They are two little words, but some critics of Janet Napolitano believe they say so much about her leadership as Arizona’s governor.
“GO JANET!” was Napolitano’s election slogan last year. So some political insiders were startled to see the words printed at the end of a five-page report summarizing a set of recommendations to reform Child Protective Services.
The June 30 report came from what was supposed to be a nonpartisan advisory commission filled with experts from law enforcement, social services and the courts.
For Noreen Sharp, a former adviser to the governor, “GO JANET!” was a common phrase of encouragement dating back to when Napolitano was state attorney general.
But for some critics, the words declared the commission had fulfilled a political mission for Napolitano as a Democrat, instead of a policy directive to serve Arizona.
Republican leaders have complained about Napolitano’s leadership strategies from her first day in office. But recent events have critics claiming that Napolitano is filling government jobs and issuing directives to expand the fortunes of her party and her ambitions.
“It’s very well-known that she was wants to be back in Washington, D.C., at the national level. Everything she has done has been calculated to try to move her to that level,” said Rep. Eddie Farnsworth, R-Gilbert, the House floor leader.
But supporters and some independent observers said the cries of Republican leaders ring hollow. Former press secretaries for the two prior Republican governors said such concerns always trailed their bosses.
“It’s not only that you’re the top politician in the state, you’re the titular head of your party,” said Doug Cole, press aide to former Gov. Fife Symington. “It’s a political job. The team she has assembled is more akin to an activist governor like Gov. Symington was. Symington was criticized for the same thing.”
Napolitano declined to be interviewed for this story, but a spokesman for the governor’s office said Napolitano won’t be shy about pursuing her agenda.
“It’s not surprising that we would get that sort of complaint from elected
officials or public officials who have political views that are very, very different from the governor,” spokesman Paul Allvin said.
In some cases, charges of politics disguised as policy deal with Napolitano’s style. Examples include Napolitano’s use of her appearance at a Phoenix convention of Hispanic elected officials to veto a bill opposed by many Hispanic leaders.
But critics also accuse Napolitano of flouting state law and the Arizona Constitution in the process.
Napolitano has been sued by Republican lawmakers for 13 line-item vetoes to the 2003-04 budget. She has been sued by a separate group of lawmakers for an executive order that forbids discrimination against gays and lesbians who seek employment in most state agencies.
Such lawsuits are rare, and critics said two at the same time could be a first in Arizona. But another activist Democrat, Gov. Bruce Babbitt, was the target of fierce complaints 20 years ago about his vetoes of bills adopted by another Republican-controlled Legislature.
“What you have now is that part of the lesson plan where the children have histrionics because you’ve told them, ‘No, you can’t do that,’ ” said Alfredo Gutierrez, leader of the Senate Democrats during Babbitt’s tenure. “After a period of time, they will learn.”
There also are concerns about actions by political appointees, highlighted by the controversy over the renaming of Squaw Peak as Piestewa Peak in Phoenix. Mario Diaz, a deputy chief of staff for the governor, tried to pressure the former chairman of a state board who opposed the action by calling the man’s employer.
Last week, Republicans were outraged when Lydia Aranda, director of small business services at the state Commerce Department, sent out about 40 e-mails promoting a political training seminar called “Camp Napolitano.” And “GO JANET!” is included in the CPS report. Sharp left the governor’s office as previously scheduled when the report was released.
Cole said it appears each case involved isolated errors where eager supporters departed from proper behavior.
“People get very passionate when they work in administrations, especially when you have a big change like this,” Cole said. “Democrats have been out of power for a very long time. They are excited, and they believe in their boss, the governor. People make mistakes, and they need to be corrected. People (in the media) report them, and then we move to the next thing.”
But Sen. Dean Martin, R-Phoenix, said such “mistakes” point to a larger agenda when no one loses a job.
“If nothing happens for doing this, then it doesn’t matter if you’re at the top or the bottom, because the top has OK’d it,” Martin said.