Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Jan Gump

In the movie, Forrest Gump, Forrest, as a man of limited mental capacity but strong convictions and played ably by Tom Hanks, always was just in the right place at the right time to gain fame and fortune and to be there during important moments in history.

It seems that in real life, we have something of a parallel here in Arizona. Good things keep happening to Jan Brewer, but in fact many of them come to her despite her own actions in the past.

Fifteen years ago, as the majority whip of the Arizona Senate, Jan Brewer was instrumental in pushing through the massive Symington-Brewer tax cuts. When combined with a 1992 referendum which made it virtually impossible for the legislature to raise taxes, these cuts undermined the fiscal stability of our state by plunging recklessly down a road which assumed that growth would continue forever and provide an increasing stream of revenue to fund state services. Accordingly, under the legislature that Brewer was one of the leaders of spending levels were cut to the point where many schools and state agencies were on a shoestring budget in good times, with no thought apparently given to what this would mean for bad times.

Common sense dictates that if you can't back up, then you would proceed forward with caution. But I guess not according to then State Senator Jan Brewer.

In 2001 and 2002 we got a taste of what bad times meant. Due to the incompetence of former Governor Jane Hull and the outright deception of former House Speaker Jeff Groscost, the legislature passed the 'alt-fuels' bill that essentially bought cars for a lot of Groscost's neighbors in Mesa at state expense and when combined with the recession of that year meant that incoming Governor Janet Napolitano entered staring down a $1 billion hole. She went to work and fixed the hole, but because of when Napolitano took office (at the beginning of 2003) Jan Brewer was given a ready made 'excuse' that she could use to claim years later that Napolitano had 'overspent'-- conveniently overlooking the fact that much of the spending 'increase' under Napolitano was simply climbing back up out of the hole the budget was in when she took office.

But the excuse was there for Brewer and she has been taking it liberally, blaming her predecessor for the problems that in fact Jan Brewer helped create years earlier by weakening the state's tax structure! Nobody remembers her role now. Wow, talk about catching a lucky break!

She caught another one in 2002. Because of the very tight gubernatorial race between Napolitano and Matt Salmon, nobody paid much attention to the race for Secretary of State, despite the fact that (now counting Brewer) the past six Governors of Arizona have all either left office without completing their terms or been the Secretaries of State who succeeded them. It would be like not bothering to ask who the Vice President is. But that's what happen so she escaped scrutiny of her far right record.

In January of 2009 Brewer acceded to become an unelected Governor the day after Barack Obama was sworn in as President of the United States in, demanding an expensive and exhorbitant ceremony much more like the swearing in of an elected Governor, rather than the very plain and unremarkable swearing in that the previous two Secretaries of State to become Governor (Rose Mofford and Jane Hull) had done. This despite the fact that the state was in fairly good fiscal shape for those two but already gripped by the collapse of the housing market for Jan 'Money is no object' Brewer.

But luck shined her way again. The legislature became ensnared in a months long fight between very conservative Republicans and extremely conservative Republicans. The unecessary expenses of Brewer's elaborate swearing in ceremony were soon forgotten. So, she was free to propose a 1 cent sales tax increase to help balance the budget without anyone asking why she had spent so much tax money on her own vanity, and as such she did propose the tax.

And she got even luckier. The House and Senate agreed to pass a budget with only Republican votes. But that put them at the mercy of the most extreme members of their own caucus, so that Jack Harper, Ron Gould and Pamela Gorman blocked all progress towards a budget that included Brewer's proposed tax. Things got so bad between Brewer and the legislative leadership from her own party that she even took them to court to make them try and send her the semblance of a budget they did pass just so she could veto it and throw it back to them. Because the GOP budget they finally did pass was so extreme, Brewer got to look like the more responsible party.

Of course vetoing a Republican budget made Brewer unpopular in her own party ranks. As a weak Governor who was never elected, if she faced a single challenger she would probably be a goner. But she has drawn at least three credible challengers, which means she could easily win nomination with 30% of the GOP primary vote. Yet another stroke of luck.

She was still in the midst of a heated primary with today's vote on the sales tax-- unpopular with key elements of the Republican base looming-- when she caught, yes, another stroke of luck. The legislature sent her SB 1070. This was a tough decision: sign a bill that will repel Hispanics-- now 30% of the population of Arizona but 40% of the under 20 population of Arizona and growing rapidly, or veto it to further alienate the GOP base. She cast her lot with the nativists. As the bill became national news, Republican activists both in Arizona and around the nation praised Brewer. So, today the sales tax vote is an afterthought.

The timing couldn't be better. But remember this: Forrest Gump was a movie. Jan Brewer's string of good luck is bound to end sooner or later, and when it does Arizona will likely be on the receiving end.


jacsuza said...

Is there anyway to change the structure of the AZ government so that a duly elected vice-governor is in place to succeed a governor who leaves office prematurely? The current set-up is ridiculous.

I am amazed that the sales tax passed by a pretty even margin state-wide. Just hope that they folllow through on the intent of the law and education gets that money as well as the money that we were already budgetd to get.

Eli Blake said...

There is a proposal in the works to create an office of Lieutenant Governor (something that more than forty states already have, with varying job descriptions but in all cases including the duties to 1.serve as acting governor when the Governor is out of state and 2. also to accede to the Governor's office if there is a vacancy.)

Recall that during Napolitano's tenure there were a couple of instances in which Brewer served as acting governor and issued executive orders and in one case signed a bill that Napolitano had to immediately rescind when she returned to Arizona (though the bill remained signed, she couldn't do anything about that despite her intention to veto it.) So a lieutant governor running on the same ticket and same party as the governor makes a lot of sense because it assures the basic continuity of policy so people (who have to abide by executive orders) don't get jerked back and forth as political footballs every time the governor goes out of state.

There were some variations in the margin, but the only part of the state that actually voted against the sales tax was Mohave county (now you know why they elect Ron Gould up there.) The county by county results are here:


As far as watching what happens to the money, unfortunately there IS a proposal in the legislature to revive a package of tax cuts for businesses and for the wealthy which they hope to pass later this year.

It's politically risky, because their contention that 'no, it's not the sales tax dollars, it's other dollars' because it would kick into effect at about the same time the sales tax expires and then surreptitiously forcing the sales tax extension might not fly but this may be their last chance because Goddard has already said that if he's Governor he will only sign small, very narrow and specifically targeted tax cuts designed to improve specific areas of the economy until and unless schools, universities and state services are functioning at 100% of the funding levels they were before the recession.

Kirk Adams went to Mohave County (where else?) a few days after the end of the legislative session to announce his plans to revive HB- 2250 (massive tax cuts for businesses and the very wealthy.)


NOTE: Of course like a lot of stories that appear in local newspapers the writer pretty much took what Adams said as fact, but in fact his statement that cutting people from ACCCHS is 'returning Arizona to where 44 other states are' is a gross distortion of reality, keep in mind that right now Arizona is the ONE AND ONLY state that does not participate in sCHIPS (thereby giving up hundreds of millions in federal funding in order to save a much smaller amount of state funding.)

Jack Hampton said...

This is why I would be leery of voting for this tax.

They will tax the public, saying (correctly in this case) that the money is needed for schools and public safety, but then once the funding is in place they will turn around and cut taxes for the rich.

It's a shell game, and it's been going on since at least when I remember in Arizona (though I'm now considering myself lucky I don't live there anymore.)

Eli Blake said...


I've been going door to door in Holbrook the last day or two collecting signatures to put candidates on the ballot and you'd be surprised how many people I've met who are way ahead of the game on that. They may still push through their corporate tax cut package but if they do it will be in broad daylight under the eyes of a very pissed off electorate, and they will pay in that case at the ballot box.

sandyh said...

Arizona is really lucky to be in a such a good financial position that it can give more tax cuts to business and the wealthy. Will this continue if the boycott continues?

Our Dem Governor and Republican legislature just cut off tax incentives to business that they both ran on two years ago. The cupboard is bare and the state constitution says they must balance the budget.

Things are that bad in most state governments. Jan Brewer might find herself in the same place faster than she likes.

I can't believe voters in a state that so completely hates any kind of taxes will help her and the Republicans by passing a brand new kind of tax.

Allowing it on the ballot is just the sort of thing that could bring on more Tea Party candidates to challenge the GOP establishment.

I don't think Gov. Brewer caught a break with the illegal alien diversion. There is no way she can run as a "real" conservative with a sale tax initiative on the ballot with her.

The hypocrisy and irony is sweet.

Eli Blake said...


We passed the tax last week. Overwhelmingly at that. The state is in such bad shape that a lot of people realized that the tax was necessary to avoid more and really devastating cuts to schools and services.

That includes your humble blogger I might add. I don't like sales taxes in general because they are very regressive. But this tax was essential, so I voted for it.

Now we have to be vigilant about Speaker Kirk Adams' plan to give massive corporate tax cuts which will undermine the stated justification for the sales tax.