Mayor Scott Smith concluded months of speculation by announcing his intent to run for governor on Jan. 9.
Smith, who was first elected as mayor in 2008, filed paperwork at the state Capitol on Thursday to form an exploratory committee in his pursuit of the Republican nomination. Prior to his election as Mesa’s mayor, Smith, 57, served as the president of Great Western Homes.
“I just feel this is what I need to be doing,” he said of his decision.
The field he’ll face off against in the primary includes Secretary of State Ken Bennett; State Treasurer and former Cold Stone Creamery CEO Doug Ducey; former Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas; former Go Daddy Executive Vice President Christine Jones; and State Sen. Al Melvin. Gov. Jan Brewer has also expressed interest in running for re-election, although there are questions as to whether or not she’s eligible to run for another term in office. During a press conference on Thursday, Smith hinted he might defer to Brewer if she is allowed to run for a third term in office.
Others who have announced a run for office include currently unchallenged Democrat Fred Duval, Libertarian Barry Hess, and Independent Rick Murphy.
Smith’s decision comes two days after Ducey announced he had amassed more than $900,000 in the bank through private fundraising, which is more than Bennett can fundraise through public funding. Smith, however, said he is undeterred by what appears to be Ducey’s daunting early tally.
“What other candidates do won’t affect what I’ll do,” he said.
What led Smith to throw his proverbial hat in the ring, he said, was the opportunity to put Arizona on strong footing for now and the future, as he said certain issues that will arise in the next three to five years could have large ramifications on the next generation of Arizonans.
The area he focused on was the state’s economic fortunes, especially as Arizona continues to rebound from the economic decline. Other states — Smith cited Utah and Washington as examples — bounced out of the financial doldrums by refocusing on certain issues.
But he said Arizona still needs to do that, saying the state lags in education achievement and per capita income. As an example of the latter, Smith said Arizona ranked as high as sixth in job creation in the country but was just 38th in personal income growth.
“It tells me we’re creating jobs, but they’re not going to be the jobs that support us long term,” he said.
At the press conference, Smith provided a few details of his views on issues like gun control, the Affordable Care Act and SB 1070.
Smith will leave his seat in Mesa after approximately five years in office, during which the city has seen an improvement in both its status and way of life. In the last 12 months alone, Mesa has added five colleges to its confines, landed an agreement with Apple to build a manufacturing facility, and completed the Chicago Cubs’ new spring training home, Cubs Park.
Those accomplishments are a few of the reasons why he said the decision is bittersweet, but he added Mesa is in the capable hands of the Mesa City Council and City Manager Chris Brady, among others.
Smith added his ability to run as a high-profile candidate also reflects Mesa’s increased prominence in the state.
“It’s very satisfying that people have noticed we’ve done some good things,” he said.
After hearing the news, District 1 Councilmember Dave Richins said he has mixed emotions about Smith’s decision. He said while Smith has been fantastic to work with on the council, the now gubernatorial candidate would help Arizona immensely.
“I support him 100 percent,” Richins said.
Once Smith vacates his seat — he anticipates that he’ll remain mayor until mid-April — Vice Mayor Alex Finter will serve as mayor pro tem. Because Smith’s term still has more than two years remaining on it, the charter requires the city hold an election to find someone to serve the rest of Smith’s term.
The election has to be between 120 and 365 days from the day the office is vacated, and Richins anticipates the city will call for an election on April 28 to ensure it’s on the August primary ballot. The hope, he said, is to get a fair amount of candidates to fill what he described as a big job.
“I may even think about it,” Richins said.
• Capitol Media Services contributed to this report.
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