It has been a largely successful first year in office for Arizona Secretary of State Adrian Fontes.
Despite having to deal with a dysfunctional State Legislature and a fiscal year budget that did not fully address his office’s needs and priorities, Mr. Fontes is very pleased with the stellar team he has assembled and the culture they have created. He is also happy with the progress his office has made in modernizing the department and preparing for the 2024 elections.
Arizona Secretary of State Adrian Fontes graciously took the time to talk about the positive and challenging aspects of his first year in office.
The questions and his responses are below.
- Please tell us your overall feelings about being Secretary of State after almost a year in office.
“I feel great. We’ve assembled one of the most – if not the most — experienced election administrative teams in state history that we’ve seen. They come from a variety of backgrounds: rural, the Phoenix area. They have expertise on the ground and with administration. The expertise is just phenomenal. I can’t say enough about my team. We have managed to correct a lot of the small errors that had accumulated in the office over a variety of administrations going way back. I’m just glad that my folks have had the patience and where with all to fight through a lot of this stuff and get us where we needed to go.
Also, I was disappointed in the entire budget process, but we have been able to make do with what we’ve got, and we’ve also managed to find ways to be creative with some of the other funding sources that were available. All in all, I think year one has been a great success, but we’ll be better able to assess once we get through next year and the Presidential election.”
- What are at least three achievements you are proudest of seeing through this first year?
“My proudest achievement is building the team. You can’t call yourself a leader unless you’ve got people to lead, and the people that I lead are the best. That’s number one.”
“Number two, we’ve brought down the temperature in the office. I think the office over the last couple of administrations had been seen as partisan. Let’s just be honest. We’ve really brought down the temperature and that’s a good thing for the integrity of our elections. That’s a good thing for the office, and I think it’s a good thing for the people of Arizona.”
“Number three, we’ve really focused heavily on revamping our business services division and some of the infrastructure that supports it. That’s going to benefit Arizona’s businesses and, therefore, all of Arizona’s economy.”
“For me, these are the three greatest achievements so far.”
- What has been one or two surprises of your first year in office?
“I’m surprised at how much positive input we got with the Elections Procedures Manual process. We got an enormous amount of input from the counties and tribes as well as over 1,500 from public comments and a lot of it was very positive. We had lots of people at the table from all sides of the political spectrum. There was a lot of positive feedback on the changes. Some of it was a little reluctantly positive, but I was really expecting a lot more pushback from both the left and the right. While we did get a little bit, it’s a lot less than I anticipated so that was a great surprise.”
“I think one of the other surprises I had was the dysfunction of the legislature. I knew there was fighting, but I didn’t realize how petty and misguided it is. There are a lot of partisan-minded individuals who are more interested in their personal agendas than they are in serving the people of Arizona. It was really disappointing. I was surprised how much it hurts our capacity to do good things for the state.”
- What has been one or two of your greatest challenges since taking office?
“I think one of the biggest challenges has been time management, frankly. It is a far cry from being an executive at the county level and being an executive statewide. Even though there is a narrower set of duties than some other offices, there are an amazing number of competing demands on my time. That’s one of the real challenges, but we’re really striking a good rhythm now, and we have been since the early fall with just onboarding people and doing all that stuff, getting my sea legs under me was challenging but I’m getting better at saying no to things.”
- What comment can you provide on the status of whether you will pursue a legal measure per the 14th Amendment to keep former President Trump off the ballot for 2024?
“Not a chance. It’s not legal for me to prevent Mr. Trump from being on the ballot. According to Arizona statutes, if he’s certified in two other states, which he is in Michigan and New Hampshire, and he has submitted his application, then he can be on there. So, I can tell you right now, I won’t either personally or through the office be pursuing any litigation against Mr. Trump.
- What is the status of the No Labels Party in Arizona?
“The No Labels national leadership is difficult, but they are a party in good standing in the state of Arizona, and if people want to run as No Label’s candidates, they’re eligible to do so at every level.”
- Is there anyone at your office you would like to recognize for their contributions to making your first year successful?
“There’s a lot of people. I want to start with the Assistant Secretary of State, Keely Varvel. She was my chief of staff at the County Recorders Office. She’s my chief here and without her, nothing happens.”
“I want to definitely shout out to the State Election Director Colleen Connor. She is the most judicious and professional person that I have ever had the privilege of working with. It’s been a real pleasure watching her work through the Elections Procedure Manual work as well as she’s done.”
“I also want to highlight Aaron Aylsworth, the new Director of the Business Services Division. He’s a rock star. He understood what I wanted to do. It didn’t take much and he’s done a world of good for all of our business services. I’m really impressed with the guy. He’s a likable fella and that’s a bonus.”
“Finally, a person that never ever gets the recognition that she deserves: Holly Henley, the Director of State Libraries. She runs the Libraries and Public Archives Records Division. She’s an absolutely invaluable member of Arizona’s state governance team across the state. She is the consummate professional and very knowledgeable in her field. She has grace and compassion. She is very well-regarded and respected across the entire state. I can gush on Holly for hours. She’s that good.”
- Is there anything not covered in the first seven questions that you would like the readers to know about your first year as Secretary of State? Please explain.
“I’m having a great time. It’s not just an honor or a privilege to be Secretary of State and to occasionally serve as Acting Governor, which is fun, but it’s fun to travel the state and meet people. It’s fun to lead an amazing team. While it’s very time-consuming and sometimes can be a little taxing, it is so rewarding, and I am really, really grateful for the privilege that the voters gave to me for this honor. I’m having a great time.”
“Speaking of voters, Arizona’s Presidential Preference Election is coming up on March 19 where voters select a preferred presidential candidate within their party. To participate, voters must be registered with an official political party holding a PPE on or before February 20. I want to encourage everyone to check their voter registration status, and register to vote! Check out Arizona.Vote for more information.”