July 2022
Prescott Native Aims High
Meet Attorney General Candidate Kris Mayes

Born and raised in Prescott, Kris Mayes grew up helping her family with its tree farm, every year in late spring “giving away” trees, which became an event in the city. The family would pot the Ponderosa pines, maples, honey locusts and other deciduous trees that grew on the four-plus acres by their home, and then make just enough to cover the costs.

“People would line up on Norris Road all the way down to Prescott College and beyond,” Mayes recalls. “It makes me happy seeing (the trees) around now. Looking back, I think that’s how I got interested in public service and giving back to the community.”

The Phoenix-based Democratic candidate for state attorney general related how growing up in Prescott, working on the tree farm and graduating from Prescott High School with a prestigious Flinn scholarship led her down the path to her later accomplishments. Those include reporting for The Arizona Republic, working as an attorney, serving as a member and chair of the Arizona Corporation Commission, and now candidate for one of our highest statewide offices.

She said working on the tree farm and the family garden with her brother and sister taught her about the fruits of hard labor — and she won several blue and red ribbons at the Yavapai County Fair for the pumpkins, sunflowers and squash she grew. “It taught us a work ethic,” Mayes said. “To start something and stick it out to the end.”

She also learned about politics from her father, and from living in one of the state’s political capitals. Her father was one of the founders of the local Sierra Club. He installed a solar heating system in their house during the energy crises of the ’70s, though it didn’t work very well, she says with a laugh. A botanist by avocation who worked as a pharmacist for the Yavapai County Regional Medical Center, he traveled the region delivering medicine to Jerome and Bagdad when needed. He also taught botany at Yavapai College. Her mother worked as a teacher.

“Everybody knew everybody else,” Mayes said. “I did gymnastics at the YMCA, played softball and baseball.”

She also was class president from eighth grade on, and eventually editor of the high-school newspaper. When politicians came to town to make candidacy announcements on the courthouse plaza, she paid attention.

“I remember thinking I wanted to grow up to be governor of the state — I don’t know how that got in my head, but it was probably being in a place where politics was central.”

She spent a summer interning in the DC offices of Representative Bob Stump on the recommendation of her high-school civics teacher, Tim Carter, now Yavapai County’s Superintendent of Schools.

After high school Mayes attended Arizona State University and become editor-in-chief of its newspaper. Along with a full ride to ASU, the Flinn Scholarship enabled her to study abroad for a summer, and she landed an internship with The Johannesburg Star in South Africa, covering the “crime and violence” beat, which meant race riots and pandemonium during the fall of apartheid. Although her parents were worried about her, she wrote some front-page stories and later landed a job at The Arizona Gazette, which merged into The Arizona Republic. Then she won the Arizona State Legislature beat at the unheard-of age of 25. She won a Truman Scholarship and attended Columbia University in New York, earning a Masters in public administration.

Back at the Republic, she got the plum assignment to cover the 2000 presidential campaigns of Senator John McCain and former Vice President Dan Quayle, who also has strong Arizona ties, as well as Steve Forbes and Texas Governor George W. Bush. While McCain banned her from the Straight Talk Express — he had a beef with critical Republic opinion pieces — she managed to travel by car following the press bus. This would later prove to be an advantage in politics, because McCain knew her.

Following the presidential campaign Mayes graduated magna cum laude from the ASU College of Law. In 2002 she had a chance meeting with Janet Napolitano, then Arizona Attorney General, who during a flight from DC to Phoenix talked Mayes into accepting the job of press secretary for her gubernatorial campaign. Although Mayes was a Republican until 2019, she took the job because she said their values were aligned on most issues.

In 2003 Napolitano appointed her to the Corporation Commission after a resignation. Republicans primaried her in her first election in 2004. That’s when McCain, a heavyweight in Arizona politics, was asked to endorse one of her Republican primary opponents. She reached out to him and had an hour-long meeting. At the end of it, she asked him not to endorse anyone. He didn’t.

“It was classic maverick McCain,” Mayes said. “It was him staying out of the race that helped me to win that race.”

After that Mayes served seven more years as a corporation commissioner until she termed out in 2010. Since then she has worked as a senior sustainability scientist at ASU’s School of Global Sustainability, where she runs programs on renewable energy. In 2011 she also became a professor of energy law and utility law at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law.

As Corporation Commission Chair Mayes led the push to require AZ utilities to integrate renewable energy.

One of the areas she’s focused on is aiding communities that are making the transition as their coal-fired plants are shut down. Navajo and Hopi communities have been hit hardest, with 80% of Hopi income gone after a plant shut down.

“Obviously it’s a good thing for the environment, but for the communities where they’re situated, it’s an economic tornado.”

Mayes with daughter Hattie

In the midst of her commitments and high-powered jobs, Mayes felt the pull to be a mother. At about age 40 she decided to undergo in-vitro fertilization, and asked a college friend, Peter Ranger, to assist her. She gave birth to daughter Hattie nine years ago, and Ranger remains in Hattie’s life as a father figure.

“It’s just been the best thing I’ve ever done, but also the hardest thing I’ve ever done,” Mayes said.

Ironically, Mayes said if local laws regarding reproductive rights stand and Roe v Wade is overturned, that could make it impossible to do IVF. “I find it outrageous that it puts IVF in danger because you have to grow embryos to day six, and some are not used,” Mayes said. “It would be outlawed under some extremist laws.”

Mayes said if she’s elected she won’t prosecute women or doctors who stand up for reproductive rights. The pro-choice issue is just one of many that convinced Mayes to become a Democrat in 2019.

“I never left the Republican party, it left me a long time ago,” Mayes said. “It’s veering into a land of extremism that many Republicans aren’t comfortable with anymore.”

With strong supporters from both parties in Prescott, Mayes thinks that there’s room for a “more inclusive government,” and embraces a diversity of views. An openly gay woman who has been endorsed by an LGBTQ+ PAC, Mayes said she thinks that most people are past being concerned about the sexual orientation of candidates.

If elected, “I would be the first openly gay attorney general, the first mom, and the second woman,” Mayes said.

Mayes said regardless of the future, her connection with Prescott will always play a major role in her life. She recalls the days where as a “free-range” kid she’d ride her bike around town all day on a lot of unpaved streets. Her father passed away in 1998 at age 56, but her mother still lives in Mayes’ childhood home. With her father no longer there to manage it, the tree farm no longer exists, but she returns regularly, and says she plans to retire in Prescott and die here.

“It’s a huge part of my identity.”

Journalist Toni Denis is a frequent contributor to 5enses.

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