Politics

02.25.14

Republicans Go From Anti-Gay to No Way on Arizona Bill

The SB 1062 bill that was once a big hit is now taking one, as its own GOP supporters have started changing their minds. Now it’s in the hands of Tea Party favorite Arizona Governor Jan Brewer. Whether that’s a good thing is still TBD.

With all but three Republicans in the Arizona legislature voting for a bill characterized as anti-gay, and with every Democrat in opposition, the early betting was that Arizona Governor Jan Brewer would sign SB 1062. A Tea Party favorite, she had signed tough anti-immigrant legislation and once famously wagged her finger in President Obama’s face during an airport tarmac encounter. The image went viral.

Brewer is not someone to be trifled with. But when it comes to anti-gay legislation, which is tantamount these days to anti-business legislation, her allies on the right went too far with SB 1062. The bill expands Arizona’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act for individuals to include associations, businesses and churches in refusing to serve people whose life choices they find morally objectionable.

The bill passed Thursday, and by 8 a.m. Friday morning, Barry Broome, president and CEO of the Greater Phoenix Economic Council had e-mailed and hand-delivered a letter to Brewer warning her of costly litigation if the bill becomes law, including the loss of jobs and a potential threat to next year’s Super Bowl, set for Feb. 1 in Arizona. “It’s a little bit like our Olympics,” Broome says. “We want people to come and see how beautiful the state is. We didn’t want it to become an easy target for protests.” 

Broome recalled how painful it was to see the state characterized as anti-immigrant after Brewer signed a new immigration law in 2010. “We didn’t want a repeat performance of that,” he says, which is why he got out fast with the business community’s position. “This is a diverse and vibrant community. We’re the fifth largest LGBT community in the U.S., and there’s just no place for discriminatory attitudes,” he tells The Daily Beast. “The bill creates a lot of problems for us, plus it’s morally wrong.”

Brewer forged a close alliance with the state’s business community during her fight last year to get the Republican-dominated legislature to approve Medicaid expansion. It was an unorthodox position for a Republican governor, and with the help of business and hospital interests, Brewer prevailed. She argued it was a matter of math, not ideology, and by accepting Medicaid funds, more Arizonans could get health coverage. As the head of the most powerful business group in the state, Broome’s support is designed “to help the governor find a path to veto this bill” by providing political cover.

Broome’s comments were quickly followed by a tweet Friday from Arizona Senator Jeff Flake urging Brewer to veto SB 1062.  Senator John McCain chimed in Monday with an identical tweet. The major contenders in Arizona’s upcoming gubernatorial election said they opposed the bill, and by noon Monday in Arizona, three of the lawmakers who supported the legislation said they regretted their votes.

Targeting the gay community isn’t good politics anymore nationally or in Arizona. People’s opinions have changed.

One of them, Senator Steve Pierce, reached by phone, said he was “a little bit leery about it” from the beginning, but then everybody voted for it, and last year when the legislature passed a similar bill and Brewer vetoed it, no one seemed to think it was a big deal. “I am shocked at the business reaction and the national reaction to it,” he said. “I didn’t see it as discriminatory. Some of [the reaction] is blown out of proportion. At any rate, the bill is bad. We made a mistake and we’re trying to correct it by urging the governor to veto it.”

Pierce sounded genuinely anguished about the unintended consequences of the bill he supported. “We’re trying to get the RNC and DNC [political conventions] and the Final Four—all those mega-events—to come here and this doesn’t help. We don’t need any of this. Being in the national media is bad for business; it’s bad for hotels,” he said.

In addition, the controversy is stirring up bad memories. In 1993, the Super Bowl was moved from Tempe, Arizona to Pasadena because the state had voted against the holiday honoring Martin Luther King, Jr.

The political momentum behind SB 1062 has undergone an almost total reversal in the four days since Broome first spoke out. “I’ve never seen anything like this in terms of the about face that’s going on,” says a Capitol insider in Phoenix, who follows the political machinations and is not aligned with either political party. SB 1062 was pushed by the Center for Arizona Policy, a conservative advocacy group with extraordinary sway over the Republican legislators. “Usually what they say goes,” he adds. But this time they met their match. Once the Greater Phoenix Economic Council entered the picture, and SB 1062 became a debate about jobs, and the Super Bowl, lawmakers were ready to cave. Incidentally, if the three that went public on Monday regretting their votes had voted the other way, the measure would have failed.

To be charitable, some legislators didn’t understand how controversial this was going to be, not just in Arizona, but nationally. Maybe they should have. Targeting the gay community isn’t good politics anymore nationally or in Arizona. People’s opinions have changed. Brewer has been in Washington attending the National Governor’s Association meetings, and dining at the White House. She is likely to study the bill for a few days before rendering her decision, giving advocates their due, but the betting now is that she will veto the bill, just as she did last year, and she’ll do it with plenty of political cover.