PHOENIX — As thousands of teachers and supporters gathered at the Arizona Capitol to protest inadequate public school funding for a second day Friday, Governor Doug Ducey again skipped the chance to address them.
Instead, the Republican governor's public relations machine sent out links to a series of interviews the previous day with TV news reporters where Ducey pushed his plan to boost teacher pay by 20 percent by 2020, talking point by talking point.
The scene was far different Friday in Denver, where several thousand Colorado teachers gathered for a second day to protest low education funding were greeted by Democratic Governor John Hickenlooper.
He said he would work to have the state repay all of the approximately $1 billion borrowed from education during the recession.
''We see you. We hear you,'' said Hickenlooper, who spoke for less than five minutes. ''We are working with you, not just today.''
However, Hickenlooper didn't offer any funding above what has already been proposed for next year. Some teachers shouted over him, ''We want more,'' while others applauded his pledge.
Ducey, who is seeking reelection this year, never showed up to address the 50,000 educators and supporters Thursday or the thousands who were at the Capitol on Friday. He has called the leaders of the grassroots group that organized the walkout with the Arizona Education Association politically motivated.
''He's not listening,'' said Kelly Grant, a Mesa teacher. ''There's five demands, there has been from the beginning. So we just want someone to sit down with our people, make some effort. They're not making an effort.''
Ducey has refused to meet with walkout leaders, instead inviting a handful of selected educators to meetings. Just two weeks ago, he was completely ignoring the demands of teachers who began protesting in early March, after educators in West Virginia went on strike and won big raises. Educators in Oklahoma and Kentucky followed.
In a surprise move on April 12, Ducey tried to sideline the protests by announcing he had found a way to boost teacher pay by 9 percent this year, followed by 5 percent raises in 2019 and 2020. He also is counting a 1 percent raise he gave last year to come to the 20 percent figure.
That would cost about $650 million a year by 2020 in a state that has consistently cut taxes as the governor moves to shrink government and enact more tax cuts.
Ken Bennett, a former secretary of state and Arizona Senate president who is challenging Ducey in the Republican primary, said he thinks the governor has been ''playing politics and not being straightforward with people.''
''For months he told us there's no way we can afford a 20 percent increase, and then I think when the political winds started to get too heavy all of the sudden he turned 180 degrees and said we can do it,'' Bennett said as he gathered signatures at the teacher rally.