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Gov. Jan Brewer: An Obama move helped launch Arizonan's career

January 28, 2012 |  5:31 pm

When President Obama faced off this week against Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, it was probably a cold comfort to the nation’s chief executive that he has helped create the career of the woman with whom he has long sparred.Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer and  President Obama

It was Obama who picked then-Gov. Janet Napolitano to be his secretary of Homeland Security, a move that paved the way for Brewer, then Arizona’s secretary of state, to become governor on Jan. 21, 2009. Brewer won election to a full term in 2010 with 54% of the vote.

Even before that, Brewer seemed headed for political stardom, having working her way through a variety of state and local offices.

Despite both parties’ efforts to minimize the confrontation between Obama and Brewer on a Phoenix-area airport tarmac, there will probably be a residual impact that could benefit each.

The president, by standing firm against the governor who signed Arizona’s tough immigration law, may get a boost among Latinos, a key electoral group in some states. As for Brewer, she is likely to win high praise among the conservative wing of her party that has rushed to back her.

Brewer was born in Hollywood in 1944 and moved to Arizona in 1970. She earned a radiological technician’s certificate from Arizona’s Glendale Community College and was first elected to office in 1982, winning a seat in the Arizona House of Representatives. She moved on to the state Senate and the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors before becoming secretary of state in 2003.

During her time as governor, conservatives have helped make her the voice of Republican anger on illegal immigration issues. In 2010, she signed SB 1070, the state’s controversial law aimed at cracking down on illegal immigration.

Critics argue that the law, which sparked protests and boycotts around the country, encouraged racial profiling by law enforcement officers and violated civil rights. Obama’s Justice Department has challenged the law in court, and a federal judge has temporarily blocked parts of it, including a provision that would have required police to determine the immigration status of anyone stopped or arrested if there was reason to suspect the person was in the U.S. illegally.

Brewer and Obama have met to discuss border issues, including in a White House session in June 2010, which became one of the sparks that touched off this week’s fireworks.

After that meeting, Brewer told reporters that she was “encouraged that there is going to be much better dialogue between the federal government and the state of Arizona now,” a tepid statement well in line with the type of comments usually made by visiting politicians to the White House.

So, despite their history of political disagreement, it was a bit of a surprise when Brewer was photographed Wednesday wagging a finger at the president, who had just arrived in Arizona to push his domestic agenda after his State of the Union address.

“Let me say that I respect the office of president, and when I went to meet him at the tarmac, I went with a happy heart,” Brewer told CNN on Thursday. “He turned that conversation immediately to my book ‘Scorpions for Breakfast’ and was immediately somewhat distraught -- disappointed about the way that he was portrayed in that book,” she said.

In the book, she recalls their 2010 meeting, in which she describes Obama as treating her with condescension.

“I think it’s always good publicity for a Republican if they’re in an argument with me,” Obama said in an interview with ABC News. “But this was really not a big deal. She wanted to give me a letter, asking for a meeting. And I said, ‘We’d be happy to meet.’”

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-- Michael Muskal

Photo: Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer and President Obama at Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport on Jan. 25. Credit: Haraz N. Ghanbari / Associated Press

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