PHOENIX – Three Republican Arizona state senators who voted for a bill allowing business owners with strongly held religious beliefs to refuse service to gays sent a letter to Gov. Jan Brewer on Monday urging her to veto the legislation.
The letter came as more prominent Republicans pressed the GOP governor for a veto, including Sen. John McCain. Five of seven Republican candidates for governor also have called for the bill to be vetoed or withdrawn. The latest is Frank Riggs, a former California congressman, who said it is a “solution in search of a problem.”
State Sens. Bob Worsley, Adam Driggs and Steve Pierce sent their letter urging the veto just days after they joined the entire 17-member Senate GOP caucus in voting for Senate Bill 1062.
“I think laws are (already) on the books that we need, and have now seen the ramifications of my vote,” Worsley said. “I feel very bad, and it was a mistake.”
With the three GOP senators joining all 13 Senate Democrats in opposition, there would be enough votes to defeat the measure in a re-vote. But too much time has passed to allow for reconsideration, and the bill was sent to Brewer in a routine transmittal Monday that was accompanied by boos from Senate Democrats.
Brewer now has five working days to sign or veto the bill. She returns from governors association meetings in Washington this afternoon. The legislation has set off a firestorm across the nation from gay rights backers and politicians of all stripes. Arizona’s two Republican U.S. senators, Jeff Flake and McCain, are urging a veto, as are business groups like the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
The bill is being pushed by the Center for Arizona Policy, a social conservative group that opposes abortion and gay marriage. The group says the proposal is needed to protect against increasingly activist federal courts and simply clarifies existing state law.
CAP President Cathi Herrod is urging Brewer to sign the legislation and deriding what she called “fear-mongering” from its opponents.
“The attacks on SB 1062 … represent precisely why so many people are sick of the modern political debate,” Herrod wrote in a weekend posting on the group’s website. “Instead of having an honest discussion about the true meaning of religious liberty, opponents of the bill have hijacked this discussion through lies, personal attacks and irresponsible reporting.
“Our elected leaders have a fundamental duty to protect the religious freedom of every Arizonan, and that’s what SB 1062 is all about.”
If SB 1062 is vetoed, it will be a major defeat for Herrod’s group, which is seen as a powerful force on the Arizona political scene. Herrod suffered a similar defeat last year when she tried to get the Legislature to tack anti-abortion language onto a Medicaid expansion bill that Brewer was pushing. That effort angered Brewer, a strong opponent of abortion.
Brewer doesn’t comment on pending legislation, but she vetoed a similar measure last year. That action, however, came during an unrelated political standoff, and it’s not clear whether she would support or reject this plan.
But with the business community lining up against the plan, Brewer could have cover for a veto. The governor has worked hard to return Arizona’s economy to pre-recession levels with business-friendly incentives and tax cuts.
Similar religious protection legislation has been introduced in Ohio, Mississippi, Idaho, South Dakota, Tennessee and Oklahoma, but Arizona’s plan is the only one to pass. Efforts have stalled in Idaho, Ohio and Kansas.