“We were supposed to practice walking out and there wasn’t any time. So George Stephanopoulos got up and said, ‘Look, just line up in the order that you’ve been given and we’re not going to practice this. Just everybody follow Fred, Fred knows the drill,’” recalls DuVal, then Deputy Chief of Protocol at the U.S. Department of State. “Now, I hadn’t been prepared to do that. So I have this great piece of [news] tape – it’s 25 minutes late, the doors of the South Lawn open up and Tom Brokaw says, ‘Well, finally the event is beginning. It appears that there’s been a delay, but the event is about to begin. Here come our VIPs, and the first person out the door… We have no idea! No idea who’s leading the procession, but following him is Mrs. Tipper Gore and the vice president…’”
DuVal trails off into a burst of belly laughs. “So it’s a very grounding reminder.”
More than 20 years later, DuVal has once again wandered into a critical political moment, and once again few people seem to know his name. But they should. With campaign season approaching, the former Arizona Board of Regents chairman and aide to Governor Bruce Babbitt is running virtually unopposed as the Democratic Party’s candidate to succeed Jan Brewer as Arizona governor this November. Meanwhile, eight Republicans are duking it out for the GOP nomination (see sidebar on page 125), making DuVal – from a bettor’s perspective – the odds-leader in the early going.
To be sure, DuVal, 59, finds himself in an unlikely and fortunate position. Despite an honorable career of public service, he’s largely flown under the radar. Connections and funding aside, he hasn’t held elected office. Ever. So what makes a career administrator suddenly want to become governor? And does he stand a chance against the splashier, better-known Republicans itching to take him on at the polls, particularly in solidly red Arizona?
Who is Fred DuVal, anyway?
“Good morning!” Fred DuVal calls out to every person he passes on North Mountain’s Christiansen Trail. He’s wearing a white Arizona Cardinals T-shirt, black athletic shorts, hiking shoes and a waist pack – typical gear for his thrice-weekly morning hikes – and reminiscing about hiking with Babbitt during Babbitt’s campaign days. The two met at an event when DuVal was a sophomore in college, hit it off, and were hiking the Grand Canyon together mere weeks later. “A tradition was born,” DuVal says, leaning in to nod and maintain eye contact every few steps. “We made a point, and I’m sort of repeating it in this campaign, of trying to hike all over the state. We wove it into the schedule… His geology background just brought Arizona to life.”
Though born in Ridgewood, N.J., DuVal’s life has been defined by living in Arizona, where his family moved when he was in fourth grade. His late father, Dr. Merlin “Monte” DuVal, was the founding dean of the University of Arizona College of Medicine and served as the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare’s assistant secretary in Washington, D.C. His mother, Carol DuVal Whiteman, was a founder of Arizona Theatre Company and supporter of myriad arts organizations statewide. He grew up in Tucson, studied drama at Occidental College, and then got a law degree at Arizona State University.
Since then, he’s established himself in political and educational circles, first as a senior aide and then campaign manager – at 24, he was the youngest in state history to run such a campaign – for Babbitt; then during his “seven-year detour” in Washington, D.C., working with President Clinton and Vice President Al Gore in various capacities; and most recently, as an education advocate and chairman of the Arizona Board of Regents, the body that governs Arizona’s three public universities. He also found the time to write two books about his adopted home state – Calling Arizona Home, a collection of interviews with Arizonans on why they love living here, and Irons in the Fire, a compendium of DuVal’s published essays and opinion pieces. All along the way, he was forging his signature connections.
“He has connections in all these different groups and he makes friends [easily]. It doesn’t matter where you come from, it matters to him to find that common thing you can both attach to and believe in and make a difference,” his wife, Jennifer Hecker DuVal, says. “He does it really naturally.” The couple's parents were friends in Tucson, and they met when Jennifer was a teenager and DuVal was a young man clerking for her father, attorney Lawrence M. Hecker. DuVal later recruited Hecker to be Babbitt’s chief of staff. DuVal and Jennifer’s romance began more than 15 years later, after his first marriage had ended. The newly single father – his eldest son, Will, is now 21 – flew in from D.C. for a party at the Heckers’. Jennifer answered the door and didn’t recognize him at first. Seven months later, they were engaged. Babbitt officiated at their wedding ceremony in 2000.
Former Arizona Attorney General Grant Woods, a Republican, was another of DuVal’s earliest connections – the two met in 1971 when they were high school students attending the American Legion’s Boys State citizenship and leadership program. “Out of the hundreds of guys there, he stood out clearly as one of the most impressive,” Woods says. “Ironically, I was a Supreme Court nominee for my party and he was the gubernatorial nominee for his party, so it’s interesting to see how things have turned out since we were high school kids.”
DuVal and Woods went to college and law school together and were roommates for a time. By then, Woods says he had overcome his wariness of DuVal’s kindness. “He’s one of the nicest guys you will ever meet. When I met him in high school, I seriously questioned whether or not he was for real. I thought he was a phony...He’s a hard guy to have a problem with, really.”
Getting back into politics after a brief layaway, DuVal ran an unsuccessful bid for Congress in 2002 representing Arizona’s 1st congressional district. He says the failed campaign was humbling, but ultimately beneficial. “I wasn’t ready to win. If you go through a disappointing experience and learn the right things, it’s a wonderful growth opportunity,” DuVal says. He placed fourth in the Democratic primary, with George Cordova getting the nomination before losing to Republican Rick Renzi in the general election. “It gave me a love of rural Arizona that I’m so grateful for. I have no regrets. It was not the right time, not the right race, all those other things.”
He faces a less contentious primary this go-round, at least, running virtually unopposed for Arizona’s highest seat. “Well, I do like my odds,” DuVal says. “There is a Libertarian that’s filed [as a Democrat, Ron Cavanaugh]. He’s run before. There’s another Democrat [James Curtis Woolsey] who’s filed, but in the course of the last year we’ve seen no evidence of a campaign.” The filing deadline for candidates is May 28. It's possible that a credible Democratic candidate like former Senate hopeful Dr. Richard Carmona could enter the race at the 11th hour – though highly unlikely, insiders say.
DuVal's gubernatorial path started after he left the Board of Regents. After watching the “year-in and year-out slashing of our investment in education,” DuVal says he was “getting into a passion” about education in Arizona, which he believes will be the most crucial issue facing the next governor.
A personal experience tipped his advocacy into candidacy. “I had an experience that too many parents are having. My high school senior came in and said, ‘Look, Dad, you’ve done great work with the university schools. I know we’ve got three great universities. [But] I think my career options are better somewhere else,’” DuVal says. “He left the state [to join the ROTC program at Santa Clara University in California]. And then I’ve got a five-year-old [son Monte] who’s home and I thought, ‘I want a different outcome this time.’ I’ve got time to make the difference.” He filed to create an exploratory committee on February 14 – statehood day – of 2013 and made his candidacy official on April 24 of that year.
His lack of competition in his primary stems from his storied connections, says Dr. Michael O’Neil, a Tempe-based political consultant and pollster. Though DuVal says fundraising is his biggest weakness, O’Neil says it was his ace in the hole. “My reading of the tea leaves is that he locked down the big donors and scared the rest of the field away, including [house minority leader] Chad Campbell,” O’Neil says. “That’s pretty obvious what happened... Fred clearly went to people with money, said 'Give me some to put in the till so I can intimidate and clear out the field.' And it worked.”
About 25 well-heeled and well-connected Arizonans are chatting in clusters on the glamorously rustic patio off the library at the Hermosa Inn, sipping wine and nibbling mini crab cakes. Paradise Valley Mayor Scott LeMarr schmoozes in one corner. Christa Severns, owner of Christa Severns Communications and ex-wife of former Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon, makes her rounds. Philanthropists Bob and Mary Ellen McKee hover in the doorway. Art Cunningham, real estate developer and co-owner of the inn, corrals the crowd into a circle and introduces DuVal, who launches into a speech encapsulating the crux of his campaign message: Things were once great in Arizona, and he wants to restore that.
“The ‘80s and ‘70s in Arizona were an extraordinary time. This is where everyone in the country wanted to live,” DuVal says, reminiscing about his early political days, working with Babbitt, Mo Udall, John Rhodes, Burton Barr and Barry Goldwater. “This is where big things were happening – the Central Arizona Project, the freeway system, the universities. There was a sense of excitement, of ‘This is the place of the future.’ And it’s not that way anymore.”
He alludes to the beating Arizona’s reputation has taken in recent years, most recently with the controversial and ultimately vetoed SB 1062. “The irony is that Arizona has everything in the world that we could possibly need to be competitive... and it’s been obscured by these brand issues that have gotten in the way.”
His platform addresses ways to repair Arizona's reputation. He wants more investment in education and to “hold that investment to a level of expectation,” even if that means closing some schools to strengthen others. Education investment is crucial for his business plan, which involves attracting venture capital and corporations in the technology, aerospace, biohealth, clean energy and online learning industries.
The latter two are ripped straight from his résumé: Until the campaign, he served as a vice president of Clean Energy Fuels, North America’s largest provider of natural gas for vehicles. On its board of directors is Texas tycoon T. Boone Pickens, whom DuVal worked with during his White House years on the Pickens Plan, a nonpartisan campaign to reduce America’s dependence on foreign oil through the development of natural gas and wind as sustainable, abundant resources.
Ultimately, he says for Arizona to attract and maintain talent to foster a robust economy, it needs a “diverse, sustainable economic platform that no longer rides the roller coaster of the housing booms and busts, but enjoys and leverages the upsides of those sectors while expanding the platform so that we’re more competitive going forward.” Also key: Becoming a manufacturer and exporter of our abundant resources (think solar energy) to our neighbors to the west and south. “Being on the border of Mexico is a total upside opportunity and we’ve treated it like a disease,” DuVal says.
As he’s speaking, Severns leans over and whispers, “This is very inspiring. I’ve heard a lot of speeches, and I haven’t been this inspired since Babbitt.” DuVal’s appeal, his supporters say, lies not only in his innate relationship-building skills, but in his moderate, bipartisan approach. He’s liberal in many social issues and in his support of education and sustainable energy, they say, but his push to attract big business has appeal for fiscal conservatives.
“His biggest hurdle is he has a 'D' at the end of his name, and that’s such a shame because this isn’t about ideology, this is about moving the state forward,” says Lisa Urias, president and CEO of Urias Communications and a longtime friend and supporter. “Fred grew up in a Democratic tradition in his family, and that doesn’t mean that he isn’t a business man. It doesn’t mean that he doesn’t understand fiscal responsibility. He has a very strong business alliance group and they’re growing.”
His message of rehabilitation for Arizona also seems to play well among supporters. “He engages a lot of people, he knows a lot of people, and he can bring all kinds of people together to move Arizona forward,” says former Maricopa County Democratic Chair Ann Wallack. “I’m looking forward to people understanding that Arizona is not what it has been portrayed as lately. Those two issues [SB 1070 and SB 1062] tarnished our name and our reputation, and we want people to know that... Arizona people are open and warm and accepting and this is a good place to come and raise a family.”
When analyzing her husband as a candidate, Jennifer Hecker DuVal echoes his other supporters, praising his openness and his ability to quickly forge connections with people, as well as his state and federal experience. Asked to diagnose his weaknesses, she hesitates before answering, “His compassion, which is also such a great strength. He cares really deeply,” she says. “I think that’s really hard for him – the campaign process and going in and being aggressive about what’s important, because he can work so easily with people."
Woods also wonders if DuVal is too nice to win the race, but says his real challenge will be “overcoming the perception that this is a Republican seat. He’s really the perfect candidate to win the race because his views and his style are so mainstream,” Woods says.
Of DuVal’s Republican opponents, Woods says former Mesa Mayor Scott Smith and State Treasurer Doug Ducey are the only ones who can give DuVal a run for his money, though Secretary of State Ken Bennett leads most early polls. “The good news for Fred: He’s in the finals. The rest of them all have to get there,” Woods says. “I think he can beat any of them in just a normal situation, and if the Republicans do their typical circular firing squad, then they could really damage either the candidate or their brand. I think they have damaged their brand already with some of their recent shenanigans at the legislature. That’s worked to Fred’s favor.”
For its part, the Arizona Republican Party is quick to poke holes in DuVal’s assertions of centrism. “He’s gonna try to make people believe that [he’s a centrist] but at the end of the day he’s a liberal Democrat,” says Tim Sifert, director of communications for the Arizona GOP. “He’s got very little policy-wise in his campaign right now that would lead anybody to think that he’ll do anything to help the economy in Arizona.”
GOP candidate Christine Jones, former executive vice president, general counsel and corporate secretary for GoDaddy.com, weighs in on her potential opponent: “He seems like a likeable enough guy, but for this time in Arizona’s history, he doesn’t strike me as the type of candidate or governor that Arizona needs,” Jones says. “I try not to be overly critical about my opponents, but if I could stay just purely factual, I’d say that he’s spent a lifetime as a lobbyist and a federal bureaucrat. I’ve spent a lifetime as a businessperson and growing a business.”
Communications strategist and political adviser Wes Gullett, a Republican who supports Ducey but has been friendly with Ducey and DuVal since the 1980s, says, “The one thing I think the people of Arizona can count on [if those two meet in the general election] is the debate will be about the issues. I’m anxious for that debate to begin and I think it’ll be good for our state.”
Though DuVal himself is mum on the subject, pollster O’Neil predicts the DuVal campaign will come out of media hibernation later this summer with TV commercials and other public-awareness spots, after the Republican race starts to heat up. “I think he sits on his [campaign] money,” O’Neil says. “His best hope is that the Republican primary is close, because the negative campaigning has become so refined, the knives will come out. So he just waits and lets the other Republicans do it and then picks up on that thing that turns out to be [his opponent’s] weakness.”
DuVal should savor his anonymity. It will soon be a thing of the past.
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