A year ago, Jan Brewer’s proposed sales tax hike seemed like a goner and her political career didn’t seem far behind, but after voters cast their ballots for Proposition 100, the landslide victory may be enough to carry her to a full term as governor.
Voters approved Prop. 100 by a 64-36 margin, handing Brewer what many observers view as a knockout punch against her challengers in the Republican primary and the general election.
The victory party by the Yes on 100 committee wasn’t a celebration for the governor per se, but the sea of red ‘Brewer for governor’ shirts in the crowd was an unmistakable reminder that Brewer and Prop. 100 are essentially one and the same.
Brewer’s campaign had been picking up speed after signing S1070, Arizona’s strict new illegal immigration law, and pushing Arizona into a lawsuit against the new federal health care law. But the overwhelming win in the May 18 special election effectively ended the campaign, said political consultant Jason Rose.
“What it does is allow a fat lady to start warming up her chords on the Ninth Floor,” Rose said. “What happened tonight gives her an electability argument that no one else can offer. It didn’t pass 51-49. It passed in rarified air for a tax-increase election.”
Since Brewer took on Washington, D.C. by challenging the health care law and rallied the Republican base, her polling numbers have shot up. A Rasmussen Reports poll in early May showed her with a 10-point lead over her nearest Republican challenger.
Brewer’s challengers for the Republican nomination – state Treasurer Dean Martin, businessman Buz Mills and former Board of Regents president and Arizona GOP Chairman John Munger – have made Brewer’s efforts to temporarily raise the sales tax rate the centerpiece of their campaigns. Lobbyist Stan Barnes, a former Republican lawmaker, said Prop. 100 crippled their campaigns.
“There is a giant wind in the sails of Gov. Brewer in the Republican primary because, should opponents in the primary attack her for supporting the idea, she has the ultimate answer, which is the people of Arizona are with me,” Barnes said. “And when you can claim with authority that the people of Arizona are with you, that’s the trump card.”
Barnes also said the victory is a bad omen for Attorney General Terry Goddard, the presumptive Democratic nominee. Goddard opposed S1070, which has the support of most Arizonans, and held off on taking sides in the Prop. 100 debate until the week before the vote.
“I would hate to be Terry Goddard’s advisor right now,” Barnes said.
Rose was a bit more flippant in his assessment of Goddard’s chances against Brewer, tweeting that Prop. 100 relegated Goddard to a strategy based on Rosary beads.
Professor Fred Solop, who heads up the political science department at Northern Arizona University, said the Prop. 100 win helps Brewer co-opt Goddard on education issues, normally a strength of Democratic candidates. Goddard was silent on Prop. 100 for most of the debate, he said, letting Brewer pick up all the momentum from the issue.
“It does take some of the wind out of his sails,” Solop said. “It’s a vote of confidence in Jan Brewer and her leadership on this issue.”
At the Yes on 100 election night event at Madison #1 Middle School, a visibly emotional Brewer said Arizona voters had made the right choice in approving Prop. 100. Afterward, she described the vote as a sign that Arizonans knew that she was right when she said the tax hike was necessary.
“I think that it means that the people … throughout the state have listened, heard me tell the truth and voted accordingly,” Brewer said.
Chuck Coughlin, who runs the lobbying and consulting group HighGround and is one of Brewer’s closest advisors, said Brewer put her political career on the line when she proposed a temporary sales tax increase, and it paid off. Despite the fact that many, if not most, of the other candidates at the Yes on 100 event were Democrats, Coughlin said the lopsided margin of victory for the tax hike was a sign that Republicans stood with Brewer as well.
“This is the definition of leadership,” Coughlin said. “I’m confident we won Republicans tonight. We had a majority of Republicans supporting this initiative.”
Not everyone believed Prop. 100 was the make-or-break moment that Coughlin and others described it as. Many Republicans who opposed Prop. 100 said a loss would’ve hurt far more than the win will help, and said that despite her strong credentials on conservative issues like illegal immigration, GOP primary voters aren’t going to forget that Brewer advocated for a tax increase.
“I think this will be a double-edged sword. It won’t help her at all in the primary. Those voters won’t look as favorably on a tax increase as all the voters who voted on Prop. 100,” said Sen. Thayer Verschoor, who formed a campaign committee to oppose Prop. 100. “It could come back to haunt her – I’m not saying this to be mean, but a Republican supporting a tax increase makes life difficult in a primary.”
Pollster Michael O’Neil, of the firm O’Neil Associates, said the full impact of the special election won’t be clear until he sees how her opponents portray it. And even then, her best bet is for her three opponents to split up the primary vote to the point where she can pull through.
“I think it gives her a little boost. Look at what happened to Obama,” he said, referring to the boost President Barack Obama got from the passage of the federal health care bill in March.
Before May 18 ended, Brewer’s opponents were already downplaying the notion that it was a victory for her. Camilla Strongin, Mills’ campaign consultant, said she wasn’t surprised to see Prop. 100 pass – the Yes on 100 committee and its allies raised more than $2.2 million, while their opponents raised just $1,200 – but said Brewer shored up her credentials as a tax-raising Republican.
And despite being a champion for education spending, the focal point of the Yes on 100 campaign, the Arizona Education Association and other groups that pumped money into the pro-Prop. 100 effort would likely be supporting Goddard in November, Verschoor said.
“The big cheerleaders for Yes on 100 were the AEA and the firefighters, and I’m not sure they’re big Republican primary voters,” he said.
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