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Memo ‘just a draft,’ but Building a Better AZ campaign likely forthcoming

An aggressive campaign aimed at drumming up support for Gov. Jan Brewer’s agenda did not materialize along with her long-awaited budget proposal, but the strategy outlined by Building a Better Arizona 2012 may not be far off.

David Martin, president of Associated General Contractors Arizona chapter and chairman of Building a Better Arizona 2012, said the strategy outlined in a memo leaked to the Arizona Capitol Times last week was “just a draft” and that the group had no plans to launch a massive campaign on June 3, as the memo suggested.

Negative publicity surrounding the release of the memo did not alter or affect any plans by the coalition, he said, and the strategy described in the memo was purely theoretical.

“We asked HighGround to put together a strategy that could create an outreach program to legislative districts, and we’re literally at the thinking stages of this process,” Martin said, referencing the political consulting firm that represents the coalition.

But such a campaign could be forthcoming, Martin said, and the group will meet June 8 to discuss its next moves.

“I don’t think it’s out of the question that there would be a public relations element to encouraging all of our policymakers to make wise choices on the budget solution,” Martin said. “We’ll probably know more on Monday when the coalition meets again.”

Coalition member Roc Arnett, president of the East Valley Partnership, said the memo speaks for itself.

“You saw the draft. It seems to me that that’s an indication of what kind of a plan might come forward,” Arnett said.

Arnett said Building a Better Arizona 2012 has raised some money for a poll, which showed the majority of respondents supporting Brewer’s call for a temporary tax increase to help balance the state’s budget, but has not raised the money needed for the type of campaign outlined in the coalition’s May 26 memo. Potential donors, however, have been identified, and Martin said, “I believe that a $225,000 nut is easy to achieve.”

Building a Better Arizona 2012 is a coalition of business interests that formed earlier this year to support a “balanced budget approach,” and includes representatives of organizations such as the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Greater Phoenix Leadership, Arizona Public Service, Salt River Project and the Southern Arizona Leadership Council.

“This group, the coalition that put together Proposition 400 and the coalition that moved some other initiatives forward, has done it before, and I think we could probably do it again if we really had to,” Arnett said of the fundraising that would be required for an extensive campaign in favor of Brewer’s proposal to temporarily raise the state sales tax rate by 1 cent.

In early March, Brewer unveiled her five-point economic plan in a speech titled, “Building a better Arizona.” The plan included a temporary tax increase that would raise $1 billion a year through 2012, and in her speech the governor said she would veto any budget that relied solely on cuts.

For nearly three months after the speech, the Governor’s Office said Brewer might not release a budget plan of her own, but on June 1 she introduced her proposal.

Many lawmakers also expressed their displeasure at the campaign outlined in the Building a Better Arizona memo, which called for a $225,000 campaign that would use robocalls, mailers, newspaper ads and radio spots in 18 legislative districts, primarily districts with lawmakers who oppose the governor’s budget priorities. Brewer and the coalition maintain that they are not connected, though some lawmakers are skeptical, partly due to the involvement of HighGround president Chuck Coughlin, a longtime Brewer advisor.

Sen. Ron Gould, a Lake Havasu Republican, said conservative lawmakers “are essentially being attacked by our own governor.”

“And she has not disavowed it. Coughlin said she doesn’t have anything to do with it, but I personally think that Coughlin pulls the governor’s strings,” said Gould.

After the memo went public in late May, Brewer told reporters that she had communicated with the coalition and welcomes the support of any person or organization, but said she is not part of the group and “I don’t look at it as being my campaign.”

On June 2, the governor briefed the coalition on the details of her budget plan, and Martin said the group is working on a comparative analysis of budget plans by Brewer, the House and the Senate’s budget plans. Brewer spokesman Paul Senseman said he does not know whether the group is still considering the plan outlined in the memo.

“I don’t know what they have decided to do. I don’t believe that was discussed at the meeting,” Senseman said.

Cary Pfeffer, founder of the consulting firm ClearComm and spokesman for Building a Better Arizona, said the coalition had no intention of launching attack ads or targeting specific lawmakers.

“The intention in the discussion of that memo would be to try to let voters know about the seriousness of the matter and then provide encouragement and thank-yous to people who have looked at a broader view of budget solutions,” Pfeffer said. “And somehow this has gotten turned into something quite different.”

Some members of the coalition, however, have expressed unease with the potential campaign. Tom Farley, CEO of the Arizona Association of Realtors, said he was surprised when he received the strategy memo via e-mail.

“I don’t agree with the targeting of the legislative districts,” Farley said, adding that if Building a Better Arizona 2012 moves forward with such a strategy, “I would take it back to my board of directors and recommend that we no longer participate.”

John Rivers, president and CEO of the Arizona Hospital and Healthcare Association, said his association does not participate in those types of campaigns, and said the AZHHA has not and will not provide financial support for one.

“If we have concerns … about legislators’ positions on issues, we’ll talk to them directly about it. But we don’t do targeted campaigns. We don’t do hit pieces. We don’t run our business in that way, and we never have,” Rivers said.

Todd Sanders, president of the Greater Phoenix Chamber of Commerce, said there are parts of the strategy that he does not support, and said he did not participate in any meetings where the strategy was discussed. But he and his organization, Sanders said, have not decided whether they will support a campaign.

“There is no question, if there is going to be a tax increase, there’s going to have to be some sort of campaign. I guess we’ll have to wait and see what that looks like,” he said.

Arnett, however, said support is growing among the state’s business community, and he expects numerous organizations to get on board with Building a Better Arizona 2012 in the near future.

Arnett said he expects that in the next few days “a great number of additional groups will be coming forward and joining the PAC to encourage, if we have to, an initiative to get it done.”

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