- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer is feeling the heat after returning Tuesday to Phoenix from the National Governors Association meeting in Washington, D.C., and it’s not just the change in the climate.

The Republican governor finds herself in the middle of a pitched national battle over a religious freedom bill sitting on her desk that would allow business owners to refuse service based on their religious beliefs. Passed by the Republican-dominated state legislature to provide legal protection for merchants from being forced to provide services for gay weddings, the bill has been denounced by critics as a license to discriminate against gays and other groups that could prove disastrous for the state’s economy.

Ms. Brewer has until Saturday to decide whether to veto the bill, sign it, or allow it to become law without her signature.

She’s under heavy national pressure to veto the bill from gay rights groups, but the opposition isn’t just coming from the left. A poll by the GOP consulting group Coleman Dahm for the Arizona Capitol Times released Tuesday showed that 57 percent of state Republicans, including Sens. John McCain and Jeff Flake, favor a veto while just 28 percent want her to sign the bill.

“Clearly, the electorate thinks that there are other priorities in Arizona. Anything that would hamper the economic recovery such as discriminatory extremist legislation will not be tolerated by the majority of Republican voters in the state,” said pollster Bert Coleman.

Longtime political adviser Chuck Coughlin told NBC that she’s likely to veto the measure because it doesn’t fit with her legislative priorities.

“She doesn’t want to take any actions that could jeopardize the economic momentum we’ve seen here in Arizona,” another person close to the governor told NBC.

A host of business organizations, as well as corporate giants such as Apple Computer and American Airlines, have also urged her to veto the measure, as has the Arizona Super Bowl Host Committee, which is preparing to host the NFL championship in 2015.

“[A] key part of the mission for the Arizona Super Bowl Host Committee is to promote the economic vitality of Arizona,” said the committee in a Monday statement. “On that matter we have heard loud and clear from our various stakeholders that adoption of this legislation would not only run contrary to that goal, but deal a significant blow to the state’s economic growth potential.”

The bill’s backers say the opposition has engaged in a disinformation campaign, saying the primary thrust of the bill is to strengthen the legal rights of legal rights of business owners seeking to observe their religious and moral beliefs.

“What’s happened is our opponents have employed a new political tactic, and it’s working,” Cathi Herrod, president of the conservative Center for Arizona Policy, told Fox News. “Throw out the threat of a boycott to attempt to defeat a bill, and you might just be able to be successful.

The threat to the state’s economy in the form of a national boycott is likely to resonate with Ms. Brewer, who has fought to expand job growth in the aftermath of the Great Recession, followed by a national tourism boycott in reaction to an anti-illegal immigration bill she signed in 2010.

Even three state Republican senators who voted for the bill said Monday that the measure has become more trouble than it’s worth.

“While our sincere intent in voting for this bill was to create a shield for all citizens’ religious liberties, the bill has instead been mischaracterized by its opponents as a sword for religious intolerance,” said the senators in a letter. “These allegations are causing our state immeasurable harm.”

Meanwhile, the bill’s proponents have mounted a strong counterattack in favor of the bill. On Tuesday, conservative radio talk-show host Rush Limbaugh said Ms. Brewer is being “bullied” into vetoing the measure, known as Senate Bill 1062.

“She’s being bullied by the nationwide drive-by media, she’s being bullied by certain elements of corporate America in order to advance the gay agenda,” said Mr. Limbaugh. “I guess in that circumstance bullying is admirable. In fact, this kind of bullying is honorable.”



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