PHOENIX – As Gov. Jan Brewer approached the podium and read a carefully worded statement on her veto of a bill that would’ve let businesses refuse service to gays, she found herself in the familiar territory: the national spotlight.
Time and time again during her five years in office, the Republican governor has been the centre of nationwide political attention. In some cases, it involved her signing polarizing legislation that the GOP-dominated state Legislature sent to her desk. In others, she was bucking her own party’s right wing or butting heads with the Obama administration.
Brewer’s rise to the national political stage is directly related to President Barack Obama’s election to the White House. Obama tapped then-Gov. Janet Napolitano to lead the Department of Homeland Security in 2009, elevating Brewer from her position as secretary of state to the governor’s office.
The 69-year-old then made a national name for herself by clashing with the Obama administration on her signature issue at the time — immigration. She later infuriated her party by backing a centerpiece of Obama’s health care law.
Here’s a look at some of the key moments and issues in her term.
Lawmakers passed Arizona’s landmark immigration law in April 2010 in an attempt to push the bounds of what local police can do to confront illegal immigration. The law drew sharp criticism from immigrant rights advocates. It also led to an economic boycott of the state, drew a legal challenge from the Obama administration and inspired lawmakers in five other states to adopt variations of the statute. In signing the measure into law, Brewer solidified her prospects in the 2010 gubernatorial race. The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the law’s most contentious section in 2012 but struck down other sections.
Brewer is a longtime opponent of Obama’s health care overhaul and joined in an unsuccessful lawsuit seeking to have it declared unconstitutional. So she surprised virtually everyone when she embraced a signature part of the law by agreeing to expand Arizona’s Medicaid program a year ago. The decision led to a months-long standoff with conservative Republicans in the Legislature. She eventually overcame it by assembling a coalition of Democrats and a few Republicans and calling a special legislative session.
Brewer is being widely lauded for vetoing the measure allowing businesses to refuse service to gays by asserting their sincerely held religious beliefs. The governor’s Wednesday veto came after days of growing opposition to the law, enacted by the GOP-led Legislature over Democrats’ objections. In her veto speech, Brewer said she could not sign a bill that was not only unneeded but would damage the state’s improving business environment and divide its residents.
In January 2012, an Associated Press photographer captured a famous moment in Brewer’s career, when she engaged Obama in a testy exchange while greeting him alongside Air Force One in Arizona. The exchange was out of earshot, but the photo showed Brewer wagging her index finger just inches from the president’s chin. The two have long been at odds over border security, and the governor was giving Obama a letter inviting him on a tour of the Arizona-Mexico border.