By: Drew Sexton
Over the past few weeks, as Arizona prepares to move forward under a new era of leadership from our state’s elected officials, pundits and politicians from both sides of the aisle have weighed in on what Governor Janice K. Brewer’s legacy is, will be and whether or not she was a good governor. To be frank, many of those summations have been less than kind. From liberal Democrats wailing about her efforts to stop illegal immigration across our southern border to far right conservatives incredulous that she would dare institute a temporary tax to fund education, nobody seems to remember her policy accomplishments fondly.
Reading these critics’ harshest takes reminded me of Aristotle’s quote: “To avoid criticism say nothing, do nothing, be nothing.”We should be glad Governor Brewer did not ascribe to that mentality which has infected too many of our nation’s leaders.
I was fortunate to see Governor Brewer in a different light than many, outside of the legislative and policy battles and where I believe she shined the brightest: meeting with, shaking hands and listening to every day citizens from Yuma to Flagstaff, Lake Havasu City to Tucson, Santa Barbara to New York City and everywhere in between. From touring hospitals and rallying support for Medicaid Restoration to addressing reporters on every issue from SB 1062 to what race Santa Claus was, I had the honor of working directly with her every day.
I was tasked with organizing agendas, keeping extra copies of remarks on hand and ensuring the Governor got through every event in a timely fashion and had whatever she needed to represent the state. Over my year of service, there were hundreds of events and many remarks that I won’t remember.
What I will remember, though, is the faces of people of every race, age and gender throughout our state lighting up when they got a chance to interact with Governor Brewer. Truthfully, I was not very good at the “keeping the Governor on time” part of my job. This was because Governor Brewer always strived to make time for one more handshake, one more picture and a few more moments to hear from Arizonans about their stories and how much they appreciated her leadership. Her genuine ability to connect with Arizonans is unlike anything I’ve seen from any other person or elected official.
I’ll remember my first interaction with her, as a wide-eyed intern at HighGround. I was frantically stocking our refrigerator with Coke Zeroes to make sure we had enough for dozens when she entered our kitchen and asked if I had her drink. I stammered we had plenty as she looked me over, grabbed a can, smiled and said, “Well, I guess Chuck has taught you well!”
I’ll remember Governor Brewer staying an extra 45 minutes at the Arizona Federation of Republican Women event in Prescott to shake hands and share unique stories with members she had worked with for decades. I’ll remember the look of awe on the elementary students at Park Meadows in Glendale when she took the time to talk with them about the importance of school and take pictures before she announced her decision to retire.
I’ll remember the tears in the eyes of nurses at Tucson Medical Center as Governor Brewer thanked them for their work and vowed to not stop working until Medicaid Restoration was passed. I’ll remember hearing from folks in Yuma about how much they appreciated Governor Brewer joining them for their city’s 100th anniversary and knowing she hadn’t forgotten about those who lived in rural Arizona.
I’ll remember the host of an event at GCU shaking the Governor’s hand upon arrival and exclaiming how great it was to have a “kickass, female leader” like Governor Brewer address her group. I’ll remember a lady in Santa Barbara taking a picture with her young daughter and Governor Brewer and telling her she drove six hours to meet her because “it was important to meet such a strong, tough lady that was an example for my daughter that she could do anything.”
I think that ultimately that’s what Arizonans outside the political chattering class will remember about Governor Brewer. Not TPT reform or the ACA or any policy decision or any interaction on a tarmac (although it always made me chuckle how different the public’s perception of that event was from our media’s perception).
It was her genuine smile, her ability to connect with people and not BS them that will stay with people. It was her determination to dig her (high) heels in when she made her mind up on an issue and subsequently kick her opponents’ butts with them, Republicans and Democrats alike. It was her leadership in Arizona’s darkest moments to steady the ship and guide us to brighter days that people will remember and appreciate.
I can’t thank Governor Brewer enough for all the experiences and moments she allowed me to share with her. And I’ll always remember to keep a cold bottle of Coke Zero in my fridge just in case.