Arizona turns on Tea Party with veto of Obama 'birther bill'

  • @guyadams

It was fun while it lasted, but the state of Arizona's stint on the front line of right-wing Republicanism appeared to be over yesterday, after its Governor vetoed new laws dealing with two of the great obsessions of the Tea Party movement: the right to bear arms, and the question of whether Barack Obama was actually born in the US.

Jan Brewer, who until now had been a darling of the conservative media, first threw out new legislation that would have allowed citizens to carry firearms through university campuses. Then she scrapped a "birther bill" which would have required future presidential candidates to present their birth certificates to electoral authorities.

Her move is significant because it provides evidence that leading Republicans are starting to become concerned that the party's dramatic shift rightwards during President Obama's reign might end up damaging its chances of winning support among mainstream voters at the next election, in 2012.

Recent weeks have seen Donald Trump, the eccentric reality TV host and property developer, propel himself to second in the polls to win the party's presidential nomination by touting the conspiracy theory that Obama was actually born in Kenya and speculating that America's first black leader "may be a Muslim".

The spiel was meat and drink to many Republican voters: according to polls, more than 50 per cent believe the President was born outside the US, and just under half also think Mr Obama is a Muslim. But dwelling on such issues will inevitably alienate centrists.

Arizona found this out to its cost last year, when Governor Brewer signed a hardline anti-immigration bill which would have allowed police to stop, search, and ask for proof of citizenship from anyone who resembled an illegal alien. It sparked allegations of racism, nationwide protests, and a consumer boycott. After several months, the law was thrown out by the courts for being unconstitutional.

Governor Brewer's decision to veto the "birther" and firearm laws is doubtless designed to avoid a repeat of that saga. Explaining the move, she raised the spectre of the "birther" bill turning Arizona into a target for liberal satirists and expensive lawyers. "This is a bridge too far," she said. In any case, Ms Brewer argued, the proposed legislation would also have designated a single official as "gatekeeper to the ballot," which "could lead to arbitrary or politically motivated decisions".

The law further to liberalise gun ownership rules, meanwhile, was poorly timed, since the Arizona Senator Gabrielle Giffords is still being treated after being shot by an allegedly mentally-ill resident of Tucson who was legally able to purchase a handgun with an extended ammunition clip.

Ms Brewer added that the law was "poorly written" and would inevitably throw Arizona into conflict with federal law, leading to further time-consuming and pricey court cases.

Governors of US states tend to use the right to veto new laws sparingly, since it can be politically difficult to override the wishes of local politicians. However Mrs Brewer's move prompted admiring comments from local Democrats, who are perhaps tired of Arizona being a byword for "crazy" in political circles. "She knows that these bills are not going to help with Arizona's image," the Senator Steve Gallardo told Reuters. "All they do is put us in the national spotlight and make us look silly."

Arizona's edicts

* Lawmakers proposed a bill to nullify the granting of automatic citizenship to the children of illegal aliens – despite its status as a federal law enshrined by the 14th Amendment. It is unlikely to be passed.

* A bill allowing guns on college campuses was vetoed this week because it was "sloppily written". Arizona's governor said that it applied to schools, where firearms are already prohibited by federal laws.

* Arizona's notorious "1070" law authorising police to stop suspected illegal immigrants and demand proof of citizenship outraged the Hispanic community, which claimed innocent people would be harassed because of their skin colour.