Rose Mofford: The Stealth Governor

December 7, 1988


It has been eight months since Rose Mofford took the oath of office as governor. Her nearly half-century of exemplary public service in state government was thought to be sufficient preparation for the job of hauling Arizona out of the morass created by her predecessor. The citizenry wanted a governor who could steer a sound course, articulate a vision of the future and demonstrate the temperament and skills for the job.

As for stability, the state appears to be back on an even keel. A budget crisis is brewing, but that is not unusual. The contentiousness between the executive and legislative branches has been replaced by a cooperative spirit.

Legislators seem to like Mrs. Mofford, and although partisan differences remain, the more harmonious atmosphere bodes well for the opening of the Legislature.

Is there a problem? The short answer is, yes. Mrs. Mofford, perhaps through her own wishes, has become unduly insulated.

Her reluctance to meet with the press in the early days of her administration could be and was dismissed as a sign of unfamiliarity with the office. As secretary of state, Mrs. Mofford’s world was one of election filings and voter registrations, not the important public policy issues that command the attention and leadership of a chief executive.

“The few news conferences held early in the Mofford administration were truncated by an overly protective staff. As Mrs. Mofford retreated into the sanctuary of her inner office, informed aides with glib answers became gubernatorial surrogates.

The pattern has changed little in eight months. In the recent past, every governor has summoned the press to clarify midyear budget problems and remedies. Not Mrs. Mofford. She issued a news release and then dispatched aides to field questions.

Last week, a statement from her office on the eve of a crucial Board of Regents meeting outlined her position on the volatile issue of university tuition increases. She could not participate because of a prior commitment to dedicate a building in Tucson. At a brief ceremony the other day, access-starved reporters crowded around her. She walked out of the impromptu press conference after 10 minutes.

These examples, combined with a scarcity of public policy pronouncements, are disquieting. It may be that all of her energies are going into the preparation of a rip-snorting, visionary State of the State message due next month.

We hope so, for the less generous image being drawn of Mrs. Mofford is one of ineptitude. There is nothing wrong with relishing the ceremonial trappings of office. But to do so at the neglect of the issues fosters damaging suspicions of incompetence. Mrs. Mofford, should she see the need as we do, can remedy the situation by shrugging off her handlers and reach for the leadership that the office demands. It is not too late, governor.