By Brian Powell
Kris Mayes had two main loves as a kid growing up in Prescott, Arizona.
One was writing and journalism. The other, politics and government.
Mayes has been remarkably successful in pursuing both her interests, serving as a reporter for the largest newspaper in the state, a governor’s press secretary, and holding public office as a corporation commissioner and Arizona Attorney General.
In between the onset of these childhood dreams, and her role today as Arizona’s top lawyer, were the four years she spent as a Flinn Scholar, majoring in political science at Arizona State University.
The Flinn Scholarship, the state’s most competitive and prestigious award for undergraduate education, was established by the Phoenix-based Flinn Foundation in 1986 and supports 20 high-achieving Arizona high-school seniors each year with the cost of tuition, fees, housing, and meals at one of the state’s three public universities, plus at least two study-abroad experiences.
The 1990 graduate of Prescott High School still thinks about the Flinn Scholarship’s impact on her life— from the ready-made network, the chance to travel, and the internship opportunities—when she returns to visit her childhood home where she learned about her acceptance.
“I can picture it in my head,” an animated Mayes says. “I got the big fat letter; it was a big envelope. I can remember going out to the mailbox out on the street and running back up to my parents, who were standing in the driveway.
“I knew I wanted to be a Flinn Scholar, I knew how important it was, and it changed the trajectory of my life for sure. There’s no doubt about it.”
The Arizona Attorney General
Mayes defeated Abe Hamadeh in the November 2022 election in one of the closest races in state history—by just 280 votes.
Mayes describes her first couple of months on the seventh floor of the Attorney General’s Office as an absolute whirlwind, and says she feels deeply honored to be given the opportunity to serve as a lawyer for the people and run the biggest law firm in the state of Arizona.
The ASU College of Law graduate has weighed in seemingly daily on many hot-button issues since taking office, including consumer fraud, elections, water, narcotics, immigration, housing, and many more.
Mayes says a major goal for the office is attracting young lawyers to fill vacancies, especially in the Child and Family Protective Division which is facing a 40% vacancy rate.
Another top issue for the office is the state’s water crisis and making the protection of groundwater supplies a priority.
“When I talked about (water) on the campaign trail, it was by far the thing that resonated the most with Arizonans,” she says.
A career for Arizona
Following her college graduation, Mayes went to work as a reporter for the Phoenix Gazette, a one-time afternoon newspaper, and the Arizona Republic before moving to New York as a Truman Scholar to earn her Master of Public Administration at Columbia University.
She “came rushing home as soon as I possibly could” from New York City and made the switch from covering the Arizona Legislature and the late Sen. John McCain’s 2000 presidential campaign to working for the top elected official in the state as former Gov. Janet Napolitano’s press secretary.
Mayes was appointed to the Arizona Corporation Commission in 2003 to fill an open seat. She won statewide elections in 2004 and 2006 and served through 2010. She went on to become a professor of utility law and policy at ASU, did some private-practice work, had a child, and in 2021 announced her candidacy for Attorney General.
Through it all, her career hasn’t strayed far from her beloved state or those childhood loves—writing and politics.
“For a long time I got to do a little of both, cover politicians as a reporter and talk about it and write about it and think about it all day long while interacting with people in government, but ultimately I knew I wanted to serve in some capacity.
“I’m in love with Arizona and have been all my life, and this is where I knew I wanted to live and give back,” Mayes says.
Mayes was awarded the Flinn Scholarship more than three decades ago, but her ties are still strong with the program and the Flinn Foundation.
She has spoken on multiple occasions to the Flinn-Brown Fellows during the annual Arizona Center for Civic Leadership’s Flinn-Brown Academy, served on the Flinn Scholarship Selection Committee, was a guest speaker at the Flinn Scholars Recognition Luncheon, which honors the new and outgoing Flinn Scholars each May, and most recently spoke before about 60 current Flinn Scholars at the annual Life Hack Day.
Mayes also has remained friends with other Flinn Scholars, many of whom were her biggest supporters during the campaign, she says.
“Everything builds on everything else, and having the Flinn Scholarship at such an important period of my life was crucial to everything I did from then on,” Mayes says. “The Scholarship allowed me to meet remarkable people—I was introduced early on to folks, for instance, at the State Press and got to know the president of the university—and that grew into my early career as a journalist.”
Her current position is a first for the Flinn Scholar community of about 700 who are making an impact around the state and beyond in practically every field imaginable.
“I think growing up I saw myself as governor, but Attorney General is pretty darn good too,” Mayes says.
The Flinn Scholars Program is in the process of selecting the 38th class of Flinn Scholars, current Arizona high-school seniors who will choose to study at the honors colleges of Arizona State University, Northern Arizona University, or the University of Arizona later this year. The 39 Flinn Scholarship Finalists, who have advanced from a pool of more than 1,000 applications, will interview in late March at the Flinn Foundation with the hope of being offered the Flinn Scholarship—a $130,000 value. The Class of 2023 will be announced in April.