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.