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Toward that goal, Napolitano has a big advantage over governors of the past.
Here, at the beginning of the 21st century rather than the 20th, the macroeconomic prosperity desired by modern conservative statesmen depends on the social, intellectual and environmental health desired by modern liberal statesmen.
Meaning, you must now have good schools, clean air, a progressive, protective government and a vibrant, inclusive cultural climate to create and attract the high-paying, technology-based jobs that separate the best American states from the worst American states, which will get even worse as their crummy jobs are siphoned off by the best Third World nations.
Napolitano knows this. She's been working toward this ideal for four years. And in that time, she has built such a broad coalition of supporters across party lines, from big business to the Sierra Club, across the public and private sectors, she may be able to reach great heights even with the reactionary right hovering near veto-override power in the state Legislature.
As Merrill points out, to the extent that popularity provides a mandate for great achievement, polls actually do matter toward the development of legacy.
Popularity also allows an executive to suggest and influence change beyond his or her purview. For example, Napolitano could use her public support to back sweeping reform through public referendum of a legislature that no longer represents the public.
But public support also raises the bar of expectation.
Besides some other notables Paul Fannin, Bruce Babbitt, Jack Williams Napolitano's likely biggest competition for the title of Best Arizona Governor comes from a man named Joseph Kibbey, who was governor exactly a century ago.
As both a federal judge and governor, Kibbey helped build the infrastructure, such as the Salt River Project, that made the modern Arizona possible while also fighting for sweeping social reforms. Most notably, Kibbey vetoed Arizona's segregation laws in their infancy in 1909; then, after his veto was overridden by the Legislature, he served as the attorney for a Phoenix African-American family arguing segregation was not providing equal educational opportunity for all Arizonans. He won in Maricopa County Superior Court, but had his case overturned by the Arizona Supreme Court.
He did this 42 years before Brown v. Board of Education ended segregation in America.
Joseph Kibbey, ahead of his time, a victim of his time, is a hero for simply fighting the good fight in the face of public opinion.
A century later, Napolitano has public opinion on her side. For her, then, fighting the good fight isn't enough for greatness. She's going to have to win.
And to win, especially against history, especially against Arizona history, you need a good game plan.
Tom Rex is associate director of the Center for Competitiveness and Prosperity Research at ASU, which means he spends his time thinking about how to make Arizona great.
Rex, who generally sounds like a Chamber of Commerce Republican, is a fan of the Democrat Napolitano.
"She's been a big supporter of better education and many of the other things that make a state appealing to the kinds of businesses we need," Rex says. "She knows the world economy has changed. There's no doubt she 'gets it.'"
What she gets, and what Rex gets, is the idea that modern prosperity is integrally tied to quality-of-life issues. This is not as obvious as it sounds.
"For much of history, most companies actually didn't care much about quality of life," he says. "They needed cheap labor, they needed the raw materials, and the bottom line was the only line. No doubt we still have those companies. But the higher-end companies no longer can or do think this way."
This is not to say many people haven't come to Arizona because it's sunny. But, on average, the people who come mostly for the outdoor amenities of Arizona tend to be young, high-school-educated lower wage earners, or, retirees. Once here, they take the jobs they can find.
What Arizona needs more of, Rex says, are the companies that can headquarter anywhere, so they choose to headquarter in a place most appealing to their highly educated employees and potential employees.
"They want to be able to retain good workers, they want to be able to recruit good workers," Rex says. "And they also want an educational system around them that can create the good workers they need."
Arizona doesn't do as well with those types of companies. But, Rex says, in the past decade, Arizona is doing considerably better than it used to.
"These companies want to be near major universities," Rex says. "Look at what's happening in downtown Phoenix, here at ASU, around the [Tempe Town] lake. These areas are starting to hop. This effort to integrate the universities of Arizona into the fabric of the community and the high-tech sector is happening."
What's lagging is the quality of life that the world's best employees tend to demand. Weather and landscape are lower on their list of priorities, he says.
Above all: a superior educational system. "They want the best for their kids simple as that." A vibrant arts and culture scene. "That cool vibe thing," Rex says. "It's an environment stimulating to the mind."