Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer announced Wednesday that she will not seek a third term in office, avoiding what would have been an uphill battle against the state's two-term limit. Brewer made her announcement at an elementary school in Glendale.
"There does come a time to pass the torch of leadership," and "after competing this term in office, I will be doing just that," Brewer said.
Her decision opens the way for the state's first open gubernatorial race since 2002, which is expected to be competitive. It's a Republican-friendly state whose growing Hispanic population is giving Democrats optimism about their long-term prospects.
The state has always embodied a kind of free-spiritedness and disregard for outside expectations. Brewer embodied that spirit rather well. She was impossible to easily define and frequently bucked expectations or easy categorization. She supported tough policies on illegal immigration, but also supported Medicaid expansion and vetoed SB 1062, a controversial measure passed by the Legislature that would have allowed some businesses to refuse service to gays and lesbians on religious grounds.
The Republican field to succeed Brewer is crowded. The three top contenders are state Treasurer and former Cold Stone Creamery CEO Doug Ducey, Secretary of State Ken Bennett, and Mesa Mayor Scott Smith. Also on the list are GoDaddy executive Christine Jones, former California Rep. Frank Riggs, former Maricopa County attorney Andrew Thomas, former state's Medicaid program director John Molina, and state Sen. Al Melvin. Melvin and Thomas were the only two candidates in the race to come out in support of SB 1062.
The other candidates encouraged Brewer to veto the bill, giving minimal leverage to the Democratic frontrunner in the race, former Board of Regents member Fred DuVal, a first-time candidate.
DuVal will benefit from a clear Democratic field all the way through the state's late primary date on Aug. 26. The filing deadline also isn't until May 28. Any stragglers who waited for Brewer to bow out still have time to jump in.
Smith and Bennett are both Mormon, which could split that vote and help Ducey, a wealthy businessman. Ducey reported raising more than $1 million at the start of the year. Smith is moderate and popular in the Phoenix metro area, but he faces an uphill slog as a mayor who doesn't have the statewide campaign experience of Ducey or Bennett.
Brewer's retirement means that, for the first time since 1997, Arizona will likely have a male governor. After Republican Fife Symington resigned amid a scandal in 1997, he was succeeded by Republican Jane Dee Hull, Democrat Janet Napolitano, and then Brewer. Another woman, Rose Mofford, also preceded Symington in office from 1988 to 1991.
It's not clear where Brewer can go from here, despite her suggestion that politics isn't over for her. Cue Brewer 2016 speculation.