Why Jan Brewer Will Veto Arizona’s Antigay Bill

The Republican governor’s decision is politically calculated and underscores the country’s sizable shift on gay-rights issues. And we’ve seen this from her before.

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Dustin Volz
Feb. 25, 2014, 8:29 a.m.

Four years ago, it was il­leg­al im­mig­ra­tion. Today, it’s gay rights.

She has sur­prised us be­fore, but Ari­zona Gov. Jan Brew­er is likely go­ing to veto the state’s con­tro­ver­sial bill that would let busi­nesses re­fuse ser­vice to gay and les­bi­an cus­tom­ers on re­li­gious grounds, a move that again shows how much na­tion­al polit­ics have moved on so­cial is­sues.

The de­term­in­a­tion, first re­por­ted Tues­day by NBC News, will bol­ster the un­con­ven­tion­al gov­ernor’s im­age as a politi­cian es­cap­ing neat, par­tis­an defin­i­tions. But it also re­af­firms her status as a states­wo­man keenly aware of the polit­ics of the mo­ment, both in her state and around the coun­try.

It seems like a life­time ago, but Ari­zona, un­der Brew­er’s stew­ard­ship, be­came the poster child for the “self-de­port­a­tion” move­ment in 2010, when the Re­pub­lic­an gov­ernor chose to sign a meas­ure that made it a state crime to be in the state il­leg­ally. The move cast Ari­zona as a cru­cible of hate in the eyes of many and cost its state eco­nomy an es­tim­ated $140 mil­lion dol­lars in lost rev­en­ue.

But the de­cision un­ques­tion­ably helped win reelec­tion for Brew­er, who had been in­stalled as gov­ernor just 15 months earli­er after Janet Na­pol­it­ano resigned to head the Home­land Se­cur­ity De­part­ment. And des­pite a cres­cendo of protests across the coun­try, oth­er states, in­clud­ing Alabama, Geor­gia, In­di­ana, South Car­o­lina, and Utah, passed sim­il­ar laws in the fol­low­ing year. (The Su­preme Court struck down key sec­tions of Ari­zona’s law in 2012.)

Now, Brew­er is again poised to cap­it­al­ize on the polit­ic­al zeit­geist of the coun­try. In beat­ing down a bill blas­ted by even many fel­low Re­pub­lic­ans as dis­crim­in­at­ory, Brew­er’s de­cision fol­lows a string of court de­cisions, le­gis­lat­ive ef­forts, and ex­ec­ut­ive ac­tions that have widened the rights of same-sex couples, who now qual­i­fy for full mar­riage rights in 17 states as well as in the eyes of the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment.

Bey­ond the polit­ic­al cal­cu­la­tions, Brew­er, who has un­til Sat­urday to make a de­cision on the bill, has also proved she is not nearly as con­ser­vat­ive as her state Le­gis­lature, or her com­mon ca­ri­ca­tures, would lead us to be­lieve. She has fre­quently con­foun­ded her own party by stand­ing as a bul­wark against her Re­pub­lic­an state House’s agenda, in­clud­ing its op­pos­i­tion to Medi­caid ex­pan­sion un­der Obama­care, which she em­braced, or a push to al­low guns on col­lege cam­puses.

As protests con­tin­ue to mount in Ari­zona against the re­li­gious-free­dom le­gis­la­tion, three Re­pub­lic­an state sen­at­ors who voted for it flipped their po­s­i­tions on Monday and said they now be­lieve the meas­ure is ill-con­ceived. Sev­er­al mem­bers of Ari­zona’s con­gres­sion­al del­eg­a­tion, in­clud­ing Sens. John Mc­Cain and Jeff Flake, both Re­pub­lic­ans, have also come out in op­pos­i­tion to the le­gis­la­tion.

“I just [last night] en­cour­aged her again to veto it,” Flake told Na­tion­al Journ­al on Tues­day. “But I’m not go­ing to speak for her.”

Flake doesn’t have to. 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 spoken for her­self. Es­pe­cially when the cam­er­as are watch­ing.

And she just might chal­lenge the state con­sti­tu­tion and run for an­oth­er term.

Contributions by Sarah Mimms