This Thanksgiving, I am happy for a loving family, the opportunity to pursue work I enjoy, and that I live in the greatest state in the greatest country on the planet.
But in the spirit of my regular commentaries on politics and public affairs, here’s what else I’m thankful for this season:
A state economy that’s humming
Arizona now enjoys its lowest unemployment rate since 2007. Credit Gov. Doug Ducey and state lawmakers, who have been laser-focused on crafting policies that enhance the state’s competitiveness. Arizona now sits at a 4.5 percent unemployment rate, and Maricopa County is the nation’s fastest growing county.
Arizona might just be laying the blueprint for how to accomplish big things in Washington. With tax reform, DACA, and NAFTA all requiring work, looking to Arizona for inspiration couldn’t hurt.
Regulatory reform that moves markets
Congress has taken its lumps – and justifiably so, in many cases – for failing to pass important legislation this year. Where Capitol Hill and the administration haven’t gotten enough credit, though, is on regulatory reform, which might just be what has sparked the recent run of good news in the stock market.
An administration committed to cutting red tape and providing greater certainty for job creators, combined with a Congress that has used its authority under the Congressional Review Act over a dozen times to roll back existing rules, has unleashed the economy.
The autonomous vehicle capital of America
The regulatory strategy that Gov. Ducey and state leaders have pursued that has made Arizona so attractive to job growth, is also what has made Arizona the autonomous vehicle capital of America. The state’s pro-innovation posture earned it a splashy New York Times feature headlined, “Where self-driving cars go to learn,” which called Arizona “a live laboratory for self-driving vehicles.” Because of Arizona’s approach to technology and regulation, the likes of Waymo, Uber, Intel and General Motors are all testing the cutting edge of autonomous vehicles here.
International trade that ensures fresh produce is always in season
I’m thankful that NAFTA and our relationship with Mexico ensures that Americans’ Thanksgiving tables can feature a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables that wouldn’t have been possible just a few decades ago.
As state Rep. TJ Shope – whose family has been in the grocery business for generations –wrote recently, “After NAFTA was signed in 1994, the produce aisle began to transform. Suddenly, fruits and vegetables once considered seasonal became available year-round — and at prices everyone could afford.” Or as former Yuma-area state legislator and customs broker Russ Jones wrote, “Thanks to free and open trade, the concept of produce not being ‘in season’ has faded into shoppers’ memories, along with cashiers manually punching prices into a cash register.”
If the president follows through on his threat to exit NAFTA, then future Thanksgiving menus will likely be less varied and more expensive. The Arizona Chamber of Commerce & Industry and the rest of the state’s business community will continue to work to convince him to modernize – not abandon – the world’s most essential trade agreement.
Education advocates who share the good news
I have the great pleasure of working with two Arizona education advocates whose influence is shaping education policy on a national scale: Dr. Matt Ladner and Lisa Graham Keegan. I’m thankful we in Arizona can call them our own, especially when so much commentary on education is about what’s going wrong, they aren’t afraid to talk about what’s going right.
Dr. Ladner’s analyses have shined a light on the incredible work Arizona students and teachers are doing to make significant gains in academic achievement, as measured on the National Assessment of Educational Progress and our homegrown AzMERIT assessment.
And Lisa Graham Keegan is a nationally sought-after authority on how to design policies that buck the status quo, drive achievement, and empower students and parents. Her efforts in Arizona to elevate the outstanding work of schools that are securing great educational outcomes – especially those in low income areas – is vital to shaping the educational conversation in this state and others.
Chamber of commerce weather
When I arrived in Arizona for the first time in the early 1990s, it was late winter. The weather was incredible, especially when contrasted with my then-college hometown of Ithaca, New York, which wouldn’t thaw out until sometime in May. I was sold. It turned out to have been one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.
Some might grumble that an Arizona Thanksgiving lacks a chill in the air in much of the state, but this transplanted New Yorker will take our chamber of commerce weather anytime.
Justice O’Connor’s enduring legacy
I was recently honored by my alma mater, the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University, in a very nice ceremony held at the school’s spectacular new downtown Phoenix campus. It was flattering and unexpected to be recognized along with fellow graduates for contributions we’ve made in various fields since our time as students. (I can assure you I was not honored for my GPA.)
I couldn’t help but reflect that evening on the enduring legacy of Justice O’Connor. Time Magazine named her one the 100 Most Influential People of 2017, but it’s a recognition that would have been appropriate at any time throughout her storied career. The Gipper got it right when he named her to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Her entire life has been defined by making Arizona a better place to live. Whether on the bench, or promoting civic education, or leading the O’Connor Institute, I’m thankful for all of her contributions in the public square.
The greatest American voice to the free world
It’s an understatement to say that our political climate right now is unsettled. Arizona and the nation have many fine public officials who are leading in this season with dignity, a commitment to service, and a desire to put the needs of the country ahead of political gain. But in a time of such tumult, I’m thankful that John McCain is representing Arizona in the United State Senate.
I’ve often said he’s the most consequential legislator on planet Earth. His consistent, stalwartdefense of the liberal world order is incredibly valuable and necessary, a defender of liberty not seen since the likes of Ronald Reagan. He projects core American values to friends and foes of strength, wisdom, goodness and humility – all with a sense of humor and the American can-do spirit. Throughout his career, this hero has reminded us why public service can be such a noble pursuit.
Happy Thanksgiving, and may this holiday season be an enjoyable and meaningful one for you.