During Monday’s State of the State speech, Gov. Doug Ducey said he wanted to recognize and reward the work of teachers.

In his initial life stage, Doug Ducey The Politician was just an egg sitting on a leaf at a Koch Bros. summit in a luxurious California resort.

Then came the larval stage: Ducey won office, becoming state treasurer and then governor. He feasted not on leaves but on what he had learned were bad policies — raising taxes and spending more money, even if it seemed to be for a good cause. He devoured a 2012 ballot issue that would have made a temporary 1-cent sales tax for education and roads permanent.

This week, Ducey the pragmatic pupa came into full view. In his state of the state speech, he proposed using tax money to help teachers and impoverished children. He even proposed giving back a year of cash welfare benefits he had taken away just last year.

This is a stage we should have seen coming, though we still don’t know how far it will go — whether we’ll see a fully metamorphosed, moderate Ducey spread his wings and fly, maybe northeast toward Washington, D.C.

The pupal pragmatism came through in Ducey’s recent efforts to keep health insurance intact for some uninsured Arizonans. His administration is defending in court the state’s Medicaid expansion, which the Legislature is challenging. And Ducey told a business crowd in Phoenix last week that he doesn’t want Congress to repeal the Affordable Care Act until it has a replacement ready.

“I don’t want to see any Arizonan have the rug pulled out from underneath them in terms of changing this law,” he said.

That same spirit of pragmatism in addressing social problems came through in Ducey’s iterations of his State of the State speech, first at the state Capitol Monday, then at the Tucson Convention Center on Tuesday. The centerpiece of his speech was on spending money for education — to pay teachers more and to give poor kids a better education.

He’s come a long way from those days sitting on the leaf.

Among the passages that stuck out to me as reflecting a greater willingness to spend to fix problems:

“But when we do have available resources, like we do this year — the bulk of those dollars will go to public education. And our proposals will be responsible — to make sure we can actually follow through on our word, and our educators can rely on it.

“My budget gives the lowest-income schools dollars to start or expand full-day kindergarten and address an issue we know is critical to closing the achievement gap: The ability to read by third grade.

“My budget will outline a permanent, lasting salary increase to all of Arizona’s teachers. This will be above and beyond raises they may be receiving from Prop. 123, or overrides, or from their districts.”

For now, this is just rhetoric, of course, but presumably Ducey will put some money behind the sentiment when he lays out the details of his proposed budget on Friday.

Then there was this tangible surprise: His proposal to essentially roll back a one-year limit on cash assistance for needy families that Ducey himself allowed to go into effect despite heated protests. Arizona was the only state to set such a strict limit, but Ducey said this week that he’d give the year of cash help back to those who are actively looking for work. His spokesman, Daniel Scarpinato, said about 70 percent of recipients are likely to be eligible for the extension.

When I asked Ducey after Tuesday’s speech what has transformed him from a strict supply-sider nearly into a social-justice activist, he said he felt it was his responsibility as governor to lead on education.

On the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, he said, “In terms of citizens who are trying to get out of poverty and build a better life, we think what we’re doing on cash assistance is just the right thing to do.”

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Many recipients, he said, “need a hand up, not a hand out, and that’s what we’re providing.”

I asked Sen. Steve Farley, the Tucson Democrat who may run for governor, what he thinks of the governor’s changes.

“He’s running for election in two years, and he’s taking his right flank for granted,” Farley said. “If he didn’t emphasize education, he’d be in serious trouble.”

True enough — the demands are bipartisan for more spending on K-12 education. And Ducey did repeat a few of the partisan’s lines that he learned back in the Koch Bros. days.

“The federal government makes a mess out of everything it touches,” he said.

California, he said, is benefiting Arizona with its “nutty ideas.”

And the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals should be broken up, with Arizona put in a new district.

These are stirring comments for the ideologues still attached to the ideas that larval Ducey grew up with.

But the signs are there that, whatever the reason, he may be shedding his ideological skin as he prepares for a monarch’s flight, far from the Koch Bros. conclave, as a more moderate governor.

Contact: tsteller@tucson.com or 807-7789. On Twitter: @senyorreporter


Tim Steller is the Star’s metro columnist. A 20-plus year veteran of reporting and editing, he digs into issues and stories that matter in the Tucson area, reports the results and tells you his opinion on it all.