Flinn-Brown Fellow, state legislator Drew John watches out for rural Arizona

April 19, 2018

By Matt Ellsworth

By Brian Powell
Flinn Foundation

Arizona Rep. Drew John talks about his constituents as the coaches, family, and friends he grew up with.

“It makes it a lot easier when you make a decision,” John says. “I always protect my family first and I consider southern Arizona my family. If it hurts my family, I vote no, and if it helps my family, I’m going to vote yes.”

The fourth-generation Arizonan and Flinn-Brown Fellow, who is serving his first term in the Arizona House of Representatives and planning a run for the state Senate this fall, sees his role as one of protecting the interests of Arizona’s rural counties.

“I want all of Arizona to thrive but not at the expense of rural Arizona,” John says. “One of my main jobs is to preserve the rural lifestyle … so it does not get damaged by legislation that is made for Maricopa- and Pima-sized communities.”

For instance, John was able to build a coalition to prevent the reduction of an industry tax rate that he said would have been devastating and forced the closure of a school in Graham County, while having little to no impact in urban counties.

John also says he would like to see less politics and more solutions. One way to do so, he believes, would be to reduce the amount of time elected officials have to dedicate to campaigning.

This session, John sponsored a bill to expand legislative terms from two to four years, which if passed would need to be ratified by the voters.

“If you are running for office all the time, then your vote is not best for Arizona,” John says. “Those tough decisions are difficult to make when you know you are running for office.”

The Safford resident was raised in Cochise County on a ranch and farm about 20 miles from Benson. He has spent most of his adult years in neighboring Graham County, holding elected office for more than 20 years and starting and operating multiple businesses. He became part-owner of the family meat-packing plant at age 17 and says the entrepreneurial spirit has been with him ever since, along with the challenge of increasing the bottom line. John says he has run such businesses as motorcycle and tractor dealerships, a full-service gas station, and even a beauty salon in partnership with his wife.

John’s first elected position was on the Safford Unified School District governing board. He went on to be elected four times to the Graham County Board of Supervisors and served until being elected to the legislature in 2016. He’s been appointed by five different governors to state commissions and has also served on numerous local boards. Today, he represents Graham, Greenlee, and Cochise counties, and an eastern part of Pima County.

“Probably my strongest point is I am approachable. I never felt I was better than anyone else. I was just in a position to serve and I think that was the biggest thing that helped me through the elections,” John says. “My heart was in the right place.”

From his years as a county supervisor, he is most proud of completing two projects: obtaining funding to replace a deteriorating bridge over the Gila River and constructing a county jail and detention facility.


John thought the Flinn-Brown Academy, the flagship program of the Arizona Center for Civic Leadership, would be beneficial to him as he considered a run for the Arizona Legislature.

He remembers walking into the interview at the Flinn Foundation.

“There were 12 people in suits and I’m thinking, ‘Oh, man, I’m just a country boy.’”

He was excited to be selected by the program, which includes residents from the state’s rural and urban counties who gather to learn about public policy and other topics with the intention of pursuing state-level leadership.

The 2018 cohort, which increases the Flinn-Brown Network to more than 325 people, is in the midst of its 12-part seminar series and includes candidates looking to join the three Flinn-Brown Fellows currently serving in the legislature.

“I think (Flinn-Brown) was one of the life-changing things I went through in my life,” John says. “It taught me about other opinions out there. And the diversity of opinions that you get will help you become a better leader and help you come up with a better solution.”