By Steve Padilla and Cindy Carcamo, Los Angeles Times
TUCSON, Ariz. — When the Arizona Legislature passed a bill to grant greater protection to businesses that refuse service to gays and others for religious reasons, it appeared the move had put Republican Gov. Jan Brewer between a rock and hard place. How could she risk alienating conservative supporters and veto a bill passed by the GOP-controlled Legislature?
Last Friday, a day after the Legislature gave SB 1062 final approval, Brewer acknowledged on CNN that the bill was a “very controversial piece of legislation. We know that. We know that it’s failed in a lot of states across the country.”
Brewer gave no indication how she would handle what supporters described as a “religious freedom” bill. She said she would study the issue.
So she studied.
In fact, David Liebowitz, a political consultant in Phoenix, suggested that Brewer was holding off making a decision to let opposition to the bill build.
“As long as the context is trending in your favor, let it build,” said Liebowitz, who worked in Brewer’s 2010 election campaign.
And with each passing day, opposition did indeed build. At first it came from predictable sources — gay rights groups and Democrats expressing their displeasure, often via Twitter. Rocco DiGrazia, who owns Rocco’s Little Chicago Pizzeria in Tucson, created a viral sensation when he posted a photograph of a sign he’d placed in his restaurant’s window: “We reserve the right to refuse service to Arizona legislators.”
But soon others spoke up, reflecting growing tolerance of gays in American life and — in Arizona — the fear of economic boycotts like the ones launched after the state passed a tough anti-illegal immigration bill. Business groups spoke up against SB 1062, as did Mitt Romney, the GOP’s standard-bearer in 2012. Even three legislators who voted for the measure backtracked and urged a veto.
Opposition from high-profile members of Brewer’s party — including Arizona Sens. John McCain and Jeff Flake — helped create a context that wouldn’t alienate her from the GOP and eventually help shield her from the repercussions of a veto, Liebowitz said.
McCain, it’s worth remembering, vigorously opposed repeal of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, which prevented gays and lesbians from openly serving in the military. When the Senate voted to ditch “don’t ask, don’t tell” in 2010, McCain said, “Today is a sad day.”
By this week, there were even suggestions that the Super Bowl, scheduled to be held in Arizona in 2015, might go elsewhere.