Mystery Trip

Arizona Governor Jan Brewer on Mystery Trip, Reportedly to Afghanistan

Critics say the governor is dodging the 2012 election canvass, which her spokesman says is ‘completely absurd.’ By Terry Greene Sterling.

Jan Brewer has vanished on a mystery trip, and her office won’t disclose her whereabouts. There’s widespread buzz, though, that the nation’s most controversial governor is in Afghanistan to cheer on the troops.

En route to her secret destination, Brewer visited Mason Steill, a 22-year-old wounded Arizona vet at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Maryland, according to Channel 10, a Fox News affiliate in Phoenix. Steill, who was severely wounded in Afghanistan, was profiled in the state’s largest daily this summer.

Visiting Steill and traveling to Afghanistan might help ease the Arizona governor’s mounting public-relations woes—in recent days she has faced national criticism for stating that climate change probably is not caused by humans, and for refusing to issue driver licenses to Arizona Dreamers granted two-year waivers from deportation by the U.S. government.

Even so, the governor’s weeklong absence from Arizona has sparked a new round of controversy. Brewer’s political foes are chastising her for leaving the building just in time to avoid witnessing the official canvass for Arizona’s controversial election results. The traveling governor left that official duty to an underling—Secretary of State Ken Bennett, who also certified the results on Monday.

Brewer faced similar criticism for the timing of her travels in 2011, when she went on a book tour in the midst of a redistricting flap, leaving underlings to remove the head of the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission. (Colleen Mathis, an Independent, was later reinstated by judicial order.)

“The concern is there’s a pattern here,” Democratic state Rep. Chad Campbell, the House minority leader, tells The Daily Beast. “I fully support visiting the military ... But why now? The governor wasn’t here on a day when a highly controversial election was certified, and she was in New York last year promoting her book on another huge day.”

Chad Campbell “doesn’t know what he’s talking about, and the less he knows the more he speaks, which is unfortunate,” counters Brewer’s spokesman, Matthew Benson. “Ordinarily the governor attends the canvass, but circumstances intervened,” he tells The Daily Beast, and any inference that Brewer missed the canvass on purpose is “completely absurd.”

In the meantime, officials and stakeholders are trying to sort out Arizona’s recent and highly controversial election results. Democrats have amassed a database of “incident reports” about voter problems and will be crunching raw election data to see if certain voter groups, such as Latinos, received more headache-causing provisional ballots than other groups.

Campbell has called for a bipartisan committee to investigate the elections—a move supported by The Arizona Republic.

It’s way too early to tell what will happen, but Jim Barton, a Phoenix-area attorney who represents Arizona Democrats, says litigation hasn’t been ruled out.

Jan Brewer’s absence from Arizona, and her failure to witness the canvass on Monday, won’t render her immune from possible litigation, Barton says. Missing the canvass simply raises questions for some about the governor’s “judgment,” he says.

Brewer was secretary of state when she moved into the governor’s office to replace Gov. Janet Napolitano in 2009. (Napolitano became director of the Department of Homeland Security, and Brewer was her constitutional successor.) Brewer, a Republican, ran for governor in 2010 and was swept into office after signing SB 1070, Arizona’s controversial immigration law.

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There’s some disagreement in Arizona over whether Brewer is termed out—some of her supporters say the law allows her a third term. Her spokesman, Benson, says the governor has yet to decide whether to try to run again.

If she doesn’t run for governor, she’ll still have plenty of speaking engagements and book opportunities. Brewer became a national conservative icon after she signed the immigration law and wagged her finger at President Barack Obama on an airport tarmac near Phoenix. Her Facebook page counts more than 500,000 “likes,” and if she indeed is traveling to Afghanistan this week, her fan base will likely expand.