Meet Jan Brewer, a bright new face in the GOP crowd

Two weeks ago, Jan Brewer’s approval rating was underwater at just 40%, but then the Arizona legislature sent Senate Bill 1070 to her desk. The Republican governor, who has been in office for only 15 months, signed it. Now she’s enjoying an approval rating of 56 percent, a sixteen-point bounce, according to the most recent survey by Rasmussen Reports.

For Brewer, the tough, but locally very popular immigration measure couldn’t have reached her desk at a more opportune time, as she is up re-election in November. She became governor thanks to President Obama, who tapped her predecessor Janet Napolitano to head up the Department of Homeland Security, and to Arizona’s constitution, which makes it one of only a handful of states which don’t have lieutenant governors.

Brewer had been Arizona’s secretary of state for nine years when Napolitano resigned to go to Washington, and by state law was next in line for the governor’s mansion. Before becoming secretary of state in 2003, she had been chairperson of the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors for six years, a State Senator for nine years and a State Representative for four.

In addition to signing the immigration bill into law, Brewer has found favor with conservatives in her state by signing legislation that allows Arizonans to carry their guns into bars, unless s bar specifically prohibits them, and she signed another measure which citizens to carry concealed without having to get a permit. But Arizona’s liberals are just as angry over the two firearms laws and the new immigration measure as the state’s conservatives are pleased. To say there is a lot of passion on both sides of these issues in the Grand Canyon State would be to make an understatement. Brewer has further drawn the ire of liberals by signing a bill which repealed a law Napolitano had championed which had allowed domestic partners of state employees to be considered as “dependents,” equal status to married spouses. Lesbians and gays are still seething over Brewer’s action.

But at least she can claim that she did it to save the state money ($3 million), as Arizona, like many other states, is facing a budget crisis. Years of stewardship by Napolitano has left the state $263 million over budget. To bring the budget into balance, Brewer had asked the state legislature to eliminate some government agencies — a move unpopular with liberals — and called on the lawmakers to raise the state sales tax by 1 cent per dollar — equally unpopular with conservatives.

Signing controversial bills and trying to balance the budget were largely responsible for Brewer’s previously low approval ratings, but if her numbers stay at or near their current above-the-water mark, it bodes well for her chances of re-election against State Attorney General Terry Goddard, a Democrat, her most likely opponent. Also in Brewer’s favor, the governor has called upon a special state legislative session to join in the class-action lawsuit by eighteen state Attorneys General to challenge the constitutionality of the very unpopular Obamacare legislation. It can’t help Goddard’s chances, should he decide to challenge Brewer, that he has refused to join the other states in the lawsuit.

All of the attention focused on Brewer for signing the immigration measure has not only boosted her poll numbers but her status in the GOP as well. The Republicans are a party always on the lookout for new stars, and Jan Brewer seems to have achieved start status virtually overnight. She joins an increasing number of conservative women — including Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann, Marsha Blackburn, Liz Cheney, and others — who may be able to change the image of the GOP from that of the party of old men. Brewer met with Palin when the former Alaska governor was in Arizona last weekend, and the two were the subjects of no small number of photographs that were taken when they showed up at Chase Field to take in a Diamondbacks baseball game.

Should Brewer win another term as governor, she will increasingly be mentioned as a possible vice presidential candidates on the 2012 GOP ticket, even though it’s far from settled this early in the game on whose ticket that would be.

- JP

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