Arizona's Republican lawmakers deserve commendation for this year's legislative session. Sure, there were the usual glitches and an embarrassing incident or two, but they succeeded overall in advancing an agenda of limited government, economic growth and education reform.
An unexpected hail of vetoes from Gov. Brewer tore gaping holes in their accomplishments. The governor vetoed measures for spending limitations, Second Amendment rights and religious freedom. She dumped bills promoting privatization of public services, school choice and free-market health care reforms. It was surprising and disheartening, to put it mildly.
For example, fiscal conservatives have long wished for an effective budget spending cap. You can argue all day about the effects of tax cuts, unfunded mandates and unexpected recessions, but the numbers don't lie. If Arizona, during the Napolitano years, had limited government spending to the rate of growth of the rest of the state, our long-running budget crisis would never have happened.
To oppose such a limit amounts to endorsing the endless growth of government. So the Legislature passed a statutory budget cap based, sensibly enough, on population growth plus inflation. Gov. Brewer claimed to support the principle, but deemed this mechanism "too restrictive" despite its safeguards against emergencies. Down it went.
Another long time priority for those hoping to counter Obama-care with free market health care reforms was the opening of the health insurance market to interstate sales. After all, other lines of insurance are sold across state lines without problems. Why not open up medical insurance to more choice and competition and permit buyers to avoid expensive mandates that drive up the cost of premiums?
This too met an unhappy end. The governor opined that our 32 mandates resulted from years of "careful legislative scrutiny" (translation: intense lobbying from interest groups like chiropractors) and should be treated with respect. Folks losing their AHCCCS coverage might have appreciated the chance to buy low-cost insurance even without some of the bells and whistles.
It went on and on. Bills were vetoed that would have required competitive bidding for city services over $500,000 (why don't they do that already?) and that prohibited political activity on the job by public employees (they allow that?). One veto saved us all from the danger of sparklers. Another threw under the bus 10,000 needy children who were on waiting lists for scholarships to private schools. She even vetoed a follow-up bill with the same purpose although it would have undoubtedly saved the state money.
Why did she do it? The veto messages weren't very informative with their one-size-fits-all critiques like "poorly written" and "riddled with shortcomings" with dark references to "unintended consequences". It's likely the winners of the veto wars - public employees unions, health insurance companies and nanny state spenders - somehow got her ear. Maybe she just tired of the public taunting and wanted to prove she was more powerful than Sen. Russell Pearce.
Of course the governor has the right to her opinions and obviously the right to veto legislation. Some vetoes were justified. But two aspects of the debacle still rankle.
First, her attitude toward the Legislature was reminiscent of Janet Napolitano's, who specialized in deceiving and tormenting the lawmakers, her political enemies. Why haughtily refuse to comment on legislation before it's passed (her stated policy) when some respectful communication with allies could have been so productive?
Second, she's governing differently than she campaigned. If Arizonans had wanted a governor who vetoed bills for spending restraint, school choice and free-market health reform while pushing tax increases, they could have chosen one. But it wouldn't have been Jan Brewer. She deceived those who supported her based on the principles they thought she would work for.
Working politicians very seldom are able to achieve clear-cut success in achieving their goals. The time isn't right, the opposition is too strong, compromises must be made, progress comes in fits and starts. Gov. Brewer had that rare opportunity. She could have become a historic difference maker just by signing some of the landmark bills her legislative colleagues produced.
Instead, she whiffed. Maybe next year.
• East Valley resident Tom Patterson (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a retired physician and former state senator