President Obama and Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer’s tense meeting on the Phoenix airport tarmac Wednesday night captured, in the click of a camera, the longstanding, strained relationship between Arizona and the federal government.
Their plane-side spat reportedly revolved around Brewer’s less-than-flattering description of meeting Obama in the Oval Office in 2010, which she included in her 2011 book “Scorpions for Breakfast: My Fight Against Special Interests, Liberal Media, and Cynical Politicos to Secure America’s Border.”
But their cross-country quarrel stretches back much further and deeper than Brewer’s eight-paragraph chastising and five-second finger-waving.
The Arizona governor has been a vocal opponent of Obama’s immigration policy, for example, referring to it as “code for encouraging more illegal immigration.” She has criticized the president’s jobs program, calling it “nothing but spending and taxing, spending and taxing.”
And she blasted Obama’s proposal to raise taxes on the wealthy, saying it would tax job creators “to death.”
“We don’t like an ever-expanding government threatening our personal liberties,” Brewer said in her State of the State address earlier this month. “We don’t like government living beyond its means and trying to be everything to everyone. We don’t like unconstitutional – and unfunded – health care mandates. And, by the way, we don’t like open borders, either.”
Obama has had his fair share of criticism for Brewer’s policies as well, particularly the strict immigration law she signed in 2010. Obama said the law was a “mistake” and threatened ”to undermine basic notions of fairness that we cherish as Americans.”
The Obama Administration sued to stop the law from taking effect, claiming it violated federal policies. The lawsuit is pending in the Supreme Court. “I was stunned at the audacity of the Obama administration to file suit against an individual state seeking to safeguard its people,” Brewer said in a statement after the court’s decision to hear the case.
But amid Brewer’s criticism of Obama’s policies and cries for cuts in federal spending, she is also calling for more help, more resources and more money from Washington to help secure the Arizona-Mexico border.
“Security and border control is by far the No. 1 issue right now in Arizona,” Brewer said last year. “Illegal immigration is costing us a billion dollars, a billion dollars a year to maintain the level we’re at and the federal government sits by and does nothing.”
Brewer filed a lawsuit against the federal government last year for “its constitutional failure to secure the border,” claiming Washington owed Arizona $760 million for incarcerating undocumented immigrants and failing to protect the state from economic drain and violence from immigrants crossing the border. Arizona lost the lawsuit.
But Brewer is not alone in this federal funding two-step. From Gov. Rick Perry in Texas to Gov. Scott Walker in Wisconsin, Republican governors are setting a new norm of condemning federal spending, which is widely unpopular with their conservative base, while welcoming federal dollars into their cash-strapped states.
Arizona received more than $14 billion from the federal government in 2010, or about $10,000 per resident. Texas, where Perry wrote an entire book about being “Fed Up!” with the federal government, took in a hefty penny as well, about $9,000 per person.
And in Wisconsin, where Walker recently rejected $37 million in federal funding to implement Obama’s health care plan, the state received about $6,600 per person from the feds in 2010, according to Census data.
Perry, who ended his presidential bid earlier this month, also aimed to make an anti-federal spending statement by rejecting federal grant money. The Texas governor turned down $555 million for unemployment benefits in 2009, claiming there were too many strings attached to the federal dollars.
The move was hailed by Tea Party conservatives, but the half a billion dollar Recovery Act grant represented a mere 2 percent of total stimulus funds Perry accepted.