Janet Napolitano faces more than her share of challenges. The centrist Democrat governs a solidly Republican state with a GOP-dominated state Legislature. What's more, Arizona's explosive population growth -- the fastest in the nation -- presents a complex mix of issues ranging from transportation to health care to education.
But in an environment ripe for legislative gridlock, Napolitano has moved boldly, pushing an agenda that's both innovative and forward-looking. She's consistently advocated education improvements aimed at preparing students for jobs in the global economy. She launched an initiative in late 2005 to implement interoperable electronic medical records throughout Arizona within five years. And she spearheaded the development of a statewide 211 system that gives citizens easy access to health and human services information, and also performs vital homeland security functions.
While Napolitano has set the direction, state CIO Chris Cummiskey has been on the front lines, diligently laying a technology framework to support the governor's initiatives. In Cummiskey, Arizona has a CIO adept at the technology and policy demands of the state's top IT post. He spent 12 years in the Arizona Legislature, earning a reputation as an e-government advocate, before his appointment as state CIO in 2003.
Together, Napolitano and Cummiskey have compiled an impressive record of IT-related achievements.
The state began a massive telecom overhaul several years ago that is connecting more than 100 Arizona agencies, boards and commissions to converged IP network services. In April 2006, Arizona's e-health steering committee completed a comprehensive road map for implementing electronic health records, and the state intends to start implementing pieces of the plan in 2007. And Arizona's telephone- and Web-based 211 system marked its first year of operation, serving more than 200,000 people, including 52,000 citizens seeking status reports and emergency information during a massive wildfire near Sedona in June of 2006.
Fresh off a landslide re-election, Napolitano used her 2007 State of the State address to outline a new set of initiatives that will likely keep Cummiskey busy for another four years. Her agenda includes developing alternative fuels and new mass transit options, implementing water conservation technologies, strengthening math and science curricula in schools, and attracting high-tech businesses to the state.
"In the coming year, our job is to magnify Arizona's innovation capacity. We're going to lay a foundation that will increase our ability to create and lead the industries of the future," Napolitano said. "Nothing will be more important than our ability to innovate -- to wonder, then imagine; to invent, then build."
Steve Towns is the former editor of Government Technology, and former executive editor for e.Republic Inc., publisher of GOVERNING, Government Technology, Public CIO and Emergency Management magazines. He has more than 20 years of writing and editing experience at newspapers and magazines, including more than 15 years of covering technology in the state and local government market. Steve now serves as the Deputy Chief Content Officer for e.Republic.