Anti-Drug Warrior Debbie Moak Leaving Ducey's Office of Youth, Faith and Family

Arizona Governor Doug Ducey is losing another cabinet member.

Debbie Moak, the director of the Governor's Office of Youth, Faith and Family, announced on Tuesday that she's leaving her post after 2 1/2 years to spend time with her first grandchild.

Her last day on the job will be Friday, according to a letter obtained by Phoenix New Times.

"In spite of all the support I have received I find myself in a season of transition," she wrote to her staff in the letter dated Tuesday. "I've told my staff that maybe it is even because of their extreme competence to continue executing on our vision that I am able to move on."

The state agency was created by former Governor Jan Brewer to provide services and guide policy on a range of social issues, but especially substance abuse and domestic violence.

Moak has served as the agency's director since Ducey appointed her soon after he took office in 2015.

She's a former schoolteacher who became famous in the anti-substance-abuse industry after founding the nonprofit firm notMYkid in 1999.

Her sudden departure coincides with the recent launch of an anti-opioid campaign by the governor and the Arizona Department of Health Services.

New Times included Moak in a March article about the problems with some of Ducey appointees, "Ducey's Dirty Half-Dozen." But Ducey's spokesman, Daniel Scarpinato, denied that Moak is leaving because of anything untoward. He said she's done a "phenomenal" job working with the community.

"She's made a huge impact on real people's lives — I've seen it," Scarpinato said. "We cannot say enough about the good work she's done."

The article noted six appointees who had been the target of critical articles by the news media, and how Ducey had ousted four of them — including former state Department of Economic Security Director Tim Jeffries.

Two others, Moak and State Parks Director Sue Black, managed to hold onto their jobs despite the negative publicity.

New Times took Moak to task in a December exposé for using state email, work time, and her staff's time to help defeat Proposition 205, the marijuana-legalization initiative that state voters rejected in November.

State law forbids the use of any "valuable" state resources, including employees' time, to help out a political campaign.

Moak denied that she crossed any ethical or legal lines with her work, saying that she used personal or vacation time for work she did on the opposition campaign during work hours.

State documents proved that Moak was a key resource for the anti-Prop 205 campaign, Arizonans for Responsible Drug Policy.

Email records show she worked with former ARDP chair Seth Leibsohn and with Axiom Public Affairs on the campaign.

(Axiom, it must be noted, was run by Ducey insiders including Jim Norton, who recently left the firm after being accused in a federal indictment of taking part in a bribery scheme with former Arizona Corporation Commissioner Gary Pierce and developer George Johnson. The company recently changed its name to Compass Rose Public Affairs.)

The documents did show some minimal use of state resources. But as Moak told New Times in reference to questions about whether the records would show any significant use of time or email for the campaign, "I'm smarter than that."

She said that when an email to someone about the campaign suggested she would call the person back during work time, she actually did not.

For example, Moak wrote, "please respond on my personal email," to Leibsohn and a group of Axiom employees in response to an email about the anti-Prop 205 campaign on a weekday morning in April 2016.

The governor's office also released records showing Moak's vacation and personal time, but it was unclear whether her campaign work and the time off matched precisely. Moak declined to be interviewed on the matter.

For instance, Moak and Ducey's wife, Angela Ducey, spoke at an anti-Prop 205 rally hosted by the Center for Arizona Policy on October 11, which was a Tuesday. Moak's time-off records show she took an hour of personal time that day. Whether that hour coincides with the time she spent at the rally can't be determined.

In any case, Ducey was never likely to view Moak's work for ARDP as potentially troublesome, because he was the group's main fundraiser, helping it bring in more than $5 million to defeat the marijuana-legalization measure.

Moak and her husband, former congressional candidate Steve Moak, made a fortune in drug testing before taking her job at the agency.

In the wake of their son's cocaine problem, the Moaks founded an anti-addiction nonprofit firm, notMYkid. They also bought a company that made drug-testing kits, First Check, later selling it in 2007 for $25 million. Leibsohn is the current notMYkid chairman of the board.

Moak's passion for the problem of substance abuse will continue after she leaves her job, she said in her resignation letter.

"Please know that I am not finished working in this arena," she wrote. "I am currently considering my next steps in the substance abuse/health arena while taking time off to enjoy my first grandchild. ... I'm excited to now use my experience working with private sector businesses, non-profit organizations and state government to continue serving our most vulnerable populations."

Moak did not return a call on Tuesday.

Her replacement has not yet been selected by the governor.
KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Ray Stern has worked as a newspaper reporter in Arizona for more than two decades. He's won numerous awards for his reporting, including the Arizona Press Club's Don Bolles Award for Investigative Journalism.

Latest Stories