With the state’s tourism industry under seige in the wake of a new law aimed at illegal immigrants, Gov. Jan Brewer is moving to “reposition” Arizona’s brand and image.
But no one is sure yet exactly what that involves.
Brewer, following a closed-door meeting Thursday of representatives of about three dozen tourism groups, said she’s not sure exactly what Arizona can do to counteract the effect of calls by various groups across the country to boycott the state in the wake of her signing the toughest law on illegal immigration in the nation.
At the very least, Brewer wants the group, which will meet for the next two weeks, to figure out how to combat the “mistruths” the governor believes have been told about the new law. And she wants some action soon.
In just the first week after Brewer signed the bill, 19 meetings scheduled for the state were cancelled according to Debbie Johnson, president of both the Arizona Hotel and Lodging Association and the Arizona Tourism Alliance. That represents more than 15,000 room nights, with an economic impact of more than $6 million to the state.
Johnson said she hopes to have updated figures today.
Brewer is both unhappy and mystified that any group would cancel its Arizona meetings, citing various national polls which show that a majority of those questioned say they support the tough new law scheduled to take effect July 29.
A key provision of the legislation requires police, when practicable, to check the immigration status of anyone they reasonably believe to be in the country illegally. Another section effectively makes being in this country illegally a violation of state law.
Foes of the measure say that is likely to lead to racial profiling, even after the law was amended to specifically preclude officers from using race, ethnicity or national origin as a reason for questioning someone.
Johnson said there are no clear ideas yet of what rebranding Arizona’s image will look like.
“We’re going to put together a task force to start to look at all our different options and what we can do to help bring back a positive image of Arizona,” Johnson said.
All of that comes at a cost. Johnson said, though, meeting participants have “no idea” of the price tag.
“That’s one of the things we need to look at: the money and where it’s going to come from and what we’re going to be able to do with it,” she said.
Brewer is willing to prime the pump.
“We are going to try to get some money moved from the Department of Commerce over to the Office of Tourism,” the governor said. Johnson said, though, the businesses that benefit from tourism are going to have to dig into their wallets, too.
She said the two associations she runs each have already put in $10,000.
“That doesn’t seem like much,” she conceded. “But for little non-profits, that’s something.”
Two things, however, are not on the table.
The first would be to repeal SB 1070 before it takes effect. Brewer has said that’s not an option. And Johnson said that suggestion wasn’t made by anyone at the meeting.
The other is a counter-boycott.
Brewer acknowledged that officials in several California cities, including San Diego, Los Angeles and San Francisco, have passed resolutions saying they will boycott Arizona businesses. But she won’t urge Arizonans to stay away from those cities.
“I would never encourage someone to hurt or harm innocent people,” she said.
The governor said she believes that, after the initial reaction against the law, some of that may now be turning around.
“We have seen people come forward who have recanted on their statements,” Brewer said.
“The public is seeing that because they were led down a path and they hadn’t read the bill,” the governor continued. “Now they realize that, for lack of a better word, they kind of stepped in it, and now they’re recanting.”
Her staff cited Marco Rubio, a candidate for U.S. Senate in Florida.
He initially said his state should not enact “laws like this” which he termed “far out.” But Rubio backtracked, applauding Brewer for signing the bill and saying he would support a similar law for his home state.
And Brewer said the work of the task force, which will include some members of her staff, already has a head start.
“I will tell you, there are thousands of people that have sent me e-mails and have participated on Facebook and (made) phone calls saying they’re coming to Arizona because of the boycott,” Brewer said.