A. I was born in Council Bluffs, Iowa and raised in Salt Lake City, Utah.
What are some of your early influences?
Snowy Utah winters, two rowdy older brothers and catholic school. I’m a triple survivor.
You have your B.A. from Yale in History, and your J.D. from the University of Arizona Rogers College of Law. What were the initial career aspirations you had when you were pursuing your education?
When I was little, I once told my parents I wanted to be either president of the United States or a late night talk show host. Luckily, a liberal arts degree prepares you for anything.
You also served in the military – Air Force to be exact – and the Department of Defense. Tell me more about the decision to serve our country.
Even though my family has a long and proud tradition of military service, it wasn’t on my radar when I was considering what I would do after college. I initially began working in investment banking but left to work for the Dole presidential campaign. One day during the campaign, my boss, Donald Rumsfeld, called me into his office and asked if I had ever considered going into the military. When I said that I hadn’t, he said, “I think you should. I think it would do you some good.”
It took me another four years, but I finally concluded that he was right. I entered officer training school in the fall of 2000, figuring that I would do the minimum of four years and then get out. But within less than a year, our country was attacked and we were at war. I ended up spending six years on active duty. I consider those to be the most meaningful and consequential years of my life, and the women and men I served with to be the best our nation has produced. We are a truly blessed and fortunate country.
As an Arizona state legislator and an agency director, what are some of the accomplishments you are most proud of?
That’s a tough one. I’ve loved serving in the Legislature, leading the Department of Veterans’ Services, and helping Governor Ducey’s administration get off to a strong start. It’s an honor to serve. I’ve derived the greatest pride from the accomplishments of the incredible public servants and volunteers that I’ve had the great, good fortune to lead. It’s amazing what can be accomplished when you build, inspire and collaborate with a team.
In terms of legislative accomplishments, I’m proudest of the bill I sponsored that granted automatic in-state tuition to any honorably discharged veterans at all Arizona public universities and community colleges. This issue is the one that originally got me involved in the political process back in 2007. It was also the first bill I sponsored when I arrived at the legislature, making Arizona one of the first states to pass such legislation and lead the way. A few years later, the U.S. Congress and president took a cue from the states and made automatic in-state tuition for veterans mandatory at every public college and university as part of the new Post-9/11 G.I. Bill.
Having worked in the private sector, public sector and the military, what have you learned from these very different experiences?
Leadership matters. What sets great leaders apart are those who take the time and energy to mentor and develop their people. All three sectors need more.
You've spent a lot of time with very elite members of the state and federal governments. Has anything surprised you about working with these men and women?
I think what always surprises me about these very accomplished people are their personal stories. From the outside looking in, it appears that each of their careers has been a perfectly thought out – and executed – path of success after success. But when you talk to them and get to know them, you find out that life often did not follow any plan. They had their share of failures, setbacks and uncertainties. They succeeded because they adapted and pushed on.
Tell me more about your involvement in supporting the veteran community.
I love the veteran community. You may leave the military, but it never really leaves you. And in the military, you are taught to never leave a comrade behind. I know that the veterans of WWII, Korea and Vietnam were there – quite literally – for me when I came home from Afghanistan and Qatar. I want to make sure that those who come after me have just as much, if not more, support. It’s the right thing to do for those who have sacrificed so much on our behalf. And, quite frankly, it’s critical to the future of our republic.
There is a great quote that we used at the Arizona Department of Veterans’ Services that is attributed to George Washington that I think sums this up:
“The willingness with which our young people are likely to serve in any war, no matter how justified, shall be directly proportional as to how they perceive the veterans of earlier wars were treated and appreciated by their nation.”
Do you have any favorite expressions?
I have two. The first one is advice given to me by Donald Rumsfeld: “Make unique mistakes.” If you don’t make mistakes, you’re not trying hard enough. But if you’re making the same mistakes, you’re not learning quickly enough.