What Jan Brewer’s Gay Bill Veto Means for Arizona — and the Country

By choosing to veto, Brewer has helped restore part of the state’s reputation and delivered a loud warning shot to social conservatives.

National Journal
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Dustin Volz
Feb. 26, 2014, 2:49 p.m.

Ari­zona Gov. Jan Brew­er on Wed­nes­day night ve­toed her state’s con­tro­ver­sial bill that would let busi­nesses re­fuse ser­vice to gay and les­bi­an cus­tom­ers on re­li­gious grounds be­cause it “does not ad­dress a spe­cif­ic or press­ing con­cern re­lated to re­li­gious liberty.”

“Re­li­gious liberty is a core Amer­ic­an and Ari­zona value. So is nondis­crim­in­a­tion,” Brew­er said dur­ing a press con­fer­ence at the state Cap­it­ol. “After weigh­ing all of the ar­gu­ments, I have ve­toed Sen­ate Bill 1062 mo­ments ago.”

The Re­pub­lic­an gov­ernor had little choice but to turn back a two-page bill that had drawn in­tense na­tion­al scru­tiny since its pas­sage by the state Le­gis­lature last week. In ad­di­tion to mass protests in the state, sev­er­al or­gan­iz­a­tions and busi­nesses had strongly urged Brew­er to hand down a veto. The Na­tion­al Foot­ball League was re­portedly con­sid­er­ing mov­ing next year’s Su­per Bowl from the state if Brew­er signed the bill in­to law.

In ad­di­tion, both of Ari­zona’s sen­at­ors, Re­pub­lic­ans John Mc­Cain and Jeff Flake, had pressed Brew­er to kill the bill. Mitt Rom­ney pushed for a veto, and three Re­pub­lic­an state sen­at­ors who ori­gin­ally voted for the meas­ure suc­cumbed to polit­ic­al pres­sure and re­versed their po­s­i­tions.

Close ob­serv­ers of Ari­zona polit­ics will find the veto un­sur­pris­ing, and yet it’s an­oth­er ex­ample of Brew­er’s meth­od­ic­al polit­ic­al cal­cu­lus that has defined her ten­ure as gov­ernor, an of­fice she as­sumed after Janet Na­pol­it­ano resigned in 2009 to lead the Home­land Se­cur­ity De­part­ment.

The veto will help sal­vage some of Ari­zona’s tar­nished repu­ta­tion, which has been un­deni­ably battered in re­cent years, be­gin­ning with Brew­er’s de­cision in 2010 to sign a “self-de­port­a­tion” law against il­leg­al im­mig­ra­tion that drew wide­spread con­dem­na­tion but also helped her se­cure reelec­tion that year. Key sec­tions of that law were struck down by the Su­preme Court in 2012, and cost Ari­zona an es­tim­ated $140 mil­lion in lost rev­en­ue due to boy­cotts.

Ari­zona’s na­tion­al im­age con­tin­ued to de­teri­or­ate, however. In 2011, a gun­man opened fire at a con­stitu­ent event in Tuc­son for then-Rep. Gab­ri­elle Gif­fords, killing six and wound­ing 13, in­clud­ing Gif­fords. The vi­ol­ence garnered in­tense na­tion­al at­ten­tion and promp­ted Pima County Sher­iff Clar­ence Dupnik to de­clare that “Ari­zona is the mecca for pre­ju­dice and bigotry.”

But today, Ari­zona is not go­ing to be de­rided as a place of pre­ju­dice or bigotry. By choos­ing not to sign, Brew­er has gone from a gov­ernor who helped se­cure her state’s repu­ta­tion­al de­mise in 2010, when rhet­or­ic against il­leg­al im­mig­ra­tion reached its apex, to a gov­ernor who pre­ven­ted an­oth­er wave of eco­nom­ic boy­cotts and en­dur­ing scru­tiny, a move un­der­scor­ing just how much polit­ics on so­cial is­sues — es­pe­cially gay rights — have changed around the coun­try.

“I call them like I see them,” Brew­er said. “Des­pite the cheers or boos from the crowd.” 

As an ac­ci­dent­al Re­pub­lic­an gov­ernor who be­came the face of a charged move­ment against il­leg­al im­mig­ra­tion in 2010, as a fierce, fin­ger-wag­ging en­emy to the feds, and as an un­likely cham­pi­on of Medi­caid ex­pan­sion un­der the Af­ford­able Care Act, Brew­er has al­ways done ex­actly that. Es­pe­cially when the cam­er­as are watch­ing.

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