Meet Me at Middle Ground: An Interview with 2011 Flinn-Brown Civic Leadership Academy Fellow Dustin Cox

May 15, 2012

By The Arizona Center for Civic Leadership

Dustin Cox (right) talks with Flinn-Brown Civic Leadership Academy classmate Fernando Shipley.

Dustin Cox, president of CM Concordia Consulting, is a 2004 Flinn Scholar and former executive director of Anytown America and Anytown Arizona, nonprofits offering nationwide leadership development programs. A year ago, Cox was completing the inaugural Flinn-Brown Academy seminar series. Today, he’s running for Arizona state representative in Legislative District 9 (Tucson). We pulled him off the campaign trail for a few minutes to reflect on his experience with the Flinn-Brown Academy and its impact on his current Arizona leadership endeavors.

What can happen when 25 engaged, committed Arizonans from different perspectives and walks of life come together to talk about Arizona’s future? According to Dustin Cox, the answer is effective problem solving. The Flinn-Brown Civic Leadership Academy brought together “roughly 25 individuals who sat in a room and essentially came up with middle-ground policy stances that would help push our state forward if we could implement them.”

In fact, Cox said, he didn’t know where his colleagues stood politically until pretty late in the seminar series. “I think that created a space where we could work together without feeling threatened.”

He credits the Academy’s ability to get participants to “leave party affiliations at the door” for the fellowship’s in-depth discussion of broad issues, such as water policy, state budget, immigration, and healthcare, among others. Each of the Academy’s 12 seminars, according to Cox, included such experts as agency heads, researchers, legal and policy experts, current and former policymakers, and “those working on the frontlines.”

“A diversity of perspectives was put forward in an educational manner where rhetoric was not injected into the equation. It wasn’t sound bites,” explained Cox. “When you have the time and space to talk about these issues in the nuanced and complicated format that they really exist, it gives people the ability to authentically consider all of the options and to realize that Arizona’s problems are not insurmountable.”

This level of exposure, Cox believes, has made him a much more informed candidate in his current run for office. “I can speak with so much more authority and confidence on water policy, for example,” he said. The water seminar covered legal history, the future challenges Arizona faces as a desert state, and the collaboration required among municipalities, tribes, states, and federal organizations. I do not know of any other state program that provides such depth and breadth of information to potential state-level civic leaders,” he said.

He hopes that in the future all Arizona leaders “have the opportunity to get this kind of hands-on experience and perspective.”