Gov. Jan Brewer’s nearly two years in office have seen both handshakes and verbal spats between her and Republican lawmakers, setting markers that create expectations for more of the same for the next four years.
She entered the governor’s office in January 2009 when Democrat Janet Napolitano resigned halfway through her second term to join President Barack Obama’s Cabinet, and the Republican since has agreed with conservatives on issues ranging from illegal immigration to abortion restrictions.
But she and lawmakers in the GOP at times have been at odds on budget and tax issues, with her championing a temporary tax increase to help balance the budget but opposing proposed business tax cuts to stimulate the economy.
Now, after handily defeating Democrat Terry Goddard on Nov. 2, Brewer has a full term of her own.
A lame-duck Democratic legislator whose 16 years in the Legislature spanned tenures of four governors said he doesn’t know what to expect next from Brewer.
“Is it going to be the Jan Brewer who took a risk and pushed for a tax increase or is it going to be the Jan Brewer who became the white knight to Russell Pearce? I don’t know,” said Sen. Ken Cheuvront of Phoenix.
Cheuvront said he presumes that majority Republicans in the Legislature will want to work with Brewer.
But she could be at odds with lawmakers espousing the tea party movement’s call for less government, he said. “Tea-baggers have a strong viewpoint on how government should run.”
Tom Patterson, a former Republican legislative leader and chairman of the libertarian-leaning Goldwater Institute, said Brewer’s election win gives her an opportunity — one that he doesn’t think she’ll seize — to seriously scale back state government and its spending.
“This is the first chance for the real Jan Brewer, with a minimal amount of outside interferences, to come forward and step up,” Patterson said.
“We have to make cuts … but it’s not the end of the world if government funding goes down a little bit,” Patterson said. “I’m not sure she gets that.”
Brewer said in a postelection interview that she’d steer the state “down that path of less government,” and her record on budget issues includes a willingness to make spending cuts throughout state government and its programs and services.
But those reductions haven’t cut as deeply as some fiscal hard-liners in the Legislature wanted.
And Brewer’s budget director said recently that his boss doesn’t feel that education and other costly services can be cut much to close a midyear shortfall that legislative budget say could amount to nearly 10 percent of the $8.5 billion budget.
In contrast, some influential Republican lawmakers go so far as to ponder whether the state should resort to pulling out of the federal Medicaid program — which provides health care to more than 1.3 million Arizonans — because of the cost burdens imposed on the state.
In one possible area of compromise, Brewer earlier this year balked at broad business tax relief, saying the state couldn’t afford it. But she repeatedly has expressed an interest in targeted changes to attract and keep businesses and the jobs they provide.
Richard Herrera, an Arizona State University associate professor of political science, said Brewer probably won’t make major course changes now that she’s won a full term.
But he said she could be more assertive at the Legislature in using her office’s authority.
“She can very clearly say she took on all comers and beat them all. She’s now demonstrated that she is the favorite of Republicans,” Herrera said. “She’s not going to be shy.”
With a Republican-led Legislature, Herrera said, “she’s in a pretty good position.”