Arizona's New Governor

Janet Napolitano has been confirmed as secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. That means that Napolitano, a Democrat, will be replaced as ...
by | January 20, 2009

Janet Napolitano has been confirmed as secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. That means that Napolitano, a Democrat, will be replaced as governor of Arizona by Secretary of State Jan Brewer, a Republican. I wrote about Brewer and the challenges she faces in the January issue of Governing:

When Jan Brewer ran for reelection as Arizona's secretary of state in 2006, the Arizona Republic praised the job she had done running elections, and called her "a partisan worth keeping." That's the way a lot of people in state politics think of Jan Brewer. She came up through the system as a aggressive Republican activist. But she also can be a straight-arrow administrator able to win bipartisan support.

It's the second of those identities that Brewer will be called on to display in the coming months as she takes over from Governor Janet Napolitano, who is Barack Obama's choice to run the federal Homeland Security department. The state is trading a Democratic governor for Brewer, and not all Democrats in Arizona government are pleased about it. To run the state effectively, Brewer will need to keep her partisan instincts under control.

That's especially true because Arizona, hit hard by the housing bust, is in even worse fiscal shape than most other states. It faces a $1.2 billion mid-year shortfall in the 2009 budget, and that gap is only expected to grow next year, so spending cuts, tax increases or both would appear inevitable. "Anybody would be excited about being governor," says Mary Rose Wilcox, who served with Brewer on the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors. "But in this time, it's going to be really rough."

Brewer's allies say she has the right background to deal with the crisis. She's spent more than a generation in various government offices, moving from the state House to the state Senate to the Maricopa board to secretary of state. "Those are some pretty deep credentials for her to draw on," says state Senator Robert Blendu, a Republican. "She's been great at every job she's ever done."

It's Brewer's record of supporting partisan and conservative causes, however, that has drawn the most attention throughout her career. Brewer's election to the Maricopa County board was fueled by anti-tax sentiment. As secretary of state, she garnered headlines for supporting a voter-identification law that most Democrats despised.

Her conservative views will not be a big problem in dealing with the new legislature. Democrats had hoped to take one or both chambers in 2008, but instead, Republicans expanded their majorities. In recent years, several moderate Republican lawmakers have lost to conservative primary challengers, gradually shifting the legislature to the right. The question is whether Brewer and the legislature will go further right than the electorate wishes. Attorney General Terry Goddard, the likely Democratic nominee for governor in 2010, will be watching for any signs that the new governor has overreached.

One irony of Brewer's promotion is that she fought for years to create the position of lieutenant governor, who would be second in line of succession and take that role away from the secretary of state. None of her efforts were successful. Now, says former Senate President Tom Patterson, "the system that she advocated against and sponsored bills to abolish has led to her becoming the next governor of the state."

Josh Goodman
Josh Goodman  |  Former Staff Writer

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