Brewer’s desk proved to be an unfriendly landing spot for bill after bill passed by the Republican-led Arizona Legislature this year.
Brewer completed action on 386 bills passed during the Legislature’s 2011 regular session late last week. She vetoed 29 bills in all, just over twice as many as she rejected last year. Half of the rejections came in a flurry Friday night.
Brewer, who became governor in 2009 but is just now beginning her first full term, is clearly consolidating power, a veteran Capitol observer said.
“There is no doubt that she is making her mark,” said lobbyist Kevin DeMenna, a former top legislative aide. “She originally interacted with legislators. Now it’s ‘Do your best. Send it up, and I will sign it, or I will veto it.’
“Change, big change,” DeMenna said.
Rep. Tom Chabin agreed.
“She’s certainly established that she’s governor,” said Chabin, D-Flagstaff. “I think for many members many of these vetoes were a surprise, but next session they won’t be.”
Brewer turned back 14 measures last year. In this year’s vetoes, Brewer didn’t hesitate to reject fellow Republicans’ policy proposals and call some of them misguided or poorly crafted.
Brewer said a vetoed health insurance bill could leave Arizonans without recourse if mistreated by out-of-state insurers.
She vetoed a bill that would allow guns in public buildings lacking airport-style security, saying it had “too many loopholes and flaws” to warrant a signature making it law.
Brewer told The Associated Press during a recent interview that the so-called “birther” bill to make candidates for president and other offices prove their eligibility to run “was simply a bad idea and it was a huge distraction, and it wasn’t going to serve Arizona or any elected official well.”
On the other hand, Brewer’s signing of 357 bills indicated she found herself in sync with lawmakers far more often than she balked at their work.
Brewer signed Republican-sponsored measures on changing state retirement systems, limiting abortion rights, restricting union activities and scaling back municipalities’ development fees.
She also signed GOP-backed bills on changes to drunken driving laws, employers’ rights on medical marijuana and creation of 12 new special license plates — including one for tea party activists.
In some instances, Brewer voiced measures of solidarity even as she turned back proposals.
A vetoed bill to provide property tax savings for new business projects was flawed but provides a starting point for work on new legislation to help attract and grow corporate development, Brewer wrote.
But in some cases, Brewer more than hinted that legislators hadn’t done their homework or thought things through.
A bill to impose a tighter spending limit on state government was too restrictive, she wrote in a veto letter. “We should learn from the state of Colorado that experimented with a similar mechanism, an experience that failed.”
A bill to allow guns on university and college rights of way didn’t define rights of way, setting the stage for court fights on what the bill meant, she said. “We don’t need the courts to write our gun laws. That is the job of the Legislature.”
Brewer’s letter on the campus guns bill said that omission was noted early on but “inexplicably” not resolved before passage.
Brewer said during the AP interview that some vetoed bills had price tags that were unacceptable because of the state’s still-tender fiscal condition. An economic development package she negotiated with lawmakers include phased-in business tax cuts but was carefully crafted to avoid unhinging the budget, she said.
“If we go and we blow huge holes in the plan, that means we’re never going to recover,” she said.
Several legislators who sponsored vetoed bills said they never got caution signs from Brewer staff as the measures moved through the process.
“I would have been engaged” if Brewer had signaled she was troubled by a bill to expand tax credits for donations for private school tuition grants, said Sen. Steve Yarbrough, R-Chandler.
However, Brewer’s staff actively negotiated the public employees’ retirement system bill, said Yarbrough, who sponsored the bill that reached Brewer’s desk.
One lesson that might be drawn from the large number of vetoes is that some bills are pushed through the Legislature with little opportunity for serious vetting and public comment, said Kristin Borns, a senior policy analyst for the Morrison Institute for Public Policy at Arizona State University.
The health insurance and spending limit bills probably didn’t get the media coverage and public attention they deserved, Borns said. “We move bills rapidly without a lot of transparency.”
But there’s no sign of a major ideological split between Brewer and Republican lawmakers, she said. “This is still a Republican governor. This is a Republican Legislature.”
And Yarbrough, despite his acknowledged disappointment about having several of his bills vetoed, said Brewer’s record on deciding the fate of bills reaching her desk was generally good.
“I think she’s trying to be thoughtful and trying to do wise things. And even when I vehemently disagree with her, I can’t say she’s not trying to do the right thing, because I think she is,” he said. “I think she’s doing a pretty good job (on bills) with the exception of mine.”