Sometimes the story about getting the story is better than what ends up in print. This time, we’re determined not to let that happen. It’s just too doggone funny.
Hours before the fiscal deadline and with a government shutdown looming, the media were clamoring in the halls of the Capitol seeking answers to a slew of tough questions - the kind, actually, that should send shivers up the spines of policymakers.
Gov. Jan Brewer, meanwhile, was holding last-minute budget meetings with Republican leadership and various House Democrats in House Speaker Kirk Adams’ office.
Capitol Times reporter Jim Small, who relayed this story to me, had waited out the duration of the two-hour meeting in the lobby of the speaker’s office with a pair of other reporters, the intrepid Howie Fischer and Daniel Scarpinato of the Arizona Daily Star. About 45 minutes before the meeting broke up, shuffling noises came from further back in the speaker’s office. It was Brewer and her top aides exiting; the door clicked open and Brewer could be heard talking.
First out of the office and into the doorway of the ante room was Brewer’s chief of staff, Kevin Tyne. But before Brewer could round the corner, Tyne slammed on the brakes and directed everyone back into Adams’ office. The three scribes half-joked that Tyne had seen the Fourth Estate waiting to pepper the governor with questions, so he herded her back into the safety of the speaker’s office to ensure she was prepared.
Just in case the governor decided to avoid the reporters waiting at the office’s main entrance – there are a handful of ways to enter or leave the speaker’s office – the reporters kept an eye on her DPS security detail, who was parked comfortably in a chair in the ante room for much of the stakeout.
Occasionally, the DPS officer would walk over to the interior of the office, near Adams’ assistants. Though he was out of the reporters’ direct line of sight, a mirror on the far wall allowed them to see the DPS officer and ensure he hadn’t left. After all, Brewer wasn’t going anywhere without him.
The jokes about Tyne’s retreat rang true a short time later, as Paul Senseman, the governor’s spokesman, arrived and entered the office. A half-hour or so went by, and the print reporters were joined by a reporter from Channel 12 who was there for another story but decided to wait out Brewer and possibly get an interview with her that his TV competitors wouldn’t be able to match.
Then, Senseman emerged from the office and offered to answer questions. The three newspaper reporters were lukewarm to the idea of talking with the governor’s spokesman again – a reporter can take only so many non-committal answers to what should be simple questions – but the TV guys jumped at the chance.
Senseman set up camp right in the doorway, with the Channel 12 cameraman and reporter in the hallway. After a few questions, the rest of the reporters reluctantly joined in, asking Senseman about the budget situation and the looming government shutdown.
Suddenly, as Jim tells it, he heard the clicking sound of a door being shut. He turned and looked in the mirror, glancing at where the security detail had been moments before. The officer was gone, and the sound was the door to Adams’ office being shut.
Jim grabbed Scarpinato’s arm, nodded toward the back of the office and said, “The guard’s gone. They’re taking off.” Senseman had been used as a diversion so Brewer could leave without facing the press.
Scarpinato squeezed past Senseman, and Jim followed, moving quickly toward the back stairs in the House. Howie and the TV folks were right behind. Just as the press corps’ finest arrived at the back stairwell, the door slammed shut. They opened the door and, sure enough, there was Brewer on the landing, halfway down to the ground floor, with Tyne right behind her and the DPS officer in front of her.
The questions began to flow. But Brewer never stopped. She gave a few answers as she walked out the back door and toward the parking lot. A pair of reporters from the Arizona Guardian were outside waiting, snapping photos of the governor as she was escorted to her waiting car by the Channel 12 cameraman and the four reporters. Once in the parking lot, she jumped in the back seat of a waiting black Chrysler 300 and took off, followed closely by another DPS vehicle.
That’s the backstory, straight from Jim Small. As a side note, the only part of this that ended up in our earlier news story was the following quote from Brewer:
“We didn’t offer the Democrats anything other than telling them what the bill includes and asked them for support,” Brewer, also a Republican, said to reporters as she left the House down the back stairs.
So, let your imagination run wild the next time you see a quote followed by something like “… said to reporters as she left the House down the back stairs.” What really happened is probably even weirder than you’d think.