As a boy, Barry Goldwater Jr., son of the former senator and 1964 Republican presidential nominee, would step out of his father’s house and shoot at tin cans 50 yards away. Now 78, he says he could fire in any direction and not endanger “anything but a cactus.” His father, born in 1909 in Arizona territory, three years before statehood, built the house on a bluff where, as an adolescent, he rode his horse there and slept under the stars. There were about 30,000 people in Phoenix.
The house is now in the nation’s 12th-largest metropolitan area (about 4.6 million). Arizona’s population, which was approximately 200,000 when the future senator was born and 750,000 when he was elected in 1952, is now approaching 7 million. Today’s governor, Doug Ducey, is demonstrating the continuing pertinence of the limited-government conservatism with which Sen. Goldwater shaped the modern GOP, after himself being shaped by life in the leave-me-alone spirit of the wide open spaces of near-frontier Arizona.
Last year, Ducey, 52, told National Review, “If you want to learn something new, you need to read something old. As Barry Goldwater wrote in ‘Conscience of a Conservative,’ ‘My aim is not to pass laws, it’s to repeal them.’” Ducey was preaching what he already had practiced.
He took office in January 2015, as the Super Bowl was about to be played in suburban Glendale. The head of a state agency vowed that he was going to stage a sting to put Uber out of business, thereby benefiting Uber’s taxi and limousine competitors. Ducey says he fired the man and abolished the agency.
Ducey has sided with Airbnb against local governments restricting it in order to protect competitors, and has removed government-imposed limits (benefiting large beer brands) on the growth of microbreweries. He does not want Arizona to be part of “the permission society.”
This is the title of a new book by Timothy Sandefur, a litigator for the Goldwater Institute, a liberty-promoting think tank located 3.5 miles from the governor’s office. Sandefur documents how far America has lapsed from the Founders’ premise that our rights pre-exist government, which is instituted to protect them. Today, Americans’ rights are increasingly restricted to those privileges that government grants for its purposes.
Ducey recently demonstrated his understanding of this regarding the rogue barber. A Tucson cosmetology student, who himself was once homeless, disturbed the State Board of Cosmetology’s serenity by giving — without possessing a barber’s license — free haircuts to homeless people. Ducey asked the board to dismount from its high horse and recognize “an act of charity that we should be celebrating.” About a third of Americans now need some form of government permission to do their chosen work, and Ducey wants Arizona to be an oasis of liberty in a society plagued by excessive occupational licensing.
Born in Ohio, he came here to attend Arizona State University and became a businessman who attended Goldwater Institute events. After he joined the founder of Cold Stone Creamery ice cream shops and opened 1,400 nationwide, he was elected state treasurer, then governor. Seeking advice from the best, he called former Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, who suggested appointing to his administration business people looking for new challenges. (Daniels asked, “Do you know anyone who plays golf on Tuesdays and is miserable?”)
Ducey wants Arizona to have a “West Coast vibe with a Midwestern work ethic,” and he cheekily calls California’s Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown “my partner in growing Arizona’s economy” because California’s business climate is a powerful incentive for firms to relocate in Arizona, where more than 60 percent of its residents were born elsewhere. Arizona’s motto is “Ditat Deus” (”God Enriches”), but His work can be facilitated by Ducey’s goal of getting the state’s income tax “as close to zero as possible.”
He calls himself a “full-spectrum conservative,” including support for free trade (NAFTA has been good for Arizona’s commerce with Mexico), but there are limits to his Western libertarianism. Last year, he led the campaign that resulted in Arizona being the only one of five states voting on the issue to defeat legalization of recreational marijuana: “I’m the son of a cop and the father of three teenage sons.”
The current president has pointedly said, “This is called the Republican Party. It’s not called the Conservative Party.” Actually, it became a conservative party partly because of what an Arizonan did many decades ago. It may become such a party again, with another Arizonan’s help.
George Will writes on politics, law and social character. Will began writing for The Washington Post in 1974. He is a contributor for Fox News, a Pulitzer Prize recipient for commentary, and is the author of 12 books.