Luncheon highlights GCU/Ducey partnership

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey (left) and GCU president Brian Mueller exchange greetings during the Governor Appreciation Luncheon at GCU Arena.

Photos by Ralph Freso / Slideshow

The Governor Appreciation Luncheon on Tuesday at Grand Canyon University was more like a partnership luncheon.

Every speaker in more than an hour of tributes for Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey addressed a hallmark of his eight years in office: Working together well – something all too rare in politics today – makes for a better world.

GCU President Brian Mueller noted how much the University has benefited from its partnership with Ducey: While approximately 50% of GCU students are from outside Arizona and California, a significant number stay here after they graduate.

“This is the best time that, I think, has ever existed in Arizona to be a college student,” said Mueller, who presented Ducey with a large plaque on behalf of the University. “I mean, what’s happened is that because of all these companies, because of all these jobs, the supply and demand in the labor force has flipped.

“Being a college student today, you walk out of a place like Grand Canyon or ASU or any of our institutions, with the business climate that exists today, you don’t have just one job offer. You have a multitude of job offers. Our kids are getting a choice.”

GCU President Brian Mueller listens to Ducey's talk near the end of the event.

Ducey returned the compliment during his remarks:

“I also want to say to Brian Mueller, ‘Wow! Unbelievable, what I’ve seen here.’ You know, there’s a lot of people in positions with big titles, and they’re good talkers and they tell you everything they’re going to do. But this guy has exceeded every expectation.

“Every time I come back to this campus, it’s a new journey. You should be very proud of everything you’ve accomplished at Grand Canyon University and what a school of faith can do. And as he reminds me every time I see him, he’s done it all without one taxpayer dollar, and I’m very happy about that.”

Most significantly, GCU partnered with Arizona Department of Child Safety to begin handing out the Fostering Futures Scholarships, which Ducey called “an accomplishment that we’re incredibly proud of.”

He added, “This institution prepares young people for the future. That’s really where a lot of my hope and optimism lies.”

Kevin Youngblood cited a list of statistics to demonstrate what Ducey has done for the state's economic outlook.

Kevin Youngblood, entrepreneur-in-residence at GCU’s Canyon Ventures business incubator, laid out some of Ducey’s many economic accomplishments during his two terms and explained why they were so critical:

“In 2015, we needed a governor who understands that the backbone of Arizona was not Wall Street, it’s Main Street. It was moms and pops who have hustles that turn into businesses which developed into enterprises. It was communities that wanted safe and prosperous places to build and grow, and we needed a governor who understood that.

“We needed a cheerleader for small business. We needed a fighter to tackle regulation and onerous taxes. And we needed a visionary to help shape a future where the people of this state could not only get by, but flourish.”

Debbie Moak, Director of Governor’s Office of Youth, Faith and Family during Ducey first term and a close family friend, emphasized the governor’s integrity. “Doug Ducey leaves office with his character intact. That’s amazing,” she said.

Ducey also received plaques from Julian Nabozny, a community leader through his south Phoenix McDonald’s franchise, and former City of Phoenix police officer Luis Samudio on behalf of first responders.

Ducey and emcee Christine Jones once were politic opponents but now are good friends.

But maybe the most telling partnership in the room was the one between Ducey and Christine Jones. In 2014, she was his opponent for the Republican gubernatorial nomination in Arizona. Tuesday, she was the emcee for the event and talked at length about their friendship.

“I think today that in all of the divisiveness that we should be celebrating good leadership,” she said. “And there used to be a time when you could say something nice, even about the people with whom you disagree, and it was viewed as a sign of strength, not weakness. So I’m honored to be doing this today for you.”

Jones said that when she ran for governor, “The more people I talked to in the state of Arizona, the more I learned that he has a lot of really good, deep friendships. I can’t tell you the number of times I talked to somebody on the phone and they would say, ‘Well, Christine, I would love to support you, but one of my very best friends is running for governor.’ And they really meant it. Because Doug is a person who nurtures and takes care of his friends and his friendships.”

Ducey wouldn’t have it any other way – and that includes a relationship with a former opponent.

“Christine and I went on an odyssey together in 2014, and it almost, to me, seems like the good old days, when you could have a discussion and a debate but then understand that you wanted to serve the people for the greater good and you would need the alliance and the relationship and the partnership going forward,” he said.

Diocese of Phoenix Auxiliary Bishop Eduardo Nevares (center) delivers the closing blessing for Ducey with Pastor Gary Kinnaman (right).

The event, organized by Pastor Jose Gonzalez, founder of Arizona Christian Link, was fittingly faith-based, given its location and audience. Most Reverend Eduardo Nevares, Auxiliary Bishop of the Diocese of Phoenix, and Pastor Gary Kinnaman, former Senior Pastor of Word of Grace Church in Mesa for 25 years, teamed up to give Ducey a blessing, and he referenced Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 as verses that have helped him:

Two are better than one,
    because they have a good return for their labor:
 If either of them falls down,
    one can help the other up.
But pity anyone who falls
    and has no one to help them up.
 Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm.
    But how can one keep warm alone?
 Though one may be overpowered,
    two can defend themselves.
A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.

Ducey talked about the role his faith has played in his work as governor.

“My faith has been critical at many moments and every day of this journey,” Ducey said. “I want to thank everyone in this room for your leadership in support of our faith-based institutions. They are the one non-negotiable for our nation, going forward. This is where we are going to find the answer.”

And faith leads to partnerships.

“Over the last eight years,” he said, “it’s been an incredible privilege to work with so many here today to prioritize things and protect religious freedom. I’ve tried to operate as governor of all the people and, to the best of our ability, even in a time when there are real issues to be discussed and debated on, to have unity inside our state. I do think it is better when we are together as Americans and as Arizonans.”

Contact Rick Vacek, Senior Manager for Internal Communications, at (602) 639-8203 or [email protected].


Related content:

GCU News: GCU unveils scholarships for Arizona foster children

GCU News: Gov. Ducey praises Arizona youth leaders at GCU leadership event


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