President Obama traveled to Phoenix, Arizona Tuesday to give a speech on federal housing policy as part of his effort to shift Washington’s focus back to improving the still-struggling economy. Obama unveiled a plan to wind down the role of government-sponsored mortgage finance firms Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and make it easier for homeowners to refinance at lower rates.
But sunny weather and signs of a recovery are not all that await the President in the Grand Canyon State. President Obama was once again greeted on the tarmac by Arizona Governor and self-proclaimed scorpion eater, Jan Brewer—the same Jan Brewer who last year greeted the President by waving her finger in his face.
But Brewer is more than just a Republican firebrand. A closer look at her tenure as Governor shows two Jan Brewers. One is a politician caught up in her party’s national anti-Obama hysteria, and the other is a pragmatic executive, using the full powers of her office to put money in the pockets of her constituents—even if that means supporting the president.
The first Jan Brewer not only argues with the president when he visits her state, but continues to fundraise off the encounter nearly two years later. As reported at the time, Brewer was defending a passage in her book in which she accused the President of being “patronizing” and “lecturing her” about immigration reform. In the aftermath of the exchange, Brewer’s Amazon book sales grew over 1.3 million percent—shooting to number 21 on the Amazon bestseller list. And Brewer continues to cash in on her pointed exchange with the President. Just last week, Brewer sent out a fundraising email asking the Obama administration what they are “hiding” about illegal immigration—an email featuring her wagging finger.
But the other Brewer is a lot more eager to implement the president’s agenda, even if it means fighting members of her own party in the statehouse. In June, Arizona became one of two dozen states to expand Medicaid coverage to residents below 133% of the poverty line as part of the Affordable Care Act. Brewer not only supported the legislation, but went so far as to force a vote in the statehouse over the objections of most of her Republican colleagues. As Fernanda Santos writes in the New York Times, Brewer threatened to “veto any bill brought before her until the expansion was voted on” and held a “last-minute…legislative special session to force the vote.”
The expansion is expected to have a direct impact on Arizona’s economy. According to the Arizona-based Grand Canyon Institute, it will give more than 50,000 Arizonans access to insurance, create 21,000 jobs, and save the state $1.2 billion dollars. Adding patients to Medicaid rolls also has the added bonus of benefiting the health care providers who fill Brewer’s campaign coffers. According to FEC reports, Brewer’s PAC raised $30,000 from health industry donors in the first half of 2013. Ten thousand of those dollars came from the Chairman of Vanguard Health Systems, which operates six Arizona hospitals.
Brewer’s quagmire is not unlike many Republican Governors. On the national stage, where they only have to answer to the polarizing forces of media attention and party donors, state elected officials have every reason to define their political agenda in exclusively anti-Obama terms. But unlike their counterparts in Congress or the state legislatures, Republican Governors are directly responsible for the policies they implement. The same boogeymen they campaign against in the abstract (Obamacare, the stimulus) often benefit their constituents in the concrete. Obama Florida Governor Rick Scott, for example, also tried to take on his own party to expand Medicaid enrollment, but was unsuccessful.
And such is the paradox of the modern Republican Party: enacting their agenda requires bucking the very people who put them in office. Perhaps if Brewer wants to be successful, she should be worrying less about the scorpions in her breakfast bowl, and more about the ones in her own party.