By: J. Charles Coughlin
As we begin a new era in Arizona governance, there has been a lot written about the legacy of our outgoing Governor and my friend, Jan Brewer. As the Chairman of her transition team and after helping her and her son run her campaigns since she left the State Legislature in 1996, I have a unique perspective on her career as a public servant.
My first real discussion with her took place when she served as Majority Whip for the State Senate caucus in 1995. At the time, I was working for Governor Fife Symington as his Deputy Chief of Staff. Our team was working to pass his legislative agenda. I asked then Senator Brewer why a certain bill had not gone to the floor for a final vote, and she bluntly told me that I did not have the votes to pass the bill.
As I confidently ran through my vote count, she looked at me with the same expression many of us are familiar with today. She simply reiterated that I did not have my votes. I inquired of her who on my list was not supporting the legislation. She responded, “That’s not my job.”
She was right, of course. It was my job to count votes on the Governor’s legislation; it was her job to hold the confidences of her Senate Republican colleagues. Our team went to work and discovered which Republican Senators were wavering and collected the necessary votes to get the bill passed.
That story has stuck with me for nearly 20 years, because it told me a lot about the women who would later become our State’s 22nd Governor. She knew her job, she always kept her word, and she held the confidences of her colleagues very close. She was the kind of friend, the kind of leader you would want in a tough spot.
Why did Jan Brewer become Governor? Well, there was a long string of events which led her to that point but, when Arizona needed its own “Iron Lady,” Janice K. Brewer, the woman who knew her job, kept her word, and was loyal to her colleagues, was on the deck of the ship of state.
Jan Brewer became Governor at one of our State’s darkest hours. As she said during her inaugural speech, “At a government’s new hour we normally find ourselves uplifted by possibility. But today, we find ourselves weighed down with obligation — overdue obligation. We are gathered amid uncertain times, with a difficult work before us. In some ways this feels like you’ve just shown up for a party — but the guests have all gone, only the caterer is left and she immediately hands you the bill…Even in hard times, we must do good work, in honest trust with those we serve, and the people will thank us for it.”
In her first year in office, she vetoed 5 straight Republican budgets and sued her own Republican legislature – in a year leading up to an election!
That January, a prominent and well respected CEO of a large corporation told me that there was not a handful of business leaders in Arizona who believed she would be elected. I assured him that he had not met the Jan Brewer I knew.
In her 2010 State of the State Speech, she said, “…if there’s one thing I’ve learned in my years of public service, it’s that doing the right thing – almost always means doing the hard thing.”
She reminded all of Arizona during that speech that no Governor in the history of Arizona had cut more from the State Government’s budget than she had (a record that will likely never be broken).
She said, “…there is no one here, and no one elsewhere, who has fought any longer or harder than I have for lower taxes, job growth and economic freedom in Arizona. So, spare us the profiles in courage; it’s time for a little less profile and a little more courage.”
Arizona faced the real threat of insolvency or bankruptcy.
She said, “My fellow Arizonans, we are living amid hard times. These are difficult days that providence has set before us. I do not shrink from them. I do not cower. And, neither should you.”
She challenged us all saying, “Some Arizonans look at their political leaders and see countless actors on a stage, but precious few workers in the field. My friends, let us gather in the field.”
Less than six weeks later, she had her budget, her constitutional referral, and her team gave Arizona a chance. Jan Brewer sacrificed her political ambition – she put it all on the line and Arizona won because she led.
By May of 2010, 58% of Arizona voters approved Proposition 100, a temporary sales tax increase. By July, a crowded Republican field opposing her had dwindled to a few pretenders. By November, the State elected her in a near landslide.
Much has been said and written about her legacy as it relates to border security and immigration reform, two issues that made her an internationally known political figure.
From my perspective, I go back to that conversation we had in 1996. Counting my votes was not her job, securing the border and passing immigration reform measures are not the job of a State Governor, they are the jobs of the President and Congress.
Politics, however, abhors a vacuum and the border security crisis is the result of failed leadership in Washington. As a Governor, she became a voice of frustration for a portion of the electorate who was fed up with drop houses, human smuggling, and the illegal drug trade.
It is disappointing that President Obama didn’t choose to join Brewer in the field, at the border, but rather chose to vilify her and the frustrations of a significant portion of the electorate. Perhaps, if he had, she would have taken him up on the offer to help solve the problem, much like she addressed our State’s fiscal challenges.
As she closed her 2010 speech, she concluded, “When our public service is over, we will be judged less by what we achieved, than what we overcame. And we will be remembered less for what we gained, than what we gave.”
Jan Brewer should be remembered by the fact that she chose to be a worker in the field. She chose to serve others rather herself, she chose to sacrifice her own political ambition so that our State could continue to grow and prosper. She overcame much to serve honorably.
Jan Brewer will be remembered by me more for what she gave. She gave her all, when it counted the most.