Phoenix’s Mayor Is Ready to Battle for the City’s Values and Economy

Phoenix, Arizona

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Connecting state and local government leaders

At SXSW, Greg Stanton is a happy warrior against state and federal interference.

AUSTIN, Texas — Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton has a message for the state legislature and Washington: Stay out of our way and let us succeed. In conversations with Route Fifty at SXSW, Stanton explained that his city—and his fellow mayors—will keep forging ahead no matter what their state leaders or federal officials in Washington, D.C., throw their way.

In Arizona, Stanton is fighting on multiple fronts with his state legislature, but the main battle is around Arizona Senate Bill 1487. The legislation, passed last year, allows the state legislature to divert local tax revenue away from municipalities that don’t follow state laws. That could mean fireworks as policies coming out of the state’s Capitol Complex and Phoenix City Hall continue to trend in different directions.

Stanton, a Democrat, said he believes that S.B. 1487 is “completely self-defeating” and “illegal on top of that.”

“Many people move to Phoenix because we’re a progressive city . . . because of our values; and that’s great,” explained Stanton. “Why should someone representing rural Arizona in the state legislature have any kind of a check on what we do as the city of Phoenix that represents our community values?”

“When it comes to LGBT rights, we’ve got a perfect score from the Human Rights Campaign for the last four years. The state not so much. ... What are they going to come at us and take away money because we have better human rights policies than they do?”

Phoenix also provides identification cards for all residents regardless of immigration status. Last month, a bill that would’ve blocked the program was narrowly defeated in the state Senate. That said, another bill that would dismantle the program, House Bill 2086, is still working its way through the legislature.  

“The legislature is trying to preempt us and we’ll probably end up in litigation over that,” Stanton said regarding the Phoenix ID program. “We have to fight this.”

For Stanton, it’s not necessarily about progressive policies for his city; it’s about the need to build a community that fits with citizen’s values and character. “We don’t want a one-size-fits-all municipal policy when it comes to Arizona, we’ve got over 90 different cities, and each city should have ordinances and laws that reflect that community.”

This diversity of local thought is also about the local economy and trade. Stanton is focused on building comity and trade relationships with Mexico, despite state and national rhetoric creating a cooling of relations. “With the population diversity that we’re blessed to have there are some strategic advantages for Mexican entrepreneurs to come up to Phoenix and learn our marketplace and vice-versa,” Stanton explained.

Stanton believes Phoenix as a hub for export to Mexico and personally led 17 bilateral trade missions between Phoenix businesses and neighbors south of the border. Phoenix opened up a “trade and innovation” office in Mexico City in November, and in December the mayor returned once again to reassure Mexican leaders that their relationship with his city will remain intact.

A go-it-alone if necessary approach seemed to be the mayor’s advice for his colleagues across the country. “Mayors standing up for themselves despite interference from the Trump administration and conservative state legislatures,” Stanton remarked. “Cities are where the action is at: economically, transportation-wise, and from a sustainability and transportation perspective. We’re getting things done, and we’re not going to go backwards just because one guy got elected in Washington, D.C.”

Mitch Herckis is Senior Program Director for Government Executive’s Route Fifty and is based in Washington, D.C.

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