People in Arizona remember a different Jan Brewer from the tough-talking Republican governor at the center of the bitter immigration debate swirling out of her state. If politicians have multiple lives, her previous ones showed a much more personable presence — one pundit called her “delightful.” Not eloquent but engaging, not book-smart but pragmatic, Brewer would often crack jokes in boring committee meetings when she was a state legislator, trading punch lines with another lawmaker who acted as the comedic foil. The exchanges reminded some of scenes with Lucy and Ethel in I Love Lucy more than legislative debate.
“That’s the Jan Brewer I had experienced that I think is more at her core,” says Bob Grossfeld, of Tempe, Ariz., a longtime Democratic strategist who is now the publisher of ArizonaGuardian.com, which covers the state capitol. “What we’re seeing now is a highly manicured and choreographed Jan Brewer — probably not unlike a Sarah Palin, who was thrust into the national spotlight and had never been there before.” Grossfeld is referring to what local political wonks are calling Brewer 2.0. Once more a fiscal conservative than a social one, she has decoded Arizona’s political landscape and is riding the immigration issue, even though it came to her almost by accident. Now, “the potential for her to make a long-term impact on Arizona is unprecedented,” says Phoenix-based GOP strategist Kevin DeMenna, who worked with Brewer at the state senate.
It is an astonishing transformation for a woman who holds the office of governor by virtue of succession, not election, and is virtually assured of winning the Republican nomination once again in Tuesday’s gubernatorial primary. In early 2009, Brewer was secretary of state and her job was largely administrative (“Did you fill out your voter registration?” “Have you filed your lobbyist-registration paperwork lately?”). But she found herself entering the governor’s office in place of Democrat Janet Napolitano, who left Arizona to become President Barack Obama’s Homeland Security chief. It was the fifth time in Arizona’s history that such a constitutional succession had taken place. It was also an ironic outcome given Brewer’s previous legislative attempts to create a lieutenant-governor position because she did not feel that being secretary of state qualified someone to be governor.