chayka, for his work developing the Academy of Math and Science into a powerhouse. Kim recently opened the Academy of Math and Science Camelback, which is a replication of the AMS Prince campus in Tucson and the fourth AMS campus overall. AMS Prince is the highest performing Title I K-8 school in Pima County (out of 129 schools) according to scores on the new AzMERIT exam. If you think top performing schools can only be found in tony zip codes, meet Kim Chayka.

Most Promising Young Leader: Christina Corieri. Gov. Ducey’s policy adviser on healthcare, Christina Corieri, wins a Hammer for her outstanding first year in the administration. The Goldwater Institute alum uncovered funds that helped protect the state budget from deep cuts and she firmly understands the importance of filling Arizona’s physician talent pipeline. Health care can be a dense, complicated subject, but she’s made it look easy.

No Guts, No Glory: Dave Stewart, Tony LaRussa and Derrick Hall. In a 162-game season, if you’re a baseball team not contending for a title, your fans will quickly find other things to occupy their time. So give Hammers to Diamondbacks General Manager Dave Stewart, Chief Baseball Officer Tony LaRussa and team President Derrick Hall for instantly turning the D-Backs into an NL West contender with the team’s acquisition of ace pitcher Zack Greinke on a six-year deal. With a high octane offense led by the big leagues’ best position player in Paul Goldschmidt, the Diamondbacks are suddenly in the post-season conversation.

Stewart knows pitching – he won consistently in his playing days well into his 30s, – LaRussa has a baseball résumé that can’t be matched, and Hall knows what an organization needs to make an impact in a crowded sports market. I’m predicting a 2016 playoff berth.

All the best for a healthy and prosperous New Year. We’ll see you in 2016!

Glenn Hamer is the president and CEO of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce

The Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry is committed to advancing Arizona’s competitive position in the global economy by advocating free-market policies that stimulate economic growth and prosperity for all Arizonans.