Gov. Janet Napolitano turns 50 on Thursday, so the Tribune sat down with the two-term Democrat to talk about tennis, baby boomers and her political future.
* Note: The governor's birthday is Thursday, Nov. 29. An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported that her birthday is Tuesday, Nov. 27.
During an interview in her ninth-floor offices last week, Napolitano mixed the personal with policy. What emerged is a woman who remains in love with her job, while recognizing that as she enters her sixth decade and her sixth year as governor, her health and well-being require some well-deserved downtime.
As one of 78 million boomers whose habits and health care costs are driving budget and policy considerations both here and across the country, Napolitano is keenly aware of what lies ahead for Arizona without some serious planning.
Enormous health care costs. Overwhelmed hospitals and nursing homes. Huge workforce holes in the wake of mass retirement. Strained infrastructure and an overburdened social service network, struggling to deliver services to seniors and their families.
Arizona’s Aging 2020 plan, commissioned by Napolitano in 2004, attempts to avoid that scenario and address trends that have baby boomers living longer in a growing state where one in four people will be over age 60 by the year 2020.
Tribune: Turning 50 isn’t really the milestone it used to be. 50 is the new 30, right?
Napolitano: Yes, thank you! Absolutely!
Q: But there are changes, physically and mentally, that come with age. Can you talk about some of the things you’ve noticed in yourself and how some of those changes might inform the next 50 years of your life?
A: (laughs) Well, I have more gray hair. But I think I’ve earned every single one of them, so I intend to keep them. I think I am older, and perhaps a bit wiser. As you gain in years, you also gain in perspective. And I think this next decade is going to be the best one yet. My health is good. My energy is good. And I feel like everything I’ve done so far has been great preparation for my next decade.
Q: You’ve hiked Mount Kilimanjaro...
A: I’ve summitted (sic) Kilimanjaro.
Q: And the Himalayas. Could you still do that today?
A: I’d have to do some more training than I do now. But, yeah, I think if I trained for a few weeks I’d be in good enough shape to do that. I play tennis a couple of mornings a week. I try to watch more now what I eat. I haven’t eliminated junk food, but don’t eat as much junk food as I used to.
Q: It must be hard.
A: Yeah, it can be. Just having the time; some days it can be difficult, particularly during a campaign, but other times of the year as well. And I think now I realize that I need to be kinder to myself, that I need to be more cognizant of the pacing that’s required for long-term projects
Q: What do you mean? Does it take you longer?
A: No, but I think I’m more conscious now that, as busy as I am today, I’m going to be busy again tomorrow and busy again the day after that. So I want to make sure that I’m taking care of myself so I’m able to be productive.
Q: So, who do you play tennis with?
A: I have a group of friends. We’ve been playing now, going on our fourth year. We started off, it was the New Year’s after I’d been elected governor the first time, and before I took office ... and we were making our New Year’s resolutions. I said, you know, this governor job is pretty time-intensive, and I don’t have time to do the hiking and other things that I love to do. But I know I’m going to need exercise, and I don’t like running. Somehow we got on the topic of tennis, and decided to take lessons. From taking lessons, we morphed into playing. So we play twice a week.
Q: You’ve done a lot, clearly, in your 50 years. But what’s still on your life list, both personally and politically?
A: There are still a lot of places in the world I’d love to travel to, that I’d love to see. I’d love to go up the Nile and see the ruins there. And some of the other ruins, like in Jordan and Turkey, Ephesus. I’d love to go hiking in New Zealand. I’d like to try my hand at learning how to sail. I’ve been in a sailboat once or twice, but I’d like to learn how to sail. So, I’ve got a few of those things I’d like to do.
Politically, that’s up in the air. My view on that is, you focus on the job you have and then see what opportunities are ahead. Those opportunities are affected if you don’t do a good job at the one you occupy. So my view is, focus on the job I have and let the chips fall.
Q: That window, though, is only so big. You had people during the last campaign talking about you as a possible vice presidential running mate. Do you really want to let that slip out of your grasp?
A: No, not slip. But I don’t wake up in the morning and say, 'OK, my next job is going to be blah, blah. My next campaign is going to be this or that.’ I don’t address it that way. My view is, focus on this job. It’s plenty busy enough. And the politics will take care of themselves.
Q: By the year 2020, half of the state’s workforce could walk off the job. How do you keep an adequate workforce, and how will we work differently in the years to come?
A: I think the whole definition of retirement is going to change. Our parents’ definition was, when you retire, that’s it. You’re not working anymore and it’s a whole different lifestyle. And what I see happening with us is, not so much retirement being an ending, but a date by which you can begin to phase down, phase into something different. But a very active retirement theory, of which work will be a part.
My friends who are 50 are not saying that when they turn 60 or 65 they don’t want to work or do anything. What they’re saying is, they want to do something different, maybe work fewer hours a week, restructure a bit. A different style of retirement.
For the workforce, what my particular interest is, are there particular areas of expertise that could suffer an undue impact? For example, experienced law enforcement. Are we reaching a time when a whole lot of them will be eligible for retirement?
Q: Are we?
A: We will be. And so our planning has to take that into account, in terms of hiring and training needs now, to accommodate that. Then you get into logistical considerations. How much can you afford to do? Where are you going to hire from? And what is the education system going to be like out of which you’re going to hire all these people? So all of those things go together, and I’m particularly cognizant of particular areas where we could see a bump.
Q: People have to just start thinking a little differently.
A: That’s why we started this whole Aging 2020 process. The goal is to think now about Arizona in 2020, when a quarter of us will be 60 or older. In terms of workforce needs, in terms of health care, transportation, housing, other kinds of issues that may be arising, so that we’re doing some of that planning now before we get to the year 2020. Because a lot of it is infrastructure that’s going to take time.
Q: It cuts across all of those departments, (some) that wouldn’t necessarily be top of mind.
A: Easily. Particularly when your fastest growing (age) group is the 85-plus group. And many of them can remain independent, in their homes, if you can provide them with transportation, a way for them to get to church or to get to the doctor’s office or the grocery store and wherever else they need to go.
Q: More than 500,000 Arizonans are caring for loved ones, you noted, when you proclaimed Family Caregivers Month this month. Their unpaid work is worth an estimated $5 billion. You’ve supported funding for home and community-based services and I know those folks are very pleased to get that funding. Yet, they believe more is needed in terms of financial and human resources.
A: I’ve yet to meet a group that doesn’t believe that they need more. And that’s OK. But given the growth, what I’ve been trying to do, and what I think we’ve done in Arizona, is to change our presumption. There was a presumption, in terms of health care for the elderly, that it would be paid for in an institutional setting, either an assisted care type facility or a nursing home. My view is we ought to do the most we can to support people remaining at home, independent, as long as they choose to live there and can do so safely. And so ... now, I believe, two out of every three long-term care dollars that we spend is focused on home-based services. Five or six years ago, it was probably exactly the reverse.
Q: Do you consider yourself and your siblings to be caregivers for your father? How’s his health?
A: He lives by himself in Albuquerque. None of us live in Albuquerque, although I get back as often as I can. And he came with me to Italy this summer and is on a plane right now to my sister’s for Thanksgiving. He’s been lucky. Overall, his health’s been good and he has a lot of different interests and I think he’s enjoying his retirement.
Q: How old is he now?
A: He will be 78 in January.
Q: So he’s living on his own and doing fine. And you’ve got a brother in California.
A: An older brother in California and a younger sister in Pennsylvania. I’m the middle child.
Q: In terms of discussing long-term care with him, though ... It sounds like you haven’t gotten there yet with him.
A: No. But when I was attorney general, we had a big project for seniors. We started off doing a lot of elder fraud and abuse cases in the attorney general’s office. That’s where we came up with the idea of doing what we called the life-care planning packages, putting together a package of the forms that people use as they age — powers of attorney, durable medical powers of attorney, living wills — in formats recognized under Arizona law, and making those available for free to Arizonans. We were going out around the state, and I did quite a bit of this myself, to senior centers, giving talks about these and then making the packages available to folks ... (www.azag.gov/life_care/index.html)
That process itself educated me about what one needs to do to be responsible for one’s own affairs as one ages. To make sure that you’ve done the appropriate amount of planning.
Q: How about you? You say your health is good. You had a mastectomy back in 2000. Do you still see an oncologist?
A: I see an oncologist once a year, just for a checkup ... and everything’s good.
Q: You’ve passed the magic five-year point.
A: Yeah. I’m in really good health, actually. Like I said, I’m really looking forward to this next decade.
Q: And what else do you do to stay healthy? Besides the tennis. Do you take any supplements?
A: Pizza and ice cream. (laughs) No, I don’t take any vitamins or anything ... I’m lucky. I have a job that I love, I’m around people I like working with and have really good friends, and that helps a lot. Like, right now, we’ve got to go into a tough budget season. I know that. It’s no mystery here. But I like a challenge and my challenge is to manage our way through this and help us make good decisions.
Q: We’re looking at $800 million in the hole (for 2007-08). Do you call a special session right away and close it?
A: Well, I put forward a $600 million plan a couple of months ago. I can easily amend that to get to $800 (million). So I don’t know that we need a special session per se. I’m still deciding whether that’s required. But they certainly will have to address ’08 as early after they begin the session as they can.
What they need not to do is to make premature judgments about, we’ll do this and we won’t do that. I’m already hearing, “Well, I’ll never agree to this or I’ll never agree to that” from members who probably have not looked at all of the elements of the budget.
Q: What are your birthday plans? I know you had your big celebration already because you knew you’d be in the thick of things by now.
A: I had it at the end of August, early September. We went to Italy. It was great. I had a birthday party outside of Rome. It was really fun.
My birthday’s on a Thursday, so not much there. But Friday I’m going to meet up with my brother and some friends in San Francisco, and go to the opera, which is a real favorite thing of mine, and spend the weekend up there.
Q: That sounds nice. You wouldn’t think that you’d be able to break away and do this kind of stuff.
A: I think you have to. Maybe one of the things that my advanced age has taught me is, you need to take some mental breaks every now and then if you want to be fresh and energetic.