A.B. Stoddard: An easy veto in Arizona

Editor's Note: Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer announced a veto of S.B. 1062 prior to the release of the print edition of this column. 

It’s hard to recall a GOP bill passing a state legislature that was so fetid and politically foolish it prompted national Republicans to wage a campaign to stop it from becoming law. But Arizona’s newest stink bomb — S.B. 1062, to permit businesses, on religious grounds, to legally refuse service to gay customers — has succeeded in doing just that.

It could all be over in a matter of days if Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer takes the advice of her state’s two U.S. senators, 2012 GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), the business community, her close friends and allies, the National Football League, and even the state senators whose votes got the bill over the finishing line but who now regret their support.

Brewer can veto and bury the stench, or sign the bill and keep it going through the midterm elections this fall and beyond.

It seems like a gimme. Republicans, fearing the issue will expand exponentially and affect senatorial and gubernatorial races this fall, want to kill it yesterday, but Brewer is taking her time, claiming she hasn’t made up her mind but will do the right thing by the deadline this Friday. She has waited out the clock before, and this time she is considering whether or not to campaign for a third term for governor.

Brewer could contest the 1992 amendment to the state constitution that limited governors, at that time serving four terms, to two consecutive terms. Because she took over Janet Napolitano’s governorship when Napolitano was named secretary of Homeland Security, Brewer will not serve two, whole consecutive terms and could feel entitled to a third. Her decision on that is also expected this weekend.

Brewer is under pressure from conservatives in Arizona to sign the bill, because they are argue business owners should not be forced to break with their religious beliefs by, for example, selling a cake or taking photographs for a same-sex wedding. Of course, when a criminal is injured in the act of committing a crime, he or she is taken to a hospital by police and treated by doctors and nurses, who are all horrified by the crime but are still doing their jobs. The job of a business is the bottom line. Profits will shrivel from boycotts, which could affect the entire state. When the NFL talks, perhaps Arizona should listen.

But the bill raises questions about future discrimination, and gay rights in general. Who among the Republicans begging Brewer to veto are now in support of same-sex marriage? Ramesh Ponnuru of National Review asked on Twitter Tuesday: “If Romney/McCain/Flake think refusal to cooperate with same-sex marriage is wrong discrimination, why do they oppose SSM?” What the senators actually said was to focus on ObamaCare and do what business wants on S.B. 1062 because the impact could be economically “devastating.” They didn’t exactly sound the discrimination alarm.

So far, no high-profile Republican has changed his or her mind on the issue, and an open discussion on such a divisive matter remains shelved for another day. Privately, Republicans are torn over the question of whether their 2016 nominee can oppose gay marriage and win the presidential election. Despite burgeoning support — a majority of Americans support same-sex marriage, while polls show young Americans’ support reaching 70 percent or higher — a majority of Republicans oppose it.

Ask the average 20-something how they feel about a presidential candidate who opposes gay marriage and they will tell you the position is nuts, for some even disqualifying. That is a conversation Republicans don’t want to start in 2014. Should Brewer try running for a third term, her campaign should probably start with a veto.

Stoddard is an associate editor of The Hill.