Q&A: Udall chair steps down, but not out of foundation
Terry Bracy, board chair of the Udall Foundation, is stepping down from his position at the end of October. He has been the board’s chair for 17 years and welcomed the foundation’s stewardship of the U.S. Institute for Environmental Conflict Resolution, which mediates environmental issues in 46 states around the country. He also helped cofound the Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management, and Policy, which helps develop resources for Indigenous nations in the U.S.
Daily Wildcat: Why are you choosing to step down as chair of the Udall Foundation?
Bracy: I believe in generational change. As much as I would love to do this job for the rest of my life, I know in my heart that the right thing to do is turn it over to people with new ideas and visions. Transitions are very important in organizations, and leaving is a part of leadership. I’m recognizing and trying to honor that.
How were you able to expand the foundation, both through taking on more challenging work to growing its staff from two to more than 30 people?
We’re a federal agency, and Congress gave our charter to us. Initially, we began as the fourth federal educational foundation. Our duties were in environment and Native American affairs, which were areas (former Congressman) Mo Udall had an impact. In the beginning, our staff was small, and over time we got a few more staff members for scholarship programs.
In 1998, U.S. Senator John McCain called me and had the idea for a new federal agency to mediate disputes for the environment. Courts were clogged with environmental lawsuits and no decisions were being made. He felt we ought to try and put together a federal agency that could work with private mediators to see if we could solve those problems and get them out of the courts. After he negotiated with the then-President Bill Clinton, he came up with the idea of a mediation agency and sent it to our foundation to manage. Most of our employment occurred as a result of that.
We have a core group of mediators, facilitators and experts who oversee energy, Native American affairs and climate change. We are currently involved in 70 environmental disputes around the U.S., and last year we did 90. We’re running a nationwide mediation agency on the environment in downtown Tucson. We also provide some of the most sought after scholarship programs in the country and built the most prestigious institution dealing with Native American affairs. The UA provided us with many resources and played a significant role in our expansion. They can take great pride in that.
What do you think are some of the greatest successes of the U.S. Institute for Environmental Conflict Resolution?
We have settled disputes about the Barry M. Goldwater Air Force Range, over-flights at the Davis-Monthan Air Force Base and we’ve been very involved here locally. Our mediators were able to get a major agreement on protecting forests between cities and environmentalists in Northern Arizona. Nationally, we settled disputes over the Everglades and were called to mediate among disagreeing federal agencies. Getting disputes out of the way is becoming an important part of governmental policy, and here in downtown Tucson, we are at the lead of it.
How do you think working with former Congressman Mo Udall as an aide and on his campaign helped you lead the foundation?
He was my mentor and guide in my professional life. He was wonderful, and he made a point every day to teach us something. Working at his side was like getting a graduate degree each day. I came to the UA from a childhood in St. Louis, and because I wanted to move west, I took a graduate fellowship at the UA’s political science department. Three weeks after my arrival, I met my wife and fell in love. The graduate department won a fellowship for its top Ph.D. student, and the fellowship went to a student who couldn’t go. The department then asked me to go, and I was reluctant because I fell in love and loved Tucson. However, I saw it was a great opportunity, so I went. When I walked through Udall’s door, it changed my life.
What accomplishments from the foundation are you particularly proud of?
I’m mostly proud of the staff. If I have any real skill, I recognize talent when I see it. I think I’ve had a role in hiring some extremely talented people for who I have the greatest regard. In my 17 years as chair, I’ve never had anything but a unanimous vote on the board. The thing I’m most proud of is the team we’ve put together and the jobs the team does. It isn’t anything I can take credit for myself, and I’m thrilled the team was put together.
What was the most challenging thing about being the foundation’s chair?
The most challenging thing was avoiding the brutal politics of Washington, D.C. I have to operate in that environment. Our foundation has worked very, very hard to keep ourselves out of the politics. It’s not always easy, but we have to go in every year and battle for appropriations. I have to go up before Congress and fight our fights. It’s very challenging to be aggressive enough to win our fights while trying not to make enemies and open wounds. It’s a very different and partisan time in Washington D.C., and we’ve skillfully avoided that.
Now that you’re stepping down, what are you planning to do with your time?
While I won’t be chairing the foundation, I’ll maintain some kind of relationship with it. I have my own government affairs firm in Washington D.C. and we are very, very busy. I intend to refocus a lot of my work for clients there. I’ve also been asked to advise a number of people who are putting together scholarship programs. I’ll probably do some writing because I’ve had such an interesting and lucky career. I want to share advice with young people and help them learn how to think about things. Take risks while you’re young, and take chances. I’ll be anything but retired. I’m not the retired type.