PHOENIX >> Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer ended months of speculation about her political future on Wednesday when she announced that she will not seek a third term in office.
The Arizona Constitution limits governors to two terms, but the Republican governor and her advisers have kept alive a scenario in which she might mount a longshot legal challenge to seek another four years in office.
Brewer completed the term of former Gov. Janet Napolitano when she took a job in President Barack Obama’s administration in 2009. Brewer then won a full term in 2010. She has said in the past that there’s “ambiguity” in the constitution because she hasn’t served two full terms.
But she put that to rest Wednesday in suburban Phoenix as she declared “there does come a time to pass the torch of leadership.”
“So, after completing this term in office, I will be doing just that,” she said.
Brewer has been in the national spotlight on several occasions in her five years in office.
She signed the immigration crackdown law known as Senate Bill 1070 in 2010 and sparred with the Obama administration over health care, joining states that sued to overturn his health care law. But she then surprised last year when she embraced a signature part of that law, the expansion of Medicaid.
Last month, Brewer vetoed legislation that opponents said would have allowed businesses to discriminate against gays and that the business community rallied against.
Brewer also engaged Obama in a testy exchange while greeting him alongside Air Force One in Arizona in 2012, famously wagging her index finger in the president’s face amid a dispute over border security.
Brewer made her announcement at the same Glendale school where her children attended and where she received her first taste of politics. She attended a school board meeting in the cafeteria and was inspired to become active in politics, later getting elected to the state House of Representatives, the Maricopa Board of Supervisors and Secretary of State before becoming governor.
“This has been a hard decision for her because she truly enjoys public service,” said Doug Cole, her longtime political consultant. “That litany of offices that she’s held, she’s truly enjoyed. And she’s one who goes to precinct committee meetings. She’s worked her way through all strata of the Republican Party and basically all offices within the state of Arizona.”
Brewer boasted of her accomplishments as governor on issues such as the economy and education and ticked off a list of her remaining priorities, including an overhaul of the state’s troubled child welfare system, pushing her budget proposal through the Legislature and getting it to enact more of her economic recovery proposals.
“My job as governor is far from over,” Brewer said. “Both my pen and my veto stamp have plenty of ink.”
Brewer is known for her conservative views but has also riled her more hard-line base. Her embrace of Medicaid expansion led to a battle with conservative Republicans in the Legislature, but she cobbled together a coalition of Democrats and a handful of Republicans and got the measure adopted. About 300,000 more Arizonans are now eligible to sign up for the free health insurance plan.
Several other Republicans have entered the primary race for governor under the assumption Brewer wouldn’t run again. They include Arizona State Treasurer and former Cold Stone Creamery CEO Doug Ducey, Secretary of State Ken Bennett, Mesa Mayor Scott Smith, former GoDaddy legal counsel Christine Jones, state Sen. Al Melvin and former Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas.
Only one Democrat is in the race, former Board of Regents member and Clinton Administration official Fred DuVal.
Brewer’s foot-dragging on her announcement was seen by some as a way for her to avoid lame-duck status, but former spokesman and adviser Paul Senseman said that’s not the case.
“There was actually talk of the governor being a lame-duck back when there was the so-called veto-proof supermajority in the Legislature. And of course there was no such override that ever took place,” he said. “I think this Legislature would agree with everyone that she’s going to have a significant say in the business of the state, as she said today in her speech, right up until the very last moment. She’s going to work hard and finish strong.”