Gov. Jan Brewer distanced herself on Friday from a series of Republican proposals in the Arizona Senate that could devastate organized labor in her state, saying she was never consulted on them and has other priorities.
The popular Republican had remained silent on the matter since the bills were introduced on Monday, but her chief spokesman began talking to the media after it became clear the union proposals stood to drown out everything the governor wanted to see happen during the legislative session.
In particular, spokesman Matthew Benson told TPM that the governor wants the legislature to take up her plan to make it easier for the state government to fire workers.
“The governor has said that she will not take action on these union bills until the personnel package is on her desk,” Benson said. “So when we see these new proposals coming out and all the talk about those, she just wants to make it clear that her priority is the personnel reform.”
The union proposals were the brainchild of the Goldwater Institute, a conservative think tank in Phoenix that worked with state Sen. Rick Murphy (R) to craft the legislation. The sweeping measures would ban collective bargaining and other mechanisms for public employee unions at the state, county and municipal levels.
A staffer at the Goldwater Institute said the union restrictions that became law last year in Wisconsin, setting off widespread protests and a Democratic effort to recall Republican Gov. Scott Walker, would look “modest” compared to Arizona’s bills.
Because of that, the Arizona bills quickly gained national attention and sent unions in Arizona scrambling to figure out how to defeat them. The director of Arizona’s AFL-CIO said her organization was already planning a large scale protest at the Arizona Capitol.
But before the bills were floated, Brewer had already proposed some major ideas that would affect state employees. She wanted to give some workers their first raise in years if they agreed to give up the right to appeal punishments or firings. She also wanted to consolidate the various personnel systems in the executive branch into a single system.
The governor had yet to find someone in the legislature to take up her cause when the new union bills appeared. Benson said the governor’s office had little to no notice that the bills were going to be introduced.
“I certainly wasn’t aware of it,” Benson said. “But I can’t speak to whether any staffer was ever given a heads up. I mean, that’s a pretty low bar. When you say ‘heads up’ does that mean the morning of introduction? A phone call? I can’t say one way or the other.
“All I can tell you definitively is that the office, that there was no coordination with the governor or her office in the development of those bills.”
Benson stopped short of saying what the governor would do if the union bills were sent to her ahead of her pet proposals, insisting that he didn’t want to “theorize.” He also declined to speculate what Brewer would do if the legislature passed her proposals along with the union bills.
“If they come to her,” he said, “she will weigh them on the merits.”
Nick Martin is an associate editor at TPM in New York City. He came to the site in 2011 as a reporter for TPMMuckraker. Previously, he worked in Arizona, first as a staff reporter for a local newspaper and later as a freelance journalist. He also ran the news blog Heat City. Contact him: nick [at] talkingpointsmemo.com