The Arizona Primaries: Jan Brewer’s Legacy Project

The governor is pumping hundreds of thousands of dollars into GOP primaries to protect achievements that some in her own party want to undo.

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer talks to the news media after voting in the Republican presidential primary February 28, 2012 in Glendale, Arizona.
National Journal
Karyn Bruggeman
Aug. 18, 2014, 1:46 a.m.

Ari­zona Gov. Jan Brew­er isn’t run­ning for reelec­tion this year, but her fin­ger­prints are all over the state’s up­com­ing primary. And from the gov­ernor’s race down to the state le­gis­lature, it’s shap­ing up like a ref­er­en­dum on the term-lim­ited gov­ernor.

Na­tion­ally, Brew­er is best known for her state’s con­tro­ver­sial 2010 im­mig­ra­tion law, SB 1070. But she has a much broad­er leg­acy in state policy, one that’s un­der threat from fel­low Re­pub­lic­ans””which is why Brew­er has played such an act­ive role in Ari­zona’s GOP primar­ies this sum­mer.

The biggest ex­ample: Brew­er’s re­cent en­dorse­ment of former Mesa May­or Scott Smith in the hotly con­tested GOP gubernat­ori­al primary. Along with that, Brew­er has backed can­did­ates she calls “re­spons­ible, con­sid­er­ate” Re­pub­lic­ans in le­gis­lat­ive races, many of whom risked their polit­ic­al ca­reers in 2013 by sid­ing with Brew­er (and against a ma­jor­ity of the Re­pub­lic­an Party) to vote to ex­pand Medi­caid cov­er­age.

Brew­er has vowed to spend hun­dreds of thou­sands of dol­lars in the days lead­ing up to the Au­gust 26 primary to boost Smith and her oth­er en­dorsed can­did­ates over the fin­ish line. Her polit­ic­al com­mit­tee is aptly named: Ari­zona Leg­acy PAC.

Thir­teen Re­pub­lic­an state le­gis­lat­ors crossed party lines to side with Brew­er’s Medi­caid plan in 2013, and eight of them are now locked in tough primary fights. Brew­er’s PAC has already giv­en money to at least five of those le­gis­lat­ors; in ad­di­tion, the gov­ernor picked fights with four in­cum­bents who lined up on the oth­er side by back­ing their primary chal­lengers. Her PAC re­cently re­por­ted over $600,000 in the bank, and she’s set out to raise at least $500,000 more in the time that re­mains to sup­port Smith and com­pany.

Mean­while, na­tion­al groups like Amer­ic­ans for Prosper­ity have sided against some of Brew­er’s picks, along with tea party fig­ures like Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas.

“What’s at stake is the gov­ernor’s leg­acy on some of these crit­ic­al is­sues,” said Mat­thew Ben­son, a former seni­or Brew­er aide who now serves as spokes­man for the Ari­zona Busi­ness Co­ali­tion, a group work­ing in par­al­lel with Brew­er’s to aid pro-Medi­caid ex­pan­sion Re­pub­lic­ans. “Wheth­er you’re talk­ing about Medi­caid ex­pan­sion or mov­ing to more strin­gent aca­dem­ic stand­ards at the state level, we all real­ize these le­gis­lat­ors are in a tenu­ous po­s­i­tion.”

As Ben­son noted, Medi­caid isn’t the only is­sue that di­vides Brew­er and her crowd from oth­er Ari­zona Re­pub­lic­ans. The co­ali­tion that sup­por­ted the fed­er­ally fun­ded health in­sur­ance ex­pan­sion was largely the same as the one that joined Brew­er’s pushes to en­act the Com­mon Core edu­ca­tion stand­ards and Pro­pos­i­tion 100, a spe­cial-elec­tion bal­lot meas­ure that tem­por­ar­ily raised the state sales tax in 2010 to stave off steep cuts to edu­ca­tion and health care.

Brew­er’s ac­tions fre­quently put her at odds with con­ser­vat­ives in her own party, and her agenda faces threat of dis­man­tle­ment by can­did­ates who have lined against hers. They have called her sup­port­ers “le­gis-trait­ors” and ac­cused them of em­bra­cing Obama­care. A primary sweep would amp­li­fy their voice with­in the Re­pub­lic­an le­gis­lat­ive ma­jor­ity, pre­vent fu­ture Brew­er pri­or­it­ies from get­ting through, and maybe even res­ult in the re­peal of some of her ac­com­plish­ments.

Smith is the only GOP can­did­ate for gov­ernor who sup­por­ted the bulk of her le­gis­lat­ive agenda, but the pair doesn’t get along on everything. Smith op­posed SB 1070, for ex­ample. But the Brew­er en­dorse­ment didn’t come be­cause they agree on everything””or even ne­ces­sar­ily like each oth­er on a per­son­al level. It’s a policy part­ner­ship borne of ne­ces­sity.

“She likes Doug [Ducey],” said Brew­er ad­viser Chuck Cough­lin of state Treas­urer Doug Ducey, the fron­trun­ner for the GOP gubernat­ori­al nod. But, Cough­lin noted, “He’s sur­roun­ded him­self with people who had been vehe­mently, ideo­lo­gic­ally op­posed to many of her pri­or­it­ies.”

“Cer­tainly we sought her en­dorse­ment,” Ducey cam­paign spokes­wo­man Melissa Delaney said. “But we’re con­fid­ent in the co­ali­tion we’ve built.”

Smith has gained in re­cent polls, but Ducey has main­tained a lead for some time””and his co­ali­tion is in­deed broad. Amer­ic­ans for Prosper­ity op­posed all things Obama­care from the start and is tar­get­ing GOP mem­bers who voted yes on Medi­caid in their primar­ies, and prom­in­ent Ari­zona fig­ures in­clud­ing former Sen. Jon Kyl, former Gov. Fife Sym­ing­ton, and Mari­copa County Sher­iff Joe Arpaio are back­ing Ducey. Con­ser­vat­ive stars like Cruz, Wis­con­sin Gov. Scott Walk­er, and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Pal­in have also joined Ducey’s team.

Brew­er doesn’t care about the star power on the oth­er side, Cough­lin said.

“Ted Cruz only cares about him­self,” Cough­lin said. As for AFP: “They only care about the one per­cent of people they get their dona­tions from.”

Though Medi­caid is at the root of this year’s primary fights, the child-mi­grant crisis on the Texas bor­der has once again pushed im­mig­ra­tion to the fore­front of voter’s minds. “Im­mig­ra­tion is at the top of the list by a coun­try mile,” Ben­son said. “Every can­did­ate, right, left, and middle, is hav­ing to lead with im­mig­ra­tion.”

The busi­ness co­ali­tion spokes­man said that has dis­trac­ted from the Medi­caid fight in re­cent months. “And that’s not ne­ces­sar­ily a bad thing for us,” he said.

Of course, for Brew­er’s leg­acy to com­pletely stick, she’ll need the even­tu­al Re­pub­lic­an nom­in­ee to win the Novem­ber elec­tion. As Cough­lin poin­ted out, every­one in the field, along with Brew­er her­self, is a con­ser­vat­ive, and they could face a real con­test with Demo­crat Fred DuVal, a former Clin­ton ad­min­is­tra­tion ap­pointee, in the fall.

“It will be a very, very ex­pens­ive en­deavor if that’s not Scott,” Cough­lin said.

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