PHOENIX — Gov. Jan Brewer, who developed an international reputation for her vociferous attacks on illegal immigration, is ending her career as an elected politician at the end of the year.
But she's not retiring from politics.
Brewer made the formal announcement this morning at Park Meadows Elementary School in North Phoenix. She chose the site because it is where two of her children went and, as a parent, she first got interested in politics and considered running for school board.
But Brewer instead took advantage of an offer by her husband, John, to finance a 1982 campaign for the Arizona House. And almost 26 years later from the date she became a legislator, Brewer slid into the office of governor — a post she said she never ever thought to seek — when incumbent Janet Napolitano quit to become Homeland Security secretary in the Obama administration.
The governor took no questions after the long-anticipated announcement, ending months of speculation she would wage a bid for a legally questionable third term.
But in a wide-ranging exclusive interview with Capitol Media Services on politics, her tenure and her future, Brewer insisted she could run again if she wanted despite a voter-approved constitutional amendment limiting elected officials to no more than two terms or any portion thereof.
Brewer contends the first two years she served did not count because she was completing Napolitano's term. Brewer said Napolitano's resignation automatically made her governor in 2009 with or without her consent, meaning it was not "her" term.
"But there's a time to be, and a time to go," she said in opting not to push the issue. "It's the right time for me to move on."
Her decision avoids having the question decided by the Arizona Supreme Court which has never looked at the issue. It also means staying out of what already is a crowded Republican primary with nine announced GOP contenders, including two statewide elected officials who hope to jump to the top spot.
Brewer sidestepped questions of who she might endorse, saying only her party "has a good bench of candidates."
But in talking with Capitol Media Services, Brewer showed she clearly is contemplating having a political life beyond the governor's office and will not be relegated to tending the garden and filling hummingbird feeders at her Glendale home.
"I'm not going away," she said. "I'm going to participate, I'm going to speak out on issues that I believe that are important."
And she's going to get deeply involved in helping her party elect "pragmatic" candidates versus the "ideologues" who have taken hold within parts of the GOP.
Brewer can do that because she has the financial reserves in two political action committees to ensure she plays a role in Arizona — and national — politics for years to come.
"I don't have a million-plus bucks sitting around not to do anything with it," she said. That includes money she has raised both for Jan PAC, which can be used to elect candidates for president and congressional offices, as well as her Arizona's Legacy PAC which she is spreading around to elect like-minded Republicans to the Legislature.
Much of that money started flowing after Brewer signed SB 1070, the 2010 state legislation aimed at giving police more power to detain and arrest those not in the country legally. While some provisions have been voided by federal judges, Brewer continues to fight in court to enforce the rest.
She continues to use the issue to keep those PACs well fueled.
A nationwide fundraising email this past week for Jan PAC tells how, as a border state governor, she's seen the "dangers of unrestricted illegal immigration'' like crime and violence and drugs.
"Now our children run the risk of living in a country that is less safe than the one we grew up in," she writes, urging people to send money "right now ... to hold Washington accountable and demand border security first."
The governor also has a closed-door fundraiser later this week here in Arizona.
"I could probably be on the stump every week someplace in this country," she said.
Brewer also said no one should be surprised if she shows up in the early caucus and primary states of Iowa and New Hampshire. She said, though, that would be in support of a candidate and not to get herself a slot as some Republican's running mate.
But don't look for her to spend her time and money boosting the ideologues who she said insist on support for every single plank of the platform and every anti-tax measure.
"The Republican Party that I always knew and that I was engaged with was the party of the 'big tent,'" she said. Brewer said that reflects the idea espoused by former President Ronald Reagan that someone who agrees with the party on four out of five issues is a friend.
That, she said, has all changed.
"If you didn't agree with 100 percent of those who say they are the leaders, then you weren't a Republican any more," Brewer said, something she said that "turned a lot of people off."
"I have hung in with the party despite a lot of people encouraging me to leave," the governor mused, including when she backed a temporary one-cent hike in sales taxes in 2010 as an alternative to cutting $1 billion a year from the budget and, more recently, in deciding the state should use cash from the Affordable Care Act to expand its Medicaid program.
And Brewer said the GOP's problems extend beyond the demands by some for ideological purity. She said some of the party's stances come across as just mean.
"The Republicans that I know and work with, they are kind, good people that just want to make our state and our country better for everyone,"she said. But Brewer said many of those in that camp find themselves ostracized by those party ideologues.
"They have closed the gates to the tent," Brewer said.
"If you don't agree with them, you're not allowed in," she continued. "And if you're in, they want to kick you out."
Armed with her warchest, Brewer said she wants to change that to elect more pragmatic Republicans. She said that reflects what has been her philosophy her entire life, and not just in politics.
For example, as a young wife and mother she was working in California to put her husband through chiropractic school. That led to a job managing a 175-unit apartment complex, a job she did not like but needed.
"It was just awful," she said. "I got so sick of garbage disposals and broken toilets."
But the curious upshot of all that is now, at age 69, Brewer said she can still fix anyone's garbage disposal.
Brewer's career includes four years in the House and a decade in the Senate, followed by six years as a Maricopa County supervisor and then election as secretary of state in 2002 and again in 2006.
"I never thought about being governor," she said. Brewer said the only time the thought crossed her mind was if "God-forbid something should happen to the governor," with her second in line.
But Brewer said that, in running for secretary of state, she reminded voters of that line of succession — and that whoever they select could end up the state's chief executive.
"So they had fair warning when they elected me," she said.
Even though Brewer said she's not being forced out by term limits, she is not a fan.
"That's what you have elections for," the governor said. And Brewer said the current system with eight-year limits on membership in either the House or Senate has led to a loss of the knowledge that comes from lawmakers who have been around a long time, know what's been tried before and what has and has not worked.
What's also lost, she said, is the "mentoring" of young lawmakers, particular women, by those who had come before. Brewer said what's replaced it is "a lot of scrapping going on" because everyone wants to get into leadership during that eight-year window.