Despite a blowout win for Proposition 100, Gov. Jan Brewer’s challengers in the Republican primary aren’t backing away from their criticism of her 14-month push for a sales tax increase, but the trio of candidates say their campaigns are about more than just taxes.
After Prop. 100 notched a 64-36 win in the May 18 special election, businessman Buz Mills fired the first salvo, lashing out at Brewer’s sales tax proposal with a prerecorded online video before the night even ended. The video juxtaposed Brewer’s myriad public statements about the temporary tax hike with a greatest hits reel of former President Ronald Reagan’s denouncing high taxes.
Camilla Strongin, Mills’ campaign manager, said the 64 percent of voters who cast their ballots in favor of Prop. 100 aren’t necessarily representative of the primary voters Brewer and Mills are trying to woo.
“I don’t think fiscal conservatives think that a tax hike during a recession is a good thing,” Strongin said.
Former Arizona GOP chairman and Board of Regents president John Munger said his criticism of Brewer isn’t limited to the sales tax hike. He said his opposition to Brewer, and his reasons for running against her, are more about what he called a lacked of planning or vision for the state’s future, as well as her refusal to send the Arizona National Guard to the Mexican border.
“Certainly, but that’s a very small part of what the campaign is,” Munger said when asked if he would still make opposition to Brewer’s tax hike a theme of his campaign.
For state Treasurer Dean Martin, taxes still look to play a prominent role in the campaign. Martin said the lopsided vote was more indicative of the massive spending disparity between the ‘yes’ and ‘no’ campaigns than of widespread public support for Prop. 100. Yes on 100 spent about $2.2 million, while the opposition raised only $1,200 – and he said the ballot measure had less support among Republican primary voters than the rest of the public.
Martin has said for more than a year that he didn’t think a tax increase was necessary, and he doesn’t plan to deviate from that message.
“It’s not a winner necessarily in the Republican primary,” Martin said. “Talking about the fact that there were other options is what I’ve been talking about from day one. That’s not going to change.”
When Brewer first pitched her sales tax hike to the Legislature, she noted that Reagan raised taxes almost immediately after becoming governor of California. Like her, she said, he didn’t like it but realized the state’s finances were in such disarray that it needed new revenue.
Strongin acknowledged that Reagan raised taxes as well, but said he came to regret it.
“He also mentioned more than once that it was the biggest mistake he ever made as governor,” she said.
Nonetheless, Brewer’s tax hike proposal was the impetus for the wave of challengers who came out to wrest the GOP nomination from her. And Prop. 100 is widely regarded as a huge win for Brewer, whose political future looked shaky after she staked her career to the tax hike shortly after taking office.
Brewer advisor Chuck Coughlin, who is running the governor’s campaign, said Prop. 100 was a validation of her leadership. After Brewer gave her victory speech on May 18, Coughlin sounded like he was already looking ahead to November.
“I know the rest of the campaign will be difficult as well. Terry Goddard will be a formidable opponent,” Coughlin said. “We still have Republicans … who were opposed to this. I’m sure they’ll try to make some hay out of this as the primary cycle goes on. But you can’t argue with wins.”