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Brewer’s bill signings overshadowed by tax plan?

Considering the internecine warfare that has been the hallmark of Jan Brewer’s tenure as governor, some Republicans may have been tempted to forget why they were so happy when Janet Napolitano left. But one look at the scores of conservative bills Brewer signed may be enough to jog their memories.

In the days following the end of the regular legislative session, Brewer signed nearly 200 bills, including many of the pro-life and pro-gun measures that frequently met their end at the hands of Napolitano and her well-worn veto stamp. By signing the bills, Brewer reminded Republicans that she is still one of them, despite frequent accusations that she abandoned her conservative principles by pushing for a temporary sales tax increase to balance the state’s budget.

“The governor is very solid on the social conservative issues,” said Rep. Rich Crandall, a Mesa Republican. “She’s very, very supportive of us and the legislation that we pushed through. And that was a lot of the legislation that couldn’t get through in prior years. So we need to not lose sight of the fact that the governor did help us with some very, very big things this year.”

Among the host of bills signed by Brewer was legislation mandating a 24-hour waiting period on abortions, easing restrictions on carrying firearms in bars and restaurants that serve alcohol, and expanding tax credits for student-tuition organizations that provide scholarships for charter schools. Napolitano set a state record for vetoes, many of which nixed similar bills that Republican lawmakers spent years trying to push through.

One bill modified the legal definition of late-term abortion, while another prohibited anyone except physicians from performing abortions. Yet another banned property owners from prohibiting guns from being kept in locked vehicles in their parking lots.

Whether the goodwill generated by signing the bills is enough to outweigh Republican hostility over her tax-increase proposal remains to be seen.
House Majority Leader John McComish said Brewer signed bills that legislative Republicans had been trying to pass for years, pointing to legislation on school choice and abortion issues.

“If you go back and look at the bills that got (the votes of) all 35 Republicans in the House … most of those she signed. I think the members will be a little bit pleased with that,” McComish said.

Rep. John Kavanagh said the signings will provide “topical relief” for the friction between Brewer and legislative Republicans, but doesn’t expect it to distract much from the debate that has raged throughout the session.

“In the end, we’re going to have to get back to the three-letter word — T-A-X. So we’ll see,” the Fountain Hills Republican said.

Brewer spokesman Paul Senseman said the depth of the tension has been overstated. And the bills she signed, he said, reflect priorities the governor has held for the length of her career in elected office.

“I think that the tensions have been probably overplayed, overdramatized by many,” Senseman said. “I think the governor enjoys good relationships with many members … in both the House and the Senate.”

Sen. Russell Pearce, a Republican from Mesa, likened the battle to a family dispute.

“Good people can disagree, and we really disagree on the tax issue. I disagree with her on the tax issue,” Pearce said. “You can argue among family, adamantly so. And I think that’s what it is because … I know the governor is really solid on these issues — the second amendment and pro-life issues.”

Whatever they think of Brewer’s budget plan, Republican lawmakers should take a moment to remember how things were in Napolitano’s day, Sen. Jonathan Paton said. Besides, the Tucson Republican said, it’s the legislation she signed, not the tax hike she’s pushing, that will most impact the state in the long term.

For example, Paton cites S1123, a bill he sponsored that eliminates partisan municipal elections. The bill is expected to diminish the grip Democrats have on city government in Tucson, the only city in Arizona that holds partisan municipal elections.

“I think that a lot of people forget what it was like having a Democrat as our governor for the last six years. I think they forgot what it was like to get your bills vetoed on a regular basis that passed with overwhelming majorities,” Paton said. “My bill would never have been signed … under Napolitano.”

Rep. Sam Crump, a Republican from Anthem, said he and his GOP colleagues were stunned in December when Brewer first hinted that she would consider a tax increase to help solve the budget crisis. After she publicly declared that the temporary tax hike, generating an estimated $1 billion a year for three years, was a necessity, Crump wrote a blog post questioning whether Brewer was a “fair-weather conservative.”

“She probably bristles at anybody calling her anything but a fiscal conservative. I know that she and (long-time adviser Chuck) Coughlin have been trying to portray this as just an unusual measure that’s necessary in these desperate times,” Crump said. “It’s easy to go around talking about less government, lower taxes and cutting spending when times are good. But it’s a lot harder to do when times are hard.”

One thing that may have inadvertently exacerbated the tension was Senate President Bob Burns’ decision to not hear bills in the Senate until a budget had been approved, Paton said. Had Brewer been able to sign some of the Republicans’ top priorities earlier in the session, he said, there would have been less of an inclination by lawmakers to attack her conservative credentials.

“If she would’ve been signing these same bills all along, I think that a lot of the harsh rhetoric that came out … would’ve been tempered a little bit because people would feel that — well, they would’ve seen that she really is a conservative,” Paton said.

Sen. Linda Gray supported Burns’ decision to hold bills until a budget agreement was in place — a strategy that was abandoned late in the session — but she said tensions would have eased if Brewer would have been given a chance to sign legislation early in the session to show conservative lawmakers that they shared some common ground.

“It probably would’ve helped,” she said.

The Legislature approved a budget early on the morning of July 1, hours into the 2010 fiscal year, only to see much of it vetoed by Brewer. Those vetoes included a number of conservative priorities, such as the permanent repeal of Arizona’s equalization property tax, which had been introduced as a separate bill at the beginning of the session but was later folded into the budget.

But that deal was contingent on the inclusion of a ballot referral for Brewer’s 1-cent sales tax increase. Gray said she thought it was a fair compromise, though some of her colleagues disagreed.

“(Brewer) had agreed to do away with it,” Gray said of the property tax repeal. “But part of the budget agreement was also the three-year sales tax increase.”

Some Republicans may carry their anger over the tax issue into 2010, when Brewer may be campaigning to keep the job she ascended to, but Paton said he, for one, will remember how much better off conservatives are with Brewer than a Democratic governor.

“The system was set up to cause strife between the executive and legislative branches,” he said. “No matter who is the governor and who the Legislature is, you’re going to have differences of opinion. And I think on policy issues, for the most part, we pretty much agree. And on one thing there’s a disagreement — big deal.”

But others, such as Crump, still feel that the relationship between Brewer and her fellow Republicans in the Legislature will be defined primarily by the end result of the budget fight, and whether the governor is willing to back off from her call for a tax hike.

“It didn’t hurt, but I still think that the tax issue is the elephant in the room,” Crump said. “Obviously, the nature of our relationship is going to depend a great deal on how all of this ends.”

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