This may be Gov. Jan Brewer’s last legislative session on the Ninth Floor, but denizens of the Capitol expect it to be a year like any other for her.
Lawmakers, lobbyists and members of previous gubernatorial administrations say Brewer won’t lose any leverage or power, despite her status as a lame-duck governor. Things may change a little, they said, but Brewer still has the same power that she had when she took office in 2009.
Lobbyist Kevin DeMenna said the notion that a lame-duck governor has less power or leverage is nothing more than a myth. Brewer still has the power to sign and veto legislation, make gubernatorial appointments, issue executive orders and use her bully pulpit until the day she leaves office, he said.
“There is virtually nothing that the governor cannot accomplish this year that she could not have accomplished in any of her prior years. And I really do want to emphasize the parallel between presidential pardons. There’s a reason that the lights are on in the White House right up until the last stick of furniture is moved out, because you are president until the very moment that you’re not. And the same applies to the governor,” DeMenna said.
Brewer, who insists that she can and may run for another term, despite a provision in the Arizona Constitution that limits governors to two four-year terms, including any part of a term served, said she doesn’t expect anything to change if this is her last year in office.
“Why would it?” Brewer said. “They need my signature.”
Attitude and culture
Due to the frequency with which they enter office through the line of succession, few Arizona governors have had a true lame-duck year where they leave at the natural end of their term. But veterans of previous administrations say little changed when the governors they served entered their lame-duck year.
“I think it’s more perception than reality,” said George Cunningham, who served as chief of staff to former Gov. Rose Mofford. “I think the tangible effect is minor. I think it’s mostly attitude and culture.”
Jaime Molera, who worked for former Gov. Jane Dee Hull, said the notion of a lame-duck governor is largely overblown.
“You still have to respect the fact that she’s the governor and she can veto bills. And quite frankly, she has a lot of say in how the budget’s going to get shaped,” Molera said. “If there’s legislators that are trying to get certain bills, particularly in an election year that they want for their district, you’ve still got to work with a governor.”
Ronnie Lopez, who served as chief of staff to former Gov. Bruce Babbitt, said people told Babbitt that it was a mistake to announce two years before the 1986 election that he wouldn’t run again because people would no longer take him seriously.
“Quite frankly, we didn’t find that to be the case,” Lopez said. “We didn’t check out, whether it was our legislative agenda or the way we conducted running the executive branch of government.”
Even after the legislative session ends, the governor still retains power. She has to ensure that state agencies and other government services run smoothly. She can still appoint members to various committees and commissions — some of which are important to lawmakers — and can still issue executive orders.
“Somebody out there cares about the Egg Inspection Committee,” Lopez said. “The governor still has a tremendous amount of influence.”
Lawmakers say they aren’t expecting anything to be different with Brewer this year. House Speaker Andy Tobin said he doesn’t think Brewer is viewing things differently, either.
“I don’t see the governor looking at this as a lame-duck year. I think she’s got an aggressive agenda. I think if she had another year to go, she would still be making the same decisions and efforts that she just did,” said Tobin, R-Paulden.
Rep. J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, agreed.
“We still need her signature. We still need agreement on things. She’s still the governor. So I don’t see how it changes, unless there’s something you want to do that she’s not going to like, you might say I’ll just wait until the next governor. Of course, you don’t know who the next governor is going to be,” Mesnard said.
But even if things don’t change much on a macro level, some things are different. Lobbyist Barry Aarons, who served in former Gov. Fife Symington’s administration, said some lawmakers may decide not to run legislation they think Brewer will veto, though, as Mesnard pointed out, they run the risk of getting a new governor who is even more hostile to their proposals.
“There are some considerations given to what her mindset might be on a bill,” Aarons said. “You know what Jan Brewer likes and doesn’t like.”
Molera also said governors have more trouble pursuing ambitious agenda items in their final year, especially on issues that may take more than one year to fully implement.
“It does get a bit more difficult … when you’re talking about major, major structural issues in public policy,” Molera said.
Losing top staffers
Lopez said one difficulty some governors run into toward the end of their administrations is that top staffers and agency heads start leaving for new jobs, as happened to Babbitt.
“There will be some people on the Ninth Floor on her personal staff that maybe June, July, something like that, will leave,” Lopez said. “Maybe some of her top leadership team in running agencies may leave because they have careers, they have families they have to worry about. You also have to keep your Ninth Floor team and the executive branch of government focused on making sure the train runs on time, that things don’t fall through the cracks.”
A governor’s final year can actually be liberating because there is no need to take into account campaigns, fundraising and other political considerations, some observers said.
Some governors use their final days to issue memorable executive orders. Babbitt famously issued one creating a Martin Luther King Jr. holiday shortly before he left office, while former Gov. Janet Napolitano issued an order requiring the state to meet and confer with public employee unions as she prepared to resign to join President Obama’s administration.
Any governor who does that, however, must keep an eye on their successors. Both Babbitt’s and Napolitano’s orders were quickly rescinded when the next governor took office.