Janet Napolitano starts her second term Thursday as a much different leader than when she first became Arizona’s governor in January 2003. Then, she was a politician of promise, but largely untested, who had won election by the narrowest of margins.
Napolitano followed two previous governors rocked by scandals of varying degrees and faced a hostile Legislature and potential budget shortfall of a billion dollars. So her administration started with only a limited view of what she might accomplish.
Now, Napolitano is a politician of national prominence who can claim a public mandate with her sweeping re-election victory. She has shown enough flexibility to fit the agendas of others into her own plans but also has revealed plenty of savvy in picking the right moments — and the best platforms — to fight for her priorities. Her mistakes stand out primarily because there have been relatively few.
The theme of Napolitano’s first inauguration, “Many lands, many people, many faiths — one Arizona,” represented Napolitano’s desire to be seen as someone who transcends political party and ideology. Republican critics have tried their hardest to portray Napolitano as a standardbearing liberal Democrat.
But the public tends to view her as more populist than partisan. She has favored stability and incremental progress rather than radical change. She has championed better schools, improved protection for children and higher paying jobs, issues that strike directly at the concerns of people from every walk of life. It’s fair to question what exactly Napolitano has achieved in these areas, but she has tried harder and has been more successful than many thought possible four years ago.
With Napolitano’s second (and final) gubernatorial inauguration upon us, it’s time to raise our expectations. Arizona has serious, difficult challenges the state has ignored for too long. Some are driven by our population growth, while others come from a lack of vision and foresight by our leaders of the past two decades.
In Sunday’s Perspective section, senior opinion writer Le Templar discussed several critical issues that we believe must be tackled for Arizona to thrive — including statewide water management, transportation planning and true improvements to education.
Napolitano can begin a legacy of statesmanship if she uses her inaugural speech, and her State of the State address next week, to outline a compelling road map for reaching these goals.