Fate of Arizona anti-gay measure rests with Jan Brewer

Fate of Arizona anti-gay measure rests with Jan Brewer
CNN
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Monday, February 24, 2014 - 7:38pm

To veto or not to veto: It's up to Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer.

She must decide if she is going to sign into law legislation that would allow business owners, as long as they assert their religious beliefs, to deny service to gay and lesbian customers.

If she approves it, the state could face litigation and a boycott, potentially harming Arizona's economy and tourism industry as well as next year's Super Bowl.

If she opts for a veto, she increases her support among conservatives.

Brewer told CNN her decision will come after she returns later this week to Arizona from Washington, where she has been attending the National Governors Association meetings.

She has been a conservative champion for much of her five years in office. And if that's any indication, the measure could very well become law. But it's not that straightforward.

Her conservative creds

As Secretary of State, Brewer landed the gubernatorial gig in 2009 after previous Gov. Janet Napolitano left her job to head the Department of Homeland Security.

Just over a year into her tenure, Brewer rose to national prominence after signing SB1070 into law, a strict immigration measure also known as the "show me your papers" law that allows law enforcement ask people for legal documents, which critics say leads to racial profiling of Latinos.

She made national headlines again for wagging her finger at President Barack Obama on a Phoenix tarmac after he stepped off of Air Force One over immigration.

In her bid for re-election in 2012, she won the endorsement of the National Rifle Association, even though her primary opponent sat on the organization's board of directors.

The endorsement was well-earned, as was her A+ rating. Under her, Arizona became one of three states to allow people to carry concealed weapons without a permit. And people can take concealed weapons into restaurants or bars with a permit if no alcohol is consumed.

But her conservative credentials took a bit of a beating last year when she said Arizona would participate in the controversial expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.

Many conservative governors chose to opt out but Brewer called it a "moral" obligation to provide health care for the poor and uninsured.

LGBT record

While social and religious conservatives hope her conservative principles continue to guide her action regarding the LGBT measure, her record on lesbian and gay issues is thin.

Nathan Rhoton, vice president of Equality Arizona, said that Brewer's record on related issues is "largely unproven."

While she vetoed a similar measure last year, it was had nothing to do with the content of the bill but political power plays inside the Arizona State Capitol.

The one substantive time she acted was not on the side of gay rights. She ended domestic partner benefits for state employees, which was a measure her predecessor implemented.

Brewer said the state couldn't afford it and she defended her decision in court.

"She's been mostly silent on the issue of marriage equality and those types of things," Rhoton said.

Some insight

Where Brewer has a proven record is in the area of Arizona businesses, cutting regulations and taxes.

And that could provide the clearest signal on what Brewer might do this week.

The religious freedom bill, SB1062, is opposed by some of influential business groups in Arizona.

A letter sent to Brewer on Monday by numerous business leaders encouraged her to oppose the measure.

"After analyzing the bill, we are very concerned about the effect it could have on Arizona's economy," the letter, signed by the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry among others, said. "We cannot support measures that could expose our businesses to litigation, nor do we want to send a message that our state is anything but an open and attractive place for visitors and the top talent that will be the cornerstone of our continued economic growth."

And Brewer is well liked among the business community.

"We believe she's done more than any governor national wide to improve the economic competitiveness in her state," Garrick Taylor, spokesman for the Arizona Chamber, said. "We know this governor always does what she believes is in the best interest of the state."

And LGBT rights' groups hope that her close ties with the business community is enough to convince her to oppose it.

"This is where he hope her pro-business stance will prevail," Rhoton said.

Growing support

Brewer is also facing growing support for a veto.

Public pressure is mounting. The next major protest was scheduled for Monday evening outside the state Capitol. Businesses are hanging signs in their windows that read "open for business to everyone!"

Both Arizona senators, John McCain and Jeff Flake, have publicly urged Brewer to veto.

And according to the local newspaper in Prescott, state Sen. Steve Pierce, who voted for the measure, is now urging Brewer to pick up her veto pen.

While the measure is not about same-sex marriage, a likely indicator of where Arizonans stand on the SB1062 is a Behavior Research Center's Rocky Mountain Poll from last year. It found that a majority of Arizonans support same-sex marriage.

Kim Fridkin, an Arizona State University professor of political science, noted that "it's an extreme measure even for (conservative) Arizona."

"She'll be viewed more reasonably than liberal" if she vetoes it, Fridkin said.

-- CNN's Dana Bash contributed to this story

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