Gov. Jan Brewer’s abrupt cancellation of the Border Governors Conference in Phoenix may cost the state as much as $200,000.
Except for a rough estimate of the total costs, the Governor’s Office has refused to disclose details of how much the state will have to pay for reserved meeting space and other preparation costs for the conference, which was originally scheduled to take place at the Arizona Biltmore from Sept. 8-10.
Brewer spokesman Paul Senseman said the costs of the annual conference are normally borne by all participants, but it’s unclear whether Arizona will be reimbursed after a boycott by Mexican officials led to the cancellation of the event.
“I think everybody contributes a portion, but I don’t know what the host is specifically on the hook for,” Senseman said.
Brewer called off the conference in July after six Mexican governors said they would skip it in protest of SB1070, the strict illegal immigration law passed by the Legislature and signed by the governor in April.
New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson hosted an alternatve conference in Santa Fe on Sept. 20. Richardson was the only U.S. governor to attend, though California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger sent Lt. Gov. Abel Maldonado in his place.
Brewer did not send a representative to the alternate conference, nor did Texas Gov. Rick Perry.
Senseman said attending the conference or sending someone to represent Arizona would have been tantamount to supporting the boycott that led the governor to cancel the conference in the first place.
“She’s disappointed and does not support economic boycotts of Arizona — or attempted economic boycotts, I guess I should say, since nobody else is going either from the U.S. side,” Senseman said of Brewer.
Except for the three U.S. governors who skipped the conference, the event was well attended. The New York Times reported that all six Mexican border governors attended, as did several governors-elect. Also in attendance were journalist Sam Donaldson and actress Shirley MacLaine.
Richardson, a Democrat, blamed SB1070 for the discord that led to the cancellation of the conference in Arizona, while Humberto Moreira Valdes, the governor of Mexico’s Coahuila state, made a veiled reference to Brewer when he said that not all U.S. border leaders are as committed to friendship with Mexico as Richardson and Maldonado, The New York Times reported.
“When Arizona passed its law, which most of us oppose, I saw an opportunity — an opportunity to bring people together,” Richardson stated in a press release. “I organized this conference here in Santa Fe to discuss our differences, not to pass laws that further divide people. This is an opportunity to move forward in a productive way, as a region.”
Senseman said Brewer is committed to keeping an open dialogue with her fellow governors on the other side of the border, but that it was the Mexican governors’ choice to end that dialogue, not hers.
“The meeting should’ve happened in Arizona, and it’s a shame that these Mexican governors chose to, in a very overtly political fashion, boycott the state,” Senseman said. “This soiree (in Santa Fe) is not the Border Governors Conference.”
Instead of reaping the economic benefits of hosting the conference, the state may end up being forced to pay $100,000 to $200,000, Senseman said.
The Governor’s Office did not respond to a July 12 records request by the Arizona Capitol Times seeking invoices or receipts for conference costs until Sept. 20, when Senseman said no such documents existed because the state had not yet been billed for the conference costs.
“There are no documents that finalize what the costs are,” Senseman said.
According to the Arizona-Mexico Commission, information about the cost to the state is readily available from the governor’s accounting office, but the release of that information to the public must be approved by Ninth Floor staff.
“It sounds like it’s a public record, and in Arizona there’s a presumption of disclosure, a presumption that a public record has to be disclosed,” said Craig Morgan, a First Amendment attorney with the firm Perkins Coie Brown & Bain. “I can’t imagine a reason why … this shouldn’t be public.”