Arizona Guv’s appearance brews up controversy

But Republican candidate for AG calls Brewer a role model
The Colardo Statesman

When Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer was relaxing in her room at the Westin Denver Downtown Hotel Thursday night, she discovered that the press in Colorado is indeed alive and kicking, especially after eyeing some of the left-leaning blogs and liberal websites which earlier that day had blasted her rumored appearance at a fundraiser for Republican Attorney General candidate Cynthia Coffman the next day.

One Colorado, the leading statewide advocacy group for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Coloradans, and ProgressNow Colorado, an online progressive advocacy organization, called on Coffman to immediately cancel the event. But it went on as planned, and proved a testament to the gutsy women power congregated in a private dining room at The Palm restaurant outside the hotel’s lobby.

“Most recently, Gov. Brewer and her staff helped engineer a controversial bill allowing discrimination against gays and lesbians — before having to reverse course in the face of nationwide outcry,” proclaimed ProgressNow Colorado executive director Amy Runyon-Harms on May 1.

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, left, and Cynthia Coffman, Republican candidate for Colorado Attorney General, pose at The Palm restaurant in downtown Denver where cartoons and caricatures of local celebrities and well known luminaries dot the walls of the iconic dining establishment. Brewer was in Denver May 2 for an event for Coffman.

In a press release on the same day, she recounted how Brewer lost a major battle before the U.S. Supreme Court when the justices refused to allow a law ending domestic partner benefits in Arizona to take effect.

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer is flanked by Sean Duffy, who in 2006 headed up Coloradans for Fairness and Equality in support of same-sex marriage; Joe Megyesy, who now works at the Gill Foundation; and Mario Nicolais, a GOP state senate candidate and former spokesman for Coloradans for Freedom, which advocated for passage of civil unions legislation in the state.

“Rather than focus on issues Arizonans care about like the economy and education, Brewer spends her time crusading against LGBT people, attacking Planned Parenthood, disparaging immigrants, and fighting against health care reform for her own citizens,” Runyon-Harms charged.

Former Colorado First Lady Frances Owens, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer and former U.S. Senate candidate Jane Norton at The Palm for Coffman’s campaign fundraiser.

One Colorado executive director Dave Montez also weighed in. “With 61 percent of Coloradans now supporting the freedom to marry for gay and lesbian couples, we are perplexed that Coffman would stand against thousands of our families and align herself with such a radical, right-wing poster child,” he decried.

Coffman said she recognizes that Colorado is not Arizona, and she doesn’t automatically agree with the lightning rod governor on absolutely every single thing. But she called Brewer one of her role models and was clearly proud to have her as the special guest at her campaign event.

Cynthia Coffman, the Republican nominee for Attorney General, shares a laugh with Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, also a Republican, at a fundraising luncheon for Coffman in Denver on May 2.

It had been a very momentous week for the current deputy attorney general. On Monday, Coffman’s primary opponent, state Rep. Mark Waller, R-Colorado Springs, unexpectedly bowed out of the AG’s race after narrowly gaining ballot access at the state assembly roughly two weeks before. He said he did it for the sake of party unity. Coffman told her luncheon guests that she was somewhat surprised, although she had heard about the possibility. Rumors were floating that some folks had asked Waller to consider dropping out so that Coffman could become the official Republican nominee and begin her statewide campaign against Democratic candidate Don Quick, a former Adams County district attorney.

Joe Megyesy, former spokesman for Cynthia Coffman’s husband, U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman, is at left of the AG candidate, and Mario Nicolais, a candidate for a state senate seat in Jefferson County, is at right.

“I am grateful to Mark,” Coffman said, “for clearing the way for me.”

Molly Vogt, right, a field coordinator for Americans for Prosperity in Colorado, nabs a souvenir photo with Gov. Jan Brewer on May 2.
Photos by Jody Hope Strogoff/The Colorado Statesman

That was just four days earlier, Coffman marveled, and now she had the opportunity to celebrate with Gov. Brewer and friends at this second major campaign event. “Great to have a party planned!” she gleefully remarked.

Brewer was equally jubilant and said she wasn’t going to allow the critical Denver media to have the final word. At the fundraising luncheon May 2, the feisty Republican officeholder from Arizona shot back after praising Coffman as “absolutely the best qualified candidate I’ve seen in a long time.”

Brewer remembered her chance meeting with Coffman in Washington, D.C. earlier this year. “Sitting there, speaking to her on one to one basis, you knew that this was... dynamite in a little box. She knew what she was doing, where she was going… she will work hard,” Brewer said, and that is important.

“You have to have that fire in the belly and your supporters have to have the fire in the belly because they have to carry you home,” she advised.

The Governor, who said she has run for office in 24 primary and general elections and never lost even one, told Coffman to always be honest, to be a “truth teller.” Brewer credited her own mother for being such a strong role model and for prodding her to work hard. “Doing the right thing almost always means doing the hard thing,” Brewer added. “You can’t just go along to git along.”

Brewer then shared some of the tough circumstances she has had to endure during her time in office, some which have been widely chronicled in the media. She singled out the Denver press and social media for chastising her unfairly.

“They [the liberal press] brought up some things I thought were quite interesting because sometimes things are just not always presented in the newspaper in the reality that they happened,” Brewer diplomatically told several dozen Coffman enthusiasts at The Palm. “Surprise, surprise.”

Brewer candidly acknowledged that — to the mild chagrin of her staff — she typically peeks at blogs and political news sites in the middle of the night so she can monitor what they’re saying about her.

She was well prepared to counter the numerous inaccuracies she alleged in Colorado’s collective local media and blogosphere.

Brewer explained that the firestorm surrounding one of the much criticized bills on domestic partners rights had nothing to do with any hatred on her part of the lifestyles of gays; rather, she insisted, her state was undergoing a severe financial crisis at the time and Arizona could not afford to pay for the measure.

Senate Bill 1070, a controversial immigration bill, likewise ignited another firestorm, Brewer admitted, but she staunchly defended it. “We are a border state,” Brewer said, “and we have borders for a reason.”

While she knows there are some people who cross the border each day from Mexico to go back and forth to work, citizens in her state have been forced to defend against all kinds of major problems stemming from illegal immigration: drug cartels, sex trafficking, extortion, kidnapping, rape, she cited as examples. Citizens who live on the border are deeply afraid, she said — women walk around in their homes with guns on their hips. They do not feel safe.

Arizona’s HB 1070 simply and very clearly mirrors the federal law that has not been enforced, Brewer maintained. The borders have been secured in other states, such as in Texas and California, but Brewer said illegals have been allowed to cross into Arizona. “They have not enforced [the borders] and we know why,” Brewer said. “They want voters.”

Her most recent, and well documented controversy, surrounded Arizona’s SB 1062 to amend an existing law to give any individual or legal entity an exemption from any state law if it substantially burdened their exercise of religion, including Arizona law requiring public accommodation.

It was one of several similar bills in state legislatures across the country allowing individuals to refuse service based on religion, with some bills specifically protecting religious disapproval of same-sex marriage.

Brewer said that this legislation was “unfortunately misrepresented in the newspapers once again.”

She recalled how she initially went over the bill with her policy people and thought it “was simply not a good bill. I said it would not be good for Arizona. Whatever you do, kill it,” she said she instructed her legislative advisors, despite the fact that it was supported by the Republican-controlled Arizona legislature.

“The next thing I know, I left on the plane that morning [for Washington, D.C.], the bill was out of the house and out of the senate and up to my office.

“Boy, that bill had Crisco on it,” Brewer quipped.

The governor said she listened to both sides upon returning to her office, and “the faith-based community and a majority of all agreed with me that the thing to do was veto. We won’t let Americans discriminate,” she said forcefully. Her decision was not based on what the business community necessarily wanted, she said. “It was a bad bill.”

“I didn’t like if I could walk into Duncan Donuts and if I wanted a donut, they could discriminate against me maybe because of my hips,” Brewer said jokingly about the topic to make her point.

While much of the discussion on Friday centered on some of her controversial actions in office, Brewer stressed her support for the candidacy of Coffman, whom she met in Washington while she was attending a National Governors Association meeting and Coffman was in town for a National Attorneys General Association conference in February.

Coffman recounted their chance meeting in the lobby of the Ritz Carlton Hotel in the nation’s capital. “I looked over, ‘Oh my gosh it’s Jan Brewer.’ I don’t get awed very often, and having been around politics and having worked for a governor or two and an attorney general, it just doesn’t impress me as much as it used to,” Coffman acknowledged. “But Governor Brewer impressed me incredibly, as a woman, as a candidate,” said Coffman.

“Folks have cautioned me about [placing] too much emphasis on being a woman running for office [and how] I ought to let that speak for itself,” Coffman disclosed.

But she couldn’t resist.

“I am extraordinarily excited to be a Republican woman,” Coffman asserted. “You are one of my role models and heroes,” she said to Brewer. “And there are not a lot of us. There are some divas among my Republican female elected officials.”

Coffman presumed, she said — “perhaps naively so” — that when she announced for office that all these Republican women would come out of the woodwork to be supportive. But that was not exactly the case, Coffman lamented.

“In 2012, I was disappointed in the debates but more so because of the way women and women’s issues were handled. Not intentionally, but awkwardly,” Coffman reflected. “I want to be part of correcting that force.”

Coffman said that if elected to the statewide AG post in November, she will gladly showcase the fact that she is a female Republican officeholder. It is, she said, “one of my primary motives honestly for running.”

But she also pointed to her strong biography as the primary reason for her candidacy.

Coffman has served as chief deputy in the Colorado attorney general’s office for the last 9 years. “I have respect for my boss John Suthers, but also for the office, too. This is an extraordinary important position to hold, especially in a state where we have a Democratic governor. The attorney general is a check and balance…. Whatever happens in November we need to keep this seat,” she stated.

“I want to be AG for that reason and to protect the constitution,” she stressed.

Tickets to Friday’s fundraiser went from $100 for an individual all the way up to $1,100 to serve as a host and be seated with the visiting governor.

Jody@coloradostatesman.com