By Brian Powell
One may be a Republican and one a Democrat, but Stan Barnes and Rebecca Rios like to talk more about what they have in common than the inevitable policy differences.
They were both raised in rural Pinal County.
They both served in the Arizona Legislature.
They have even been on the same side of major Arizona policy issues, including support for a copper mine, in the nearly 30 years they have known one another.
And this week, they will start a new partnership as the two facilitators for the 2023 Flinn-Brown Academy, the flagship program of the Arizona Center for Civic Leadership at the Flinn Foundation.
The 2023 Academy will be the first for Rios, who succeeds former legislator and political consultant Chad Campbell, in May named chief of staff for Gov. Katie Hobbs. Barnes has served as a program facilitator since 2016.
The nonpartisan Flinn-Brown Academy, which begins Aug. 10, will feature 11 full-day seminars about Arizona policy and politics and conclude with the annual Flinn-Brown Convention in November. The 2023 cohort of 28 Flinn-Brown Fellows announced earlier this year are a diverse group of leaders with a wide range of perspectives, backgrounds, and political views.
“I am excited to engage with the Fellows, learn with them, and spark some interest to get elected leaders moving Arizona forward and back on track, before compromise and bipartisanship were bad words,” Rios said.
Joining Barnes, Rios, and the Fellows for each Academy seminar will be a range of presenters—policy experts, current and former state-level officials, executives in key community and business roles, and seasoned government leaders with vast experience implementing policy.
Barnes said the facilitators bring a certain political realism to the Academy setting, explaining why certain policies are in place by providing context and history and the realities of self-governance in Arizona over the decades. In addition, Barnes said facilitators know when to interject if the group appears to be missing a major point.
“They are getting the ‘what’ and ‘how’ during the day, and we do the ‘why’ at the end of the day,” Barnes said. “We can bring a real perspective to the ‘why’ where so much of the understanding comes from.”
Barnes, a Republican, was elected to the Arizona House of Representatives in 1988 and served a combined three terms in the Arizona House and Arizona State Senate. He is the leader of Copper State Consulting Group, a lobbying and public-affairs company.
Rios served in the Arizona Legislature as a Democrat from 1995 to 2023, beginning in the Arizona House of Representatives, where she became the first woman to hold the title as Minority Leader. Today, she serves as South Mountain Justice of the Peace.
“Stan and Rebecca have had a front-row seat to so many huge landmark policy and political issues and they bring incredible storytelling and a frontline perspective,” said Dawn Wallace, Flinn Foundation vice president, civic leadership. “The Fellows are not here to take a college class, but to learn the story of public policy—the good, the bad, and the ugly—and we want them to benefit from Stan and Rebecca’s collective experience and the fact they represent the best practice of political civility and discourse, which essentially is what Flinn-Brown is.”
Rios is a fourth-generation Arizonan and Barnes is third-generation.
“It is obvious our commitment to Arizona runs deep,” Rios said. “Hopefully people will see that even though we represent two separate political parties, we have been friends, have worked together on issues, worked against each other on issues, and are still friends.”