Conant, Eve, Newsweek
Byline: Eve Conant
Gov. Jan Brewer's Hawkish Immigration Stance Is Good Politics. But Is It Bad For Business?
Back before they grew distant, Barry Broome, head of the Greater Phoenix Economic Council, would talk to Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer every few weeks. They'd brainstorm ideas for how to make the state a leader in solar and other renewable energies. He'd bring in CEOs to schmooze with her. They'd fly around the country trying to drum up business for Arizona companies. "Not once did she mention immigration," Broome recalls. So he never imagined what was to come: that she would sign into law one of the nation's most draconian illegal-immigration bills; pick a costly, high-profile fight with the federal government to defend it; and create a public-relations fiasco for the state. "The question is whether the tone of the debate has fractured [Arizona]," says Broome, who hasn't spoken to the Republican governor since her bill-signing ceremony in April.
Strains between Brewer and the state's business community are starting to show. Though her championing of the immigration measure has proved politically popular and catapulted her to national prominence, that success has come at a price. She has essentially sided with the immigration hawks in her party, at the expense of its business wing. Backers of the law, which would require police to check the papers of those they suspect are in the country illegally, justify it partly on economic grounds, claiming it would help rid the state of undocumented people who place a burden on public services. Yet even though the law was mostly struck down by a federal judge two weeks ago, the state has already taken an economic hit (on top of the ravages of the Great Recession). Several companies have packed up and left. At least 40 groups have canceled conventions and conferences, says Debbie Johnson, CEO of the Arizona Hotel and Lodging Association. And the Phoenix area alone is projected to lose $92 million in business, according to Mayor Phil Gordon. "Anyone who says our image has not been hurt is living in a bubble," he says.
Many business leaders are reluctant to criticize Brewer publicly. After all, she appears likely to win a full four-year term in November (as the former secretary of state, she inherited the post after Gov. Janet Napolitano joined the Obama administration). They're also sensitive to the public's mood, which has turned alarmist on the issue of illegal immigration, given the pileup of dead migrants in the desert this summer and a rash of drug-related kidnappings in recent years. Public officials like state Sen. Russell Pearce--the author of the immigration measure--have "whipped this state into a frenzy," says Gordon. (Pearce argues he's merely trying to choke off the drug and human--smuggling trades, and that the GOP remains business-friendly.) Still, business interests are becoming increasingly vocal about the impact all the fiery rhetoric is having on the state. Johnson recalls that one couple who had a reservation at a Sedona bed and breakfast e-mailed to ask if they'd get caught in "drug gunfire" on their way out of the airport. Broome says a business group from Atlanta asked him if neighborhoods in Arizona were integrated.
The state is perilously close to sealing a reputation as a bastion of intolerance. Phoenix "risks becoming the next Birmingham," says Robert Lang of Brookings Mountain West, a think tank based in Las Vegas. Noting that Arizona is trying to diversify into the solar-energy and biotech industries, he adds, the state is "playing with fire--cWho is in solar? Not the kind of people who are listening to Rush [Limbaugh]." It makes Gordon cringe. Arizona has produced some of the nation's earliest Hispanic city-council members and judges, he says. …