Newsroom | He Once Said “No Way” to Politics. Now, Buckeye Mayor Eric Orsborn Is Finding a Way

MAG News

He reluctantly entered politics. But Buckeye's mayor is now embracing his role.

Regional Profile, Regional Council

Above: Mayor Orsborn and Brigadier General Gregory Kreuder during the Luke Air Force Base Supporter Appreciation Event in May.

With a degree from Arizona State University in construction management, Eric Orsborn helped develop large regional projects such as Tempe Town Lake, the Mesa/Gilbert water reclamation plant, the Hoover Dam bypass, and Verrado, to name just a few. But when the Great Recession hit in the mid-2000s, his job with a major developer dried up. He started his own construction company, but found himself with time on his hands. That’s when his career began to shift in ways he could never have imagined.

Collage showing photos of Mesa/Gilbert water reclamation plant, Tempe Town Lake, and Hoover Dam bypass bridge

Mayor Orsborn's launch into politics

“I never, ever thought I would be an elected official. Ever,” states Orsborn. “It was never part of the plan.”

Orsborn was invited to participate in the first Buckeye Leadership Academy. He learned a lot about municipal government, and they encouraged him to become involved. But at the time, the Buckeye City Council was not aligned with how he saw the future of Buckeye, and he was reluctant.

Buckeye Mayor Eric Orsborn headshot

“So, when they asked, I said, ‘There is no way I can get involved right now’ And then in my district, the councilmember was coming up for reelection, and I had never thought that I was going to even run. Then I had a couple of people approach and say, ‘hey, you’ve got a background in infrastructure, which we are going to need, in growth, in entitlements, in building communities, in large budgets, and all of the stuff you bring to the table.’ And nobody else on council at that time had that background.”

He ran and won. He enjoyed making a difference and helping to impact decisions. But when Mayor Jackie Meck announced his retirement and asked Orsborn to run for the position, Orsborn hesitated once more.

“I again said, ‘there is no way,’ but there wasn’t another clear choice,” recalls Orsborn. “So, we went through the process, got the packet turned in, and we were the only ones on the ballot for mayor.”

Buckeye leaders look to the future

Since becoming part of the leadership in Buckeye, Mayor Orsborn says the council has turned things around.

“We were able to come together and look at the future of Buckeye and start making decisions, more long-term decisions, from the policy level, and stay out of the day-to-day minutiae. And because of that, we were able to hire in some very professional staff. And the staff has just gotten better and better and better as we hire new people and grow the city,” he says.

Orsborn quickly learned he loves his role as mayor.

“I like the variety. I don’t know that there’s one thing that is the most favorite,” he says. “In some cases, I’ll be having a conversation with a large developer or economic development project that’s coming in, and working through some really contentious stuff. And in that same day, I might be meeting the city manager about staff concerns and then later that afternoon playing floor hockey with the kids at the after-school program where the Coyotes have donated equipment. And all of that, for me personally, it works. I really, really enjoy the ability to affect decisions and change in Buckeye for the better.”

Balancing Buckeye’s agricultural roots with economic growth

As one of the fastest-growing cities in the nation, Buckeye has tried to maintain a delicate balance of welcoming growth and economic development while doing what it can to preserve its agricultural roots. 

“Agriculture is still a significant portion of what is happening in Buckeye, and I hope it always is,” states Osborn. “We talk to residents all the time who are disappointed that the field they either grew up by, or moved here to be next to, is being developed for either jobs or residential uses. And we have to keep reminding people, the city is not selling the farmland. We just have to react to the private property owners, the farmers, who are selling their land to the developers and manage that growth as best we can. As that property goes from an agricultural use to either a residential or jobs or retail use, it’s really incumbent on us to make sure we are getting the highest and best use, so we’re not blading under these beautiful farm fields for stuff that we’re not going to be proud of in 5, 10, 20, or 50 years from now.”

From Mayor Orsborn’s perspective, growth goes hand in hand with prosperity. He says Buckeye is becoming an economic development center with “impressive companies coming in and planting their flag” in Buckeye.

“There is a significant corridor along State Route 85 that we are doing a general plan amendment for, and we are going from a residential use into more of an employment use. So, you’ll see State Route 85 become more like the Loop 303 corridor, where you are lining that freeway with jobs and distribution opportunities, along with advanced manufacturing and other employment opportunities.”

Group photo of Vietnam War Veterans Day Proclamation in Buckeye City Hall with Mayor Orsborne (center)

Flying high 

In his rare spare time, Mayor Orsborn enjoys spending time with his wife, Tina, and their 19-year old son and 23-year old daughter. They especially like taking quick jaunts in his private plane.

“I love to fly – I’m a private pilot and I try to take every opportunity I can to come up with an excuse to fly,” he says. They often take quick trips to San Diego, which can be accomplished in an hour and a half rather than 5 hours.

“You can fly over in the morning over and have lunch and then fly back in the evening. Stuff like that is kind of fun, we use it as a ‘time machine,’” he laughs. 

In fact, Orsborn calls himself an “aviation nerd,” and loves working closely with Luke Air Force Base, where he was named as an honorary commander with the 63rd fighter squadron.

“It really changes your perspective on what happens out at Luke, and you gain a deeper appreciation for the sacrifice that not only the pilots, crew and support personnel make, but also the families who have loved ones who are deployed. It’s just special to be a part of that,” says Orsborn.

Mayor Orsborne in the cockpit flying his plane.

Mayor Orsborn’s wish for the Valley: Nonstop transportation funding 

If he could grant one wish to the Valley, he says it would be a nonstop funding source to put transportation projects in place, not just in Buckeye, but across the region.

“It would be funding to make the projects happen that make people’s lives better and that also increase economic development opportunities for the region,” he says. 

Orsborn says such a regional way of thinking is necessary.

“I appreciate that the rest of the Regional Council and the Transportation Policy Committee take that regional mindset and look at other areas of the Valley, at the traffic concerns they have and the mobility issues and everything that we talk about at MAG – homelessness, the regional planning issues that we have – it’s not just a Buckeye thing, it’s not just a Queen Creek thing, it’s not just Phoenix. It is the entire metro Phoenix area, and what happens in one area affects what happens in another. And we celebrate in Buckeye the victories of the entire area.”

Published May 20, 2022