For months, the big question at the Capitol was whether Gov. Jan Brewer would run in 2010. Now that she has announced she will, the big question is how much support she’ll find among a fractured Republican establishment.
Brewer filed a statement of organization for her 2010 candidacy on Nov. 5, putting an end to the speculation on whether she is a candidate.
“There is still a lot of work to be done and it is clear to me that this is the moment that I was born to serve. I am in this race to win and I expect great things for Arizona,” Brewer said.
By the time Brewer had filed her documents with the Arizona Secretary of State’s Office, a handful of potential candidates had spent months positioning themselves to challenge her in the Republican primary.
At least two big names are throwing their support behind Brewer, with former state Attorney General Grant Woods and former U.S. Transportation Secretary Mary Peters signing on as co-chairs of her campaign committee.
Peters, who pondered a run for governor in 2006 and was rumored to be considering a run in 2010, said Brewer understands that Arizona must create a business-friendly environment as it struggles to recover from the recession. Part of Brewer’s five-point budget plan includes future reductions in corporate taxes, and her first official action as governor was to suspend the state agency rulemaking process, a move cheered by the business community.
“As we prepare Arizona for the next 100 years of economic growth, not only will we need tax reform, but education reform, creating more opportunities and a highly skilled work force. Jan Brewer is the best candidate to lead Arizona for the next four years,” Peters said.
But the Arizona Republican Party is staying neutral for the time being, and support among her fellow Republican lawmakers was tepid as Brewer prepared for her announcement.
Brett Mecum, executive director of the Arizona Republican Party, said he and Chairman Randy Pullen aren’t making any endorsements for the primary. The party, he said, is only taking one stance right now – they don’t want Democratic Attorney General Terry Goddard to be governor.
“I’m going to be committing my time, energy and resources to basically putting the message out that Terry would be extremely bad for Arizona as governor, and that whoever the Republican candidate coming out of the primary, we’re going to put them in the best position to beat him in 2010,” said Mecum. “I think we’ve just got a tremendous back bench. We’ve got some great people running for governor.”
Many Republican lawmakers shied away from giving Brewer an endorsement, at least this far ahead of the Aug. 24 Republican primary.
House Speaker Kirk Adams said he was focused on the state’s budget crisis, left unresolved by Brewer’s partial veto of the Legislature’s budget in September. He said he wouldn’t focus on the governor’s race until after those issues were behind him. But he suggested that he wouldn’t be surprised to see Brewer overcome her challengers in the primary.
“If there’s one thing I’ve learned about Jan Brewer, it’s that she’s very determined. I expect nothing short of a vigorous campaign,” he said.
Sen. Al Melvin of Tucson said he is not endorsing anyone at this point, though he acknowledged it’s notable for a Republican lawmaker to withhold support for an incumbent Republican. Melvin decried Brewer’s “fixation with the sales tax,” and said her vetoes left the state in an “almost untenable position.”
Sen. Sylvia Allen, a Snowflake Republican, said the governor’s filing was a sign that Brewer is looking to improve her strained relationship with the Legislature.
“Maybe she might want to try to strive to get a lot of our support by being a little more communicating with our two houses, which I think is desperately needed,” Allen said. “Better communication — hopefully maybe that would inspire her to do that.”
Republican political consultant Chris Baker, of Blue Point LLC, said Brewer’s announcement could help her pursue her budget agenda, which stalled in both the regular and special sessions. He speculated that she might decide against running at a later time.
“I think she had no choice but to make a formal announcement this year. If people believe you’re a lame-duck governor, your ability to further your agenda is hurt.”
Brewer can forget about the support of some lawmakers who most vocally opposed her proposed sales tax hike. Sen. Ron Gould, a Republican from Lake Havasu City who walked out in protest when Brewer pitched the tax hike to a joint session of the Legislature in March, said Brewer has about a 50 percent chance of winning the primary.
“You need to bear in mind that her behavior has forced Republican legislators to vote for a tax increase, and they are going to hold that against her,” he said. “They are going to hold a grudge because she made them do something that they didn’t want to do.”
Brewer’s long-awaited announcement did not appear to discourage her potential primary challengers. State Treasurer Dean Martin, who has not declared whether he will run for governor or seek a second term as treasurer, said his decision would not be impacted by Brewer’s.
“It’s an open seat,” he said, referencing Brewer’s ascension to the Ninth Floor when former Gov. Janet Napolitano resigned to join the Obama administration. “She was not elected governor.”
Former Arizona GOP chairman and Tucson attorney John Munger said he’s glad Brewer is running, because it will give the voters a chance to draw a stark contrast between her and candidates like him, who are opposed to her tax increase and want to pursue what he described as a strong, pro-business agenda.
“I don’t anticipate that anyone will be particularly intimidated by her presence in the race,” Munger said. “I welcome this opportunity. I think this is what democracy is all about, and I think that we need to offer the Republican Party a choice of direction. Which direction do they want the Republican Party to go?”
Paradise Valley Mayor Vernon Parker has no plans to back away from the governor’s race. He said he’s already collected the maximum $51,000 he can collect in seed money as a publicly funded candidate. “We have exceeded our fundraising efforts. We’ll be returning checks to people. We’ve collected our seed money in under 41 days,” he said.
A spokesman for Phoenix businessman Robert Graham did not return a call seeking comment.
Doug Cole, of the consulting firm HighGround, which is running Brewer’s campaign, said it’s easy for candidates to make pronouncements while sitting on the sidelines, but Brewer is the one who inherited the state’s problems and she is the one who has to make the tough decisions.
“The air is rarified in the upper benches these people are making their observations from,” Cole said.
Candidates such as Munger and Parker claim the support of the business community, which has opposed her tax increase proposal. But Marty Shultz, the lobbyist for Arizona Public Service, said much of the business community still supports Brewer, and he believes she can get a lot of that support in the primary.
“She’s going to get quite a bit of it,” Shultz said. “It’s going to be a very contentious Republican primary. But she’s got some history, and frankly her position as incumbent gives her some benefit at a statewide level that the others don’t have.”
The Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry has yet to endorse candidates for next year’s election, but president and CEO Glenn Hamer, indicated opposition to the governor may not be as strong as some candidates are hoping. Hamer said Brewer’s call for a three-year sales tax increase coupled with long-term proposals to reduce businesses’ tax liabilities and regulations is well-founded.
“2010 could very well be an election about jobs instead of the state budget,” said Hamer, a former executive director of the Arizona Republican Party.
Jay Heiler, a transition team member and former chief of staff to Governor Fife Symington, said Brewer, as a candidate, will need to capitalize on the sobering assessment she gave when she became governor:
The call for a sales tax increase proposal may have rankled elements of the Republican Party, but as state revenue projections have become even worse, opposition to Brewer’s plan has softened into acceptance, he said.
While the state is bogged by extensive revenue deficits, the 2010 election cycle offers a glaring opportunity for Brewer to command respect for her honesty, and the public will reject unrealistic promises of tax cuts or government services offered by Republican and Democrat challengers, Heiler said.
“Nobody is really going to get away with the typical politician crap that they are going to do everything they want to do, because there isn’t any money and people know that,” he said. “She needs to remind them all that she was right from the day she rose her hand and took office.”
Republicans aside, Brewer can count on unyielding opposition in her campaign from Democrats, who wasted no time in taking their shots at the incumbent and presumed GOP frontrunner. Before Brewer had even filed her paperwork on Nov. 5, Arizona Democratic Party Chairman Don Bivens called Brewer’s governorship an “epic failure of leadership.”
“How can she convince voters she is actually qualified to lead? By blaming the Republican leadership she battled all year? Or by blaming the Democrats she ignored all year? Her resume is filled with job losses, education cuts and Capitol gridlock,” Bivens stated in a press release. “Is this the record she’ll run on?”
Brewer’s poll numbers are among the lowest of any governor in the country. But the wild card, pollsters here say, is that many Arizona voters don’t know enough about the governor to have an opinion.
“The hardcore anti-Jan Brewer constituency is relatively small, especially among the voting population,” said Northern Arizona University pollster and political science professor Fred Solop.
Solop said the challenge for Brewer is that her party is divided – in many ways due to have advocacy for the sales tax referral. And in the general public, the inability of the Legislature and Brewer to solve the budget may be taking its toll.
“The public is really suffering from this budget crisis,” Solop said. “She’s not seen as someone who can lead us through that. She’s doesn’t seem to have the power or the clout to pull the Republicans into line.”
Pollster Earl de Berge says there’s still time for Brewer to reinvent herself, depending on how she performs on the stump.
“She’s feisty, she knows what she believes and she doesn’t back off her position very much,” de Berge said. “Arizona likes rebels, and I would not discount that.”
De Berge said that he believes Brewer’s advocacy for more state revenue rather than just cuts could turn into a big bonus.
“I view her as a kind of resilient public figure who really does have a unique positioning with respect to the whole position of how to balance the budget,” de Berge said. “I think she’s going to make her case.”
Arizona State University pollster Bruce Merrill said Brewer’s future may be tied to something largely out of her control: The economy.
“Being a governor is like being a quarterback,” Merrill said. “When things are going really well the quarterback gets all the attention. When things are not going well, the quarterback gets all the blame.”