Brewer reflects on session’s lessons

by Yvonne Wingett Sanchez – May. 26, 2012
The Arizona Republic

Gov. Jan Brewer attracted attention this legislative session, issuing strong vetoes and weighing in on controversial topics ranging from birth control and abortion to studying the Bible in schools and personnel reform.

The session culminated in a $8.5billion budget plan for the fiscal year that begins July 1. Brewer and the Legislature’s Republican leaders said it holds the line on most spending while providing modest boosts to education, mental health and public safety.

But Democrats accused the majority party of missing the opportunity to restore funding to schools, health care for kids and long-term job recovery.

“I give the governor credit on some areas,” said House Minority Leader Chad Campbell, D-Phoenix. “She vetoed some bills that we thought were bad for the state and really ideologically extreme. But the biggest disappointment with the governor is that she caved on the budget … to the ‘tea party.'”

Brewer recently sat down with The Arizona Republic and offered her thoughts on the session and other topics in the news.

Question: What are your thoughts on how the session went?

Answer: I thought the session went very, very well. I think that (the Governor’s Office and lawmakers) had a good working relationship and that we were successful. We were able to get more money into education and law enforcement and into health and human services, something that was a top priority for me. And I got my personnel reform, which was a huge victory.

Q: Any lessons learned from this session?

A: If we philosophically are all aligned, we can get it done. There’s always hiccups here and there, and everyone always has their own personal priorities. But you have to know that going in. It’s the same thing that it has been for my 30 years in public office. The negotiations went accordingly, knowing that different people have priorities in different places. In the end, we all came together, and it was a peaceful coming together, and for that I am very, very happy.

Q: There was a lot of drama this session with ethics inquiries and an indictment. What’s going on here?

A: I don’t know. For whatever reason, maybe it’s something in the water. But it has been an unbelievable session with regards to those kinds of issues. It’s very, very unfortunate. I think they’re a wake-up call that we are all going to have to really look at ourselves and how we handle ourselves and make sure that we understand what the rules are.

The bottom line is that I think the majority of us — that includes the Legislature and myself and other elected officials — we know what’s right and what’s wrong, and sometimes you get caught up in it, the busyness of what you’re doing and sometimes the glory of it all, and it obviously got out of hand with a couple of people, and it’s unfortunate.

Q: How will you recruit talented state employees if they fear they could be fired for political reasons, with no whistle-blower protections, under your changes to the personnel system?

A: I don’t believe any person looking for work is fearful of political judgment. Government is a large institution, and if they believe that people are going to get rid of good employees for political reasons, that’s absurd. We want good employees, we want people that can do the best job, either Republican or Democrat. You’re judged on your job performance — getting it done.

Q: You have been critical of the federal government during your tenure, yet you vetoed legislation that would have had Arizona join Utah in demanding that the federal government surrender control of millions of acres of land to each state. Why?

A: It’s really important when we decide to take on the federal government that we know we’re going to win. And I thought that with that piece of legislation that we were not going to win. I was concerned about leases, people who have leases on federal land. The federal government, in my opinion, is not going to release their land to us quietly.

Q: The $50million transfer from the mortgage-settlement fund has raised a lot of anger, as well as a lawsuit. Why is it justifiable to take money meant to help distressed homeowners and use it to balance the budget?

A: We know that we have issues regarding housing in the budget, so we felt it was proper.

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