PHOENIX | Before there was Scott Walker, Rick Scott, Nathan Dealor Nikki Haley, there was Arizona’s Jan Brewer — the original Republican protest governor, going toe-to-toe with the Obama administration over immigration, fighting the White House in the courtroom and becoming an early symbol of states’ frustration with the White House.
Now five months into her first elected term, Arizona’s top politician is once again challenging President Obama. This time, she is asking him not only to keep the National Guard on the border past its scheduled departure in June, but to boost its numbers to provide more security.
“I think the National Guard should be there until everything is resolved and we have a secure border, which means probably having the National Guard down there, you know, and probably more than what he has put down there,” Mrs. Brewer told The Washington Times in a broad interview in her Phoenix office, just after the state’s legislative session ended late last month.
Overall, there is a renewed focus on states as key actors in the American system of government, as they confront budget crises and try to manage their parts of the social safety net, all while trying to live up to Justice Louis Brandeis’ vision of them as laboratories of democracy.
Fueled by tea party power, freshman governors also have clashed with the Obama administration over issues including collective-bargaining rights for public employees and mandates for health care.
In the abstract, the Obama administration should be open to states’ concerns, what with the Cabinet including several former governors — Arizona’s Janet A. Napolitano at Homeland Security, Kansas’ Kathleen Sebelius at HHS, Washington’s Gary F. Locke at Commerce and Iowa’s Thomas J. Vilsack at Agriculture.
But Mrs. Brewer, a chief proponent of what has been termed “New Federalism,” said it has turned out to be anything but.
“You feel like you’re being snubbed. You feel like they don’t want to be a partner,” she said, adding that when she took office, she hoped to make working with the federal government a legacy of her tenure. “I was rebuked. It was like a pushback, and it’s hard to deal with because what can you do? You write letters, you write letters, you write letters, and you get no answers, you get no answers.”
She said she even raised the governor-snubbing issue with Mr. Obama in their Oval Office meeting last year, amid the furor over the state’s tough immigration law, which Mrs. Brewer signed April 23, 2010. She said the president said he wasn’t aware of the issue.
“He apologized,” she said. “He said that would never happen again.”
Late last month, however, Mr. Obama called a high-powered immigration meeting at the White House, inviting former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and others — but no Arizona officials.
“That in itself is bizarre,” Mrs. Brewer said. “An immigration summit and not asking someone at least from Arizona — I would have assumed it would be the governor.”
In Arizona, Mrs. Brewer’s push for state autonomy plays well, and state Democratic Party Chairman Andrei Cherny said he doesn’t fault her for asserting state prerogatives, but rather for the way she has gone about it.
“I agree that a state like Arizona should be able to make many decisions for itself. The issue is not whether she picked a fight with the federal government for political benefit, but whether she produced any results for the people of Arizona,” Mr. Cherny said.
“These efforts wasted precious time creating media shows and never-ending lawsuits — time she could have devoted to confronting the jobs crisis in Arizona or working on real solutions to deal with illegal immigration,” he said.