Dear Governor Ducey,
I was listening to NPR after the New Hampshire primary. The hosts were discussing Kasich, who they said is the last of the “compassionate conservatives like George W. Bush” and I was like, if George W. Bush aka millions in Iraq killed over false reports of weapons of mass destruction then we are in a more Orwellian double-speak bind than I thought. Still, when I see pictures of your face, you seem like a nice guy. I look at Wisconsin’s governor, whose face is full of spite, and think, well, at least Governor Ducey smiles. But, it’s possible you’re just smiling because of the big checks the Koch Brothers deposit in your bank account. I wouldn’t write these letters, though, if I didn’t sense a compassionate streak. Nor would I write them if I didn’t believe in meeting compassion with compassion. My new friend John reminded me the other day that compassion and empathy is really the only way we’re going to make any changes.
John said he saw you at Martanne’s the other day, here in Flagstaff. He and his wife sat right next to you. John told his wife, I’m going to talk to him, which made his wife walk as far away from John as possible in small Martanne’s, understandably. Even though I write to you weekly, I think I’d get tongue tied to meet you in person. The gap between us is canyonesque. I feel like opening my mouth would release a torrent of insults and apologies and stammerings that would be considered only “compassionate” when the nurses at the psych ward process my admission papers.
But John, possibly because he began with compassion, did not stammer or make strange bird noises at you. He said, “Governor, it’s nice to meet you. I’ve been reading about proposition 132 and I hope it does what you say it will do to bring funding back to Arizona. You know, I grew up in Louisiana where we would say we were always glad to have Mississippi next door—Louisiana always scored near the bottom of near everything but Mississippi scored lower. We could always point to Mississippi as the real bottom. Now, I’m raising three boys here in Arizona where we are the new almost-bottom. I didn’t think I’d be pointing at Mississippi from here to say, ‘they’re worse.’ So I really do hope that this new bill helps to bring the state’s education funding up but I have to tell you, even with that hope, you see my wife over there, paying the bill, not looking at us? She has worked for the public school system for 9 years. And over those 9 years she’s had a $1000 raise. $1000 over 9 years.”
John says that the governor’s wife, over her plate of chiliquiles, puts her hand to her heart in sympathy. The governor shakes his head. It seems like there is compassion here. That these people understand that a $1000 raise over 9 years is $110/ raise a year. They understand how little money that is to raise a family on. They seemed to get that teachers are the ones building Arizona’s future.
John meets compassion with compassion. He doesn’t harp on the governor. Ducey’s kids are with him. John doesn’t want to embarrass the governor or the governor’s wife. John sympathizes with his fellow human, feels a little sorry that he must encounter an unhappy populace wherever he goes. John empathizes with what must be the governor’s family’s disappointment: because people love to come up from Phoenix to marvel at the concept of cold and snow, he says. “Sorry there is no snow.” To which the governor replies, “No worries. We love Flagstaff, snow or not.”
I wish I could have said, if I had been there, if I had been as brave, not being as smart and measured as John. I might have added, “I hope you love Flagstaff’s students too.”
John jokes that he’s afraid the secret service had a bead on him the whole time. I told John that at Rita Cheng’s installation ceremony as president of NAU, Ducey was swarmed by secret service.
“I didn’t have a single secret service agent assigned to protect me,” I joke.
We laugh at the idea. People in Flagstaff don’t get, or need, secret service agents. We have snow and compassion to protect us.