Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer moved quickly to staunch the bleeding from the legislature’s self-inflicted wound and has vetoed the bill that would have enshrined antigay discrimination as law. The measure would have provided a free pass to violate nondiscrimination laws if the laws violated their religious beliefs, or, in short, license to actively harm LGBT people by denying them access to all sorts of things. Brewer had plenty of reasons to veto the bill. Unfortunately, she cited the wrong ones.
She claimed that the measure was “broadly worded and could result in unintended and negative consequences.” True, if by unintended and negative consequences you mean that the bill exposed its supporters as the bigots they are. She also used the excuse that the bill wasn’t in line with her stated priorities. Yet, in her heart and in her veto statement, Brewer seems to sympathize with the measure’s supporters. “To the supporters of this legislation, I want you to know that I understand that long-held norms about marriage and family are being challenged as never before,” she said. “Our society is undergoing many dramatic changes, however, I sincerely believe that Senate Bill 1062 has the potential to create more problems than it purports to solve. It could divide Arizona in ways we cannot even imagine and nobody could ever want.” Brewer ended on some motherhood-and-apple-pie rhetoric about moving toward “a renewed search for greater respect and understanding among all Arizona and Americans.”
Now killing the measure is a good thing, even if it wasn’t done for exactly the right reasons. Unfortunately, Brewer blew her chance at making a real statement about tolerance that could have served as a blueprint for other politicians. Here are seven things she should have said instead.
1. The bill was bad for business. Brewer hinted at this by talking about how she wanted legislation that helps solidify the state’s reputation as “one of the best states to grow or start a business.” That’s a mild version of the truth. The business community hates the bill. Not only did the major business groups in Arizona, such as the state Chamber of Commerce, come out against the bill, but individual businesses like Marriott Hotels and American Airlines did as well. As a pro-business Republican, Brewer could have credibly argued that she was just following the opinion of the job-creators in her state.
2. It was the will of the party. Republicans in the state want her to veto the bill. A poll shows that a majority of rank-and-file Republicans in Arizona think that Brewer should veto the bill. The state’s two U.S. senators, Jeff Flake and John McCain, both Republicans, urged her to kill the measure. (Flake, to his credit, was one of the first out of the box with a call to veto the bill.) Even Republicans out of her state want the bill vetoed; Mitt Romney, not exactly a man of unwavering principle on gay issues, said that vetoing the measure “is right.”
3. We learn from our mistakes. The state has already been burned once, because of its law targeting undocumented aliens. Brewer presided over the disastrous after-effects of another idiotic law, which allowed law enforcement officials the right to stop anyone they thought was in the country illegally (or, in other words, anyone not white). That 2010 law, which Brewer signed, cost the state over $140 million in lost tourism and convention business, to say nothing of the damage to the state’s reputation. The state was already under the threat of losing the 2015 Super Bowl because of the bill.
4. The state has a libertarian tradition that the bill violates. As the bill itself amply illustrates, Arizona has a long tradition of guano-crazy conservativism. But it also has a history of libertarianism. The late Senator Barry Goldwater embodied both traditions — his 1964 presidential campaign was the wellspring of the modern conservative movement, but he was also an opponent of anti-gay discrimination, opposing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. Goldwater was also no fan of the religious right, saying that “Every good Christian ought to kick [Jerry] Falwell right in the ass.” Brewer could have done worse than cite Goldwater, who is revered in Arizona, as her inspiration for vetoing the bill.
5. Even the bill’s supporters had second thoughts. Three senators who voted for the bill are now urging Brewer to save them from themselves. Of course, this is a classic of having your cake and eating it too. But Brewer could have use the “heat of the moment” excuse to say, upon reflection, the bill went too far.
6. Republicans have to move beyond the culture wars. The party is doomed to losing national elections if it can’t shed its homophobic image. With her background, Brewer would have been the perfect person to deliver this message. She fought a court ruling that overturned the state’s ban on domestic partnership benefits for Arizona employees and signed an antigay adoption bill into law. If she acknowledged that the time had come to move on, she would have caused some real soul-searching among her followers. (She would also have gotten a raft of grief.)
7. It’s immoral. Okay, that’s the obvious reason to veto the bill. It’s the one Brewer was never likely to cite. While killing the bill is the most important thing, it would have been nice if Brewer made it clear that making discrimination legal is never acceptable. Too bad she couldn’t bring herself to do that.