The Arizona Republic editorial board recently published its showcase of interesting or influential people to watch in the new year. It’s a fun exercise and an annual conversation/argument starter.
I understand the selections for the 16 Arizonans to watch in 2016. They make sense from an editorial board perspective. But as an Arizonan looking for clear-eyed, innovative leaders, I felt uninspired and a bit despondent after reading the list.
I searched for something better from my perspective, not the editorial board’s perspective, and came up with a list of people I believe will make 2016 interesting for a lot of right reasons. Here are the Arizonans I’m watching in 2016:
Dale Baich: The federal public defender works to ensure our humanity doesn’t get swallowed up with our appetite for bloodlust and vengeance. The death penalty is still on the books in Arizona, but I’ll live to see the day when it no longer is. Dale’s work will have something to do with that. He has been a national leader in death penalty litigation for a very long time, picking up lots of accolades along the way, including the Abolition Award from Death Penalty Focus in 2015. His ongoing legal work on execution procedures and other capital punishment issues is forcing Arizona to better define justice.
David Gonzales: The U.S. marshal reportedly is considering a run for Maricopa County sheriff. That would mean a tough battle against Joe Arpaio, who despite scandal and abuse of authority, remains one of the most powerful political figures in the state. Gonzales is a smart, inspiring Arizonan and an honest-to-goodness professional lawman who leaves a positive impression everywhere he goes. The politics of this gets interesting. Gonzales, like Arpaio, is a Republican. The Maricopa County Republican base loves Arpaio, who has a ridiculous campaign war chest. Gonzales’ best hope for victory may be to run as an independent in the general election. I’d love to see an independent win a major race in Arizona — and beating Arpaio would be major.
Neil Giuliano: After spending time in California as the CEO of the San Francisco AIDS Foundation, the former mayor of Tempe is back in the Valley to lead the Greater Phoenix Leadership, the group once known as the Phoenix 40. GPL, which has developed a keen interest in education, sounds like it wants to do some heavy lifting to help raise the state’s business and political stature. I like the job description for the top executive job: “The President will take a leadership and public role interacting and collaborating with elected officials, providing a strong voice as a spokesperson and advocate for strengthened civic engagement. (He or she) will represent the organization and its mission to a broad constituency, including business and nonprofit CEO’s, (sic) legislators and other policy leaders, community leaders and other influential individuals.” That’s Neil.
John Green: Tragically, his five-year claim to fame is being the father of the youngest victim, 9-year-old Christina-Taylor, in the Jan. 8, 2011, mass shooting near Tucson that killed six people and wounded 13 others, including then-U.S. Rep Gabrielle Giffords. After staying out of the gun violence debate after his daughter’s murder, he is now fully engaged in trying to do something about the uniquely American scourge. He’s a Republican, a hunter and a former member of the NRA who attended Tuesday President Obama’s White House announcement of executive actions on firearms. I’m glad Green is among those arguing sensibly that the status quo on gun violence is unacceptable.
Kathy Knecht: The longtime member of the Peoria Unified School District governing board and the former executive director of Leadership West is president of the Arizona School Boards Association this year. If 2016 is the year of education, as The Republic’s editorial board suggests, ASBA must help shape the agenda. As president, Kathy boosts its chances of being heard. She has extraordinary leadership skills, knows her way around the media market and has the all-important fire in the belly about public education. And, by the way, she served on the Peoria school board with Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Diane Douglas. Kathy knows well the leadership challenges of Arizona education. Yep, this is going to be good.
Christine Marsh: She is the 2016 Arizona Teacher of the Year. The Arizona Educational Foundation does such a wonderful job finding our best teachers and then putting them to work as ambassadors for education. The awardees are amazing people and professionals. But I heard something in the Scottsdale Chaparral High School teacher’s acceptance speech that makes me think she is a little different from the others. She has much to say about public education and teachers, and she has pluck and political savvy. I expect her tenure as teacher of the year to be particularly noteworthy.
Greg Stanton: He’s starting the first year of his second term as mayor of Phoenix. Part of me wants him to relax this term and just be Greg, that guy who fights the right battles the right way and who remains focused on big-picture goals that work for everyone, across classes and cultures. Another part of me wants him to ratchet up the intensity like there’s no tomorrow, which is sort of true. This is his last hurrah in Phoenix city politics. He could do a lot in the next few years to build on success so clearly on display in Phoenix. That will be good for Arizona and wherever his political ambitions take him.
Corey Woods: The charismatic, energetic vice mayor of Tempe finishes eight years on the Tempe City Council in mid-2016. That will give him time to do other things or perhaps dive deeper into those issues where he has strong passion, most notably education and community development. In April 2015, Woods became chief operating officer at the Greater Phoenix Urban League, giving the venerable organization exponential growth in leadership and strategic planning to foster partnerships necessary to tackle complex community issues. I expect great things in this transitional year for Corey.
There. Now I feel better about 2016.