PHOENIX — Taking a slap at the Biden administration, Gov. Doug Ducey said Thursday he is prepared to send the Arizona National Guard to the border — even if it means at state expense.
“We’re going to use every tool, authority and resource that we have,” Ducey said after announcing his pick of Brig. Gen. Kerry Muehlenbeck as the new state adjutant general. Muehlenbeck, a lawyer and former deputy Pima County attorney, will be the first woman in charge of Arizona’s 8,300 Guard soldiers.
“To be successful on the southern border, we need to work in partnership with the federal government,” Ducey said. “But Arizona’s going to act regardless.”
The Republican governor said that, as far as he is concerned, the border was “largely stable not that long ago.” Since then, he said, there have been 180,000 people apprehended and nearly 18,000 children in the care of the federal government.
“And the federal government is not very good at being a parent,” he said.
“So this is something where we need federal support,” Ducey said. “We’re trying to get the Biden administration to realize that the border’s part of the situation that their White House is responsible for.”
Criticizes VP Harris
Even as the governor said he was going to be speaking to the president to talk border issues, he took a swipe at Biden’s choice of Vice President Kamala Harris to be the point person on border issues.
“Vice President Harris has equated ICE with the KKK,” Ducey said.
He was referring to a Senate confirmation hearing in 2018 for Ronald Vitiello, President Donald Trump’s nominee to head ICE. Harris had a line of questions about the Ku Klux Klan. Vitiello responded that it is a “domestic terrorist group” because it “tried to use fear and force to change political environment” and that was “based on race and ethnicity.”
“Are you aware of the perception of many about how the power and the discretion at ICE is being used to enforce the laws, and do you see any parallels?” Harris asked at the time. Vitiello said he did not.
Ducey a leading critic of Biden border policy
Ducey has become one of the top Republicans tossing verbal barbs at the Biden administration.
He did so at a trip to the border last month and in radio and TV interviews on border issues, including two appearances in as many weeks on Fox News — one before his Thursday news conference here — to take shots at how the situation is being handled.
“The border traditionally is a federal issue and a federal focus,” Ducey said during the news conference. “The Biden White House has ignored the situation at the border in Arizona and I think across the southern United States.”
Ducey said the state already is doing what it can.
“We’re working with ranchers and border sheriffs and leaders at the county level,” he said, saying he is hoping for more from the White House about the next steps from Washington.
“But the National Guard will be part of this solution,” Ducey said. “And we will have action taken.”
New Guard leader was at Davis-Monthan
Muehlenbeck’s appointment as adjutant general also makes her director of the state Department of Emergency and Military Affairs.
Muehlenbeck came to Arizona in 1993 to serve as assistant staff judge advocate at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson.
Four years later, after separating from the active military, she joined the Arizona Air National Guard where she also served as both a wing-level and headquarters staff judge advocate.
She became the state’s deputy adjutant general in 2018.
Muehlenbeck described her service as a “traditional, drill-status Guardsman,” meaning she also had full-time outside employment, including a stint with the Pima County Attorney’s Office.
She is a professor at Mesa Community College, a job she apparently will have to give up in her new position.
“The historical importance of being the first female adjutant general in Arizona is not lost on me,” she said.
“But I do hope that what I’ve done and who I am is more important than simply my sex,” Muehlenbeck continued. “I never considered myself a female member of the military. I was always just another member of the military.”
She replaces Maj. Gen. Michael McGuire, who is retiring after 37 years in the military.
McGuire, a Republican, is weighing a possible run for U.S. Senate in 2022 where he would try to unseat Democrat Mark Kelly.