Don’t be fooled.
Gov. Jan Brewer’s decision late Wednesday to veto Arizona’s controversial S.B. 1062 bill is about money and politics, not an endorsement of equal rights for gay people.
Until opposition to the bill picked up steam by winning the backing of big business and the national Republican establishment the governor looked to be ready to support the social agenda of the religious right wing in her state by allowing the bill to become law.
The bill passed the state senate last week on a strict party line vote with 17 of the governor’s fellow Republicans defeating 13 Democrats who opposed the bill.
Here is how FoxNews.com described the bill that attracted attention nationwide since the state legislature passed it: [The bill allows] businesses, whose owners cite sincerely held religious beliefs, to deny service to gays…It allows any business, church or person to cite the law as a defense in any action brought by the government or individual claiming discrimination."
Total support for the bill among Arizona’s GOP majority in the state senate revealed the depth of continuing opposition to equal rights for gays in the party’s activist, socially conservative base. And a week ago the Republican governor looked set to back the Republicans in the state senate.
But Brewer’s support for social conservatives was nowhere to be seen on Wednesday when she turned down the proposed law. She explained her veto by saying her “agenda is to sign into law legislation that advances Arizona.” She also said it could split the state “in ways we could not even imagine and no one would ever want.”
Note that Gov. Brewer did not voice support for gay rights in her veto statement.
The real story here is that she was responding to money and politics.
On the money front the governor faced pressure from a growing list of major American companies with business interests in a state which countered the right-wing’s social agenda by urging the governor to veto the bill with the implicit threat of pulling out of Arizona.
These companies that stood up against the GOP’s social conservatives included major business operations for the state. Among those business leaders were: Apple, AT&T, Delta Airlines, American Airlines, Southwest Airlines, Intel, Verizon and Marriott International.
Both of Arizona’s professional basketball teams [the NBA’s Phoenix Suns and the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury] publicly called for a veto.
The most significant potential loss of dollars was coming from the nationwide multi-billion dollar business known as the National Football League. The NFL let their opposition be known and Arizona is scheduled to host Super Bowl XLIX next year, an event that will bring hundreds of millions of dollars worth of revenue, publicity and tourism to the Grand Canyon state. Delaware Governor Jack Markell, a Democrat, had already gone on record, suggesting that the 2015 Super Bowl should be moved if Brewer did not veto the bill.
On the political front, she also faced opposition from the national Republican Party’s establishment wing to counter the power of the religious right to define the Republican Party brand.
Both of the state’s Republican U.S. Senators, John McCain and Jeff Flake, also publicly urged Brewer to veto the bill. The 2012 GOP presidential nominee former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney urged the same.
The pressure coming from the nation's business community and national GOP leadership also helped to change the tune now coming from three Republican Arizona state senators who voted in favor of S.B. 1062. The bill's former supporters then urged Brewer to veto it, too, saying they did not realize it was discriminatory when they voted for it.
But hold on. Honestly, who believes that? What the state senators didn’t realize was that big business is more powerful than the religious right.
And I predicted on Fox News Channel that the biggest factor in the final decision over this political firestorm would come down to money – not gay rights.
“Here’s another indication of how the GOP’s business wing and the party’s social conservative faction are at loggerheads,” Larry J. Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia, told Businessweek in an interview on Tuesday.
“Business supports mainstream social issue positions and wants what’s good for business -- the veto of the bill -- while social conservatives insist their agenda trumps all other concerns.”
Arizona has done this dance of the hard right versus business before.
Super Bowl XXVII was originally set to be played in Tempe, Arizona in 1993 but organizers moved the game to California to protest Arizona voters' rejection of a bill to recognize Martin Luther King Jr. Day as a state holiday.
Arizona voters changed course soon after the California move and voted to affirm the MLK holiday. As a result the 1996 Super Bowl was played in Arizona.
Despite the governor’s veto the fight over gay rights is still boiling inside the GOP.
Similar religious discrimination bills have been introduced in the Missouri, Kansas and Georgia legislatures. The powerful response from national business leaders to the bill in Arizona is going to make it hard for those bills to go anywhere.
I believe the S.B. 1062 is morally abhorrent and allows for blatant discrimination against LGBT Americans.
But, again, if Brewer didn't have to think about the money and the national political damage to the party she might have sided with the GOP’s social conservatives in her state.
We saw a similar political dynamic play out recently with the dispute over the A&E network and Duck Dynasty’s Phil Robertson after he blasted gays as sinful. The cable network and some advertisers at first pulled away from Robertson for fear of boycotts and loss of dollars. Later, the angry response from the religious right pulled A&E and advertisers to change direction, as they feared losing those dollars.
At the end of the day, it all comes down to money.
Juan Williams currently serves as a co-host of FOX News Channel's (FNC) "The Five" (weekdays, 9-10PM/ET) and also appears as a political analyst on "FOX News Sunday with Chris Wallace" and "Special Report with Bret Baier."