From the moment she took office in January, Jan Brewer has faced the greatest budget crisis in state history. And from the moment she proposed her solution – a temporary tax increase – she has faced unyielding resistance from many of her fellow Republicans in the Legislature.
When Brewer was sworn in as governor, replacing Democratic Gov. Janet Napolitano, Republicans were jubilant that their longtime nemesis was ceding power to a successor with 28 years of staunch conservative credentials under her belt. But Brewer’s tenure on the Ninth Floor has been marked more by intraparty warfare than by the new conservative era that many Republicans envisioned.
How difficult was it entering office under the circumstances you faced in January?
It was tough, given the fact that we had a quick transition and I had to certainly get my team all put together and get people to be able to leave their positions and come up here, and then facing the crisis that we thought we were going to have to face, which now we know has worsened. So it was extremely frenzied, to say the least, to get up here.
Republicans were jubilant that you were replacing Napolitano, but it seems like they’ve fought more with you than they did with her. Did you expect that relationship to be as strained as it has been?
Having served in the Legislature, I think it kind of goes with the territory. When power is divided between the House and the Senate and the Governor’s Office, there’s going to be disagreements. And we have experienced that.
It doesn’t mean that we won’t be friends in the morning and it doesn’t mean that we won’t solve things that need to be solved with good resolve for the people of Arizona.
Given your 28-year history as an anti-tax conservative, how difficult was it to propose a tax increase to resolve the budget crisis?
I was very resistant at the beginning. I knew it was going to be bad. I wish it would’ve been as I thought it was from the first couple weeks that I was in office. Unfortunately the crisis got worse, and it continues to worsen.
Obviously cutting was first in line, budget reform, tax reform, addressing Proposition 105. And as a last resort, of course, a temporary tax increase. And now I’m very fully convinced that that is the way that we need to go. We need to have more revenue.
You stunned people in December when you first mentioned the possibility of a tax increase. Had you already concluded at the time that a tax increase was necessary?
No, because I’ve always been a legislator, an elected official, saying always that everything should be on the table. I think you have to look at everything in a whole. You’ve got to realize what you’re facing, what it is that you need to resolve, and then to move forward.
In 2006, I think I was quoted as saying that we’re headed into bankruptcy, and in 2006 things were pretty good. But you can’t just continue to spend, spend, spend, and then have the economy also go south and not realize that everything had to be on the table. It was time to make a difference. It was time to make improvements. It was an opportunity, if you will, to change the way that we do business in Arizona. So no, I don’t think anybody should be so closed-minded that they can’t be receptive to a solution if it works.
Legislative Republicans have been very critical of your tax increase proposal, and many have said you have not communicated or cooperated well with the Legislature. How would you respond to those comments?
I think it’s regrettable that they say that. We have been in communication, and we have worked together. We have shared ideas. We have tried to find a solution that we could both agree upon.
As far as my service in the Legislature and dealing with the governors on the Ninth Floor, I would rate it right up there with any of the other governors that I’ve worked with in the last 14 years.
Your March 4 speech to the Legislature, in which you officially proposed raising taxes, hit Republican lawmakers pretty hard. Why didn’t you discuss the proposal with them beforehand?
First and foremost, I didn’t really have to, because I think that somewhere, somehow, somebody got wind of it anyway. So it wasn’t unexpected about what I was going to say.
I didn’t feel that it needed … an advance discussion on it. It was my message to them, giving them a blueprint, if you will, of which I think and had hoped that they might follow and implement.
Looking back at the events of the past six months, do you wish you had done anything differently?
I’m sure there are things that possibly I would’ve done differently. Just off the top of my head right now I can’t think of much, but always looking back is enlightening. But off the top of my head I can’t think of anything that I might have done differently. I came in with a pretty straight compass, knowing clearly what the problem was and coming to the realization of what the solution had to be.
Despite their criticism and opposition to your tax plan, Republicans must have been pleased with some of the bills you signed this session. How did it feel to sign some of the abortion, gun rights and other conservative bills that never would have made it past Napolitano’s desk?
I have a long pro-life history, and so I was glad that I was able to sign the pro-life legislation. Again, I’ve been on record as a strong supporter of the Second Amendment, and I will continue to be a strong supporter of the Second Amendment. It was an opportunity for me to sign those pieces of legislation, and was glad that I was able to do it.
It’s been tough to look past the budget crisis, but when you look ahead to the next legislative session, what would you like to accomplish?
Certainly we need to see that we carry out the things that I have proposed in my five-point plan. And I hope that we move in that direction. I hope that by that point in time that we have addressed the issue of the Department of Commerce and that we could be able to go out there and meet with companies – which we already have – and try to … make them a part of the Arizona success and turnaround. And so I’m going to be driven next year with economic development and job growth.
Speculation over your political future has been rampant lately. Have you decided yet whether you will run for a full term as governor in 2010?
I haven’t. I like the job. It’s been very enlightening, and it has been a challenge. And I think it’s given me an opportunity which a lot of people never have the opportunity to do, and that is to make a difference and to leave a footprint on the state of Arizona, to make Arizona better. I would be happy if I could accomplish that.
2009 Session Wrap coverage:
A session to remember – even if you don’t want to
Burns’ gambit: Inside Senate president’s strategy
House speaker says work remains on transparency
House minority leader gives Legislature an ‘F’
Garcia says he needed 1 more Dem in Senate
Capitol Quotes – Best of the Session