Arizona Governor Jan Brewer, who signed the nation’s strictest immigration law in 2010 and once wagged her finger in President Barack Obama’s face, may challenge the state constitution to run for another term.
The 68-year-old Republican is weighing a bid for four more years in office even though a voter-approved 1992 constitutional amendment limits the state’s top officials to two consecutive terms, including “any part” of one served. Brewer was elected in 2010 after completing the remaining two years of Democrat Janet Napolitano’s term.
“I haven’t ruled anything out,” Brewer said yesterday after a ceremonial bill-signing in Peoria, Arizona, a suburb of Phoenix. “I’m doing my job as governor. I have two more years.”
Her spokesman, Matthew Benson, said Brewer “enjoys being governor and there is a lot more that she would like to accomplish.”
Since Brewer replaced Napolitano, who resigned to become U.S. Homeland Security secretary, Arizona has become a testing ground for Republican ideas on immigration, health care and gun rights. Brewer has emerged as a key foe of the Obama administration, leading the fight to preserve the immigration law and drawing national headlines for her confrontation with the Democratic president on a Phoenix-area tarmac in January.
Thirty-five states limit governors to two consecutive terms, though the provisions vary, according to the National Governors Association. Brewer has said there is ambiguity about whether she could run again.
“The constitution is not really clear,” she told The Arizona Republic last year. “It’s never been challenged.”
That argument was advanced last month in an op-ed by Brewer’s long-time attorney, Joe Kanefield, a partner in the Phoenix office of Ballard Spahr LLP who previously worked for her in both the governor’s and secretary of state’s offices. Kanefield said the partial-term phrase was meant to apply only to elected or appointed terms, not a situation in which a secretary of state becomes governor through constitutional succession. He advocates letting Brewer run.
“It comes down to, what does a term mean?” Kanefield said in a telephone interview. “This debate will be very robust if she decides to run. If they believe she is violating the spirit and purpose of their law, they can decide at the polls.”
Others said they don’t see ambiguity and expect the Arizona Supreme Court to block any attempt by Brewer to stay in office.
“The constitution is quite clear,” Paul Bender, a law professor at Arizona State University in Tempe, said in a telephone interview. “She cannot run again, and I don’t think there is any real significant doubt about it.”
The state’s No. 2 Republican, Secretary of State Ken Bennett, said he agrees. Bennett, a former senate president who was appointed by Brewer to his post in 2009 and then elected in 2010, has been among the most public in his interest in Brewer’s job, forming an exploratory committee last year.
Bennett, whose position makes him the state’s election chief, has said the constitution clearly prevents him from running again for his current post -- the same as Brewer.
“Would I accept paperwork from someone who wasn’t qualified to hold office in Arizona?” Bennett told the Arizona Republic this week. “I’ve never had to make the decision.”
Bennett didn’t return phone calls and e-mails to his communications director, Matt Roberts.
Brewer isn’t the first elected secretary of state to ascend to Arizona’s top post. Of the last nine governors, three have resigned, one was removed through impeachment and one died in office. No Arizona governor since John “One-Eyed Jack” Williams, who served from 1967 to 1975 and wore glasses with one frosted lens to conceal an empty right socket, has served two complete terms and entered and left office in the traditional fashion.
The term-limit question arose before when Governor Jane Dee Hull, Napolitano’s predecessor, contemplated running for a second time. Hull, a Republican who was elected secretary of state in 1994 and became governor when Fife Symington resigned following a criminal conviction in 1997, was elected to a full term in 1998. She decided not to run again.
Brewer won election after championing an education sales- tax increase and signing the immigration law, which drew boycotts and was mimicked by other states before the U.S. Supreme Court struck down most of its provisions this year. The moves helped her earn more than 54 percent of the vote over former Phoenix Mayor and state Attorney General Terry Goddard.
As the state was hit hard by the recession with one of the highest home-foreclosure rates in the nation, Brewer and lawmakers made deep budget cuts to primary education, universities and social services. They cut Medicaid, eliminating some transplant coverage, closing the program to childless adults and freezing enrollment for poor children.
Benson, Brewer’s spokesman, said the governor ranks among her biggest accomplishments turning the state around fiscally. When she took office, the state was facing a $3 billion deficit for the coming fiscal year, according to reports from the Joint Legislative Budget Committee. The state ended fiscal 2012 with a $397 million surplus.
Last year, Brewer tried to fire the independent chairwoman of the state’s redistricting commission, a move reversed in court. Her super-political action committee, Jan PAC, which gave donors copies of her 2011 book “Scorpions for Breakfast,” made more than $276,000 in independent expenditures in Arizona congressional races this year, according to the Center for Responsive Politics’ OpenSecrets.org.
Brewer may be floating the idea of running again to stay in the national spotlight and avoid appearing as a lame duck, said Luis Heredia, executive director of Arizona’s Democratic Party.
“The governor is only engaging in this conversation to save her political relevance,” Heredia said. “Her national profile helps her consolidate more support in the state. She is selling books. She is becoming a conservative superstar. It gets her more appearances on Fox.”
A poll in October by Raleigh, North Carolina-based Public Policy Polling found Arizonans were about evenly split in their opinion of the governor, with 47 percent saying they approve of her job performance and 46 percent disapproving.
“No matter what she does, she will continue to be a very influential figure in Arizona and national politics,” Kanefield, the attorney, said. “She will not just fade into the sunset. She will be a force for many years to come.”
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