By Connie Wardman
If you’re an Arizona resident, 2014 started off with a frustratingly accurate commentary by Mike McClellan, a contributing columnist for the East Valley Tribune. On January 20 he posted that “Our state legislature’s back in session. Be afraid, be very afraid,” because he notes that if this session goes as normal, “we’ll see a bunch of nutty bills come to the surface, ammunition for comedians and pundits to once again point out that Arizona is, as Jon Stewart calls us, ‘the meth lab of democracy’”
Sad to say, both Stewart and McClellan are right on target. But the silver lining in this, at least for now is that the controversial SB 1062, euphemistically referred to as the “religious liberty bill,” was vetoed by Arizona Governor Jan Brewer. It would have allowed any business, church or person to use this law as a defense in any action brought by the government or individual claiming discrimination.
In her February 26th announcement that she was vetoing the bill, Brewer said “To the supporters of the legislation, I want you to know that I understand that long-held norms about marriage and family are being challenged as never before. Our society is undergoing many dramatic changes.” Pic of Brewer vetoing bill
Brewer continued by saying, “However, I sincerely believe that Senate Bill 1062 has the potential to create more problems than it purports to solve. It could divide Arizona in ways we cannot even imagine and no one would ever want.” She also noted that she had “not heard of one example in Arizona where a business owner’s religious liberty has been violated.”
While this might sound promising on the surface, it’s clear that not all Arizona lawmakers agree that discrimination is against the law. Not wanting the dramatic societal changes that Brewer mentioned, ones that provide equality for all the state’s citizens, they use their power to maintain the status quo through laws that protect discriminators from being discriminated against for their own discriminatory behavior.
In fact, many supporters of the veto believe the outcome would have been different had it not been for the timing involved. Brewer was in Washington, D.C. at the National Governors Association meeting when the Republican-controlled state legislature passed the measure – she didn’t return to Arizona until the next Tuesday.
Republicans passed the bill without it showing up in advance on the agenda. But it appears their timing was off. If they had waited until Brewer was in town, it would have offered an opportunity for the bill to be quickly approved before the opposition could mount a defense.
Since Brewer was out of town, though, it meant that the very swift and vocal backlash the bill caused had time to build. And the backlash came not just from LGBT groups but also the business community. It quickly became a national issue with clips of demonstrations by LGBT organizations and the local gay community at the state capitol and vocal opposition led by the business community being aired regularly.
No matter what Brewer may have felt about the bill personally, many believe that the timing of SB 1062’s passing left her precious little ground to justify approving the bill. In fact, the outcry against SB 1062 was so vehement that the three Republicans who sponsored and voted for the bill, Nancy Barto, Bob Worsley and Steve Yarbrough, said they regretted it and asked Brewer to veto it.
Worsley pleaded a lack of judgment in voting for it as did state senator Steve Pierce, a Prescott Republican. It seems that they went along with the bill expecting it to be vetoed when it went to Brewer. But the uproar caused that plan to go out the window. However, that doesn’t mean that Yarbrough, the author of the bill, is willing to back down. He said “I have to give credit to the opponents who have managed to turn this into some sort of a discrimination bill against gays. It couldn’t be further from that.”
What later surfaced were documents showing that Brewer’s staff had worked with supporters of the bill to help shape the controversial legislation for six weeks prior to it being passed. Beginning in January the governor’s top aides, including her attorney, policy adviser and legislative liaison began to work on the bill with the powerful conservative social nonprofit, The Center for Arizona Policy.
While many contend that this action showed prior approval of the bill on the part of the governor and her staff, in response to a request by The Arizona Republic, in the pages of emails, memos and other records they turned over covering SB 1062 there was nothing that indicated that Brewer had a direct involvement in the negotiations.
Cathi Herrod, president of the Center for Arizona Policy, said “As always with the governor and her team, there are never any guarantees given — no promises were made ahead of time. The intention of the meetings was to thoroughly vet the language with the governor’s team to hear their concerns about any of the drafting, to respond to questions and to make any changes that they suggested to the bill’s language.”
It’s sad to note that in spite of all this, the LGBT community still has little protection in Arizona in spite of years of education and lobbying efforts at many levels, leaving individuals exposed and vulnerable – human rights, protection for the disenfranchised – these concerns just don’t appear to carry much weight in Arizona. But when business speaks, now people listen. And speak is just what the business sector did.
Response to the bill from Corporate America was immediate. American Airlines, AT&T, Delta Airlines, Intel, Marriott, PetSmart, Starwood, Yelp and other national corporations, a number of them part of the Fortune 500, urged Brewer to veto the bill. They noted that the law would not only be bad for business but it would also give the state’s reputation another black eye, like the one following its Martin Luther King Jr. holiday debacle.
In 1993 the city of Tempe lost the Super Bowl when Arizona refused to honor the MLK national holiday. It wasn’t until after the state’s voters finally voted in the holiday that the city was approved to host the 1996 Super Bowl. [See the following story – “Pottie Wars” for coverage on similar controversial Arizona legislation.]
In a letter to Brewer, American Airlines CEO Doug Parker wrote that “I can assure you that this proposed legislation is causing tremendous concerns for our employees, particularly those who live and work in Arizona.” And Intel, with nearly 12,000 employees in Arizona, said the bill directly conflicted with its own non-discrimination policy, which “values and welcomes diversity in the workplace.”
Additional companies urging Brewer to veto SB 1062 included Apple which had just announced plans to build a new glass plant in Mesa that would create 2,000 new jobs; Major League Baseball; and the Arizona Super Bowl Host Committee, the latter saying that “We share the NFL’s core values which embrace tolerance, diversity, inclusiveness and prohibit discrimination. We have heard loud and clear from our various stakeholders that adoption of this legislation would not only run contrary to that goal but deal a significant blow to the state’s economic growth potential.”
Just as Arizona is finally beginning to recover from the recession, business development groups expressed to Brewer their concern that it would scare off new companies from relocating to Arizona, causing another major blow to the state’s economy. More than 80 businesses sent a letter to Brewer a day before she vetoed the bill, saying that “When the legislature passes bills like this, it creates a reputation that Arizona is judgmental and unwelcoming. This will haunt our business community for decades to come.”
One immediate economic blow came from the Hispanic National Bar Association (HNBA), announcing it was canceling its annual convention in Phoenix in September 2015 because of the bill. HNBA president Miguel Alexander Pozo issued a statement saying that “As a national association of lawyers committed to promoting the ideals of equal protection, equal opportunity, tolerance, and inclusiveness, it is imperative that we speak up and take immediate action in the presence of injustice.”
Just as with SB 1045, the infamous “pottie bill,” similar measures to Arizona’s SB 1062 are being debated in several other states at this time, including Georgia, Kansas and Missouri. If one state can rule in favor of gay discrimination, it will set the precedent for other like-minded states to follow suit.
Ghandi once said that “The true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members.” We can only hope that the outcome of all this furor is that people in Arizona and around the world will start to recognize that discrimination