Why Arizona governor vetoed gun law and 'birther bill,' irking the right

Jan Brewer, Arizona governor, surprised conservatives by vetoing a bill to allow guns onto college campuses and a 'birther bill' to require certain proofs of US citizenship for presidential candidates.

Cliff Owen/AP
In this Feb. 27 file photo, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer appears at a committee hearing on the states' role in protecting against insider threats, hackers and terrorists, in Washington.

Jan Brewer, liberal hero?

Granted, the moniker doesn't exactly fit. After all, this is the Arizona governor who has championed conservative causes from immigration crackdowns to gun rights. But on Monday, she vetoed two pet pieces of legislation of the right: a bill that would have allowed firearms onto parts of college campuses and another referred to as the "birther bill," which would have mandated certain "proofs" of US citizenship for candidates running for president.

Both bills were controversial, and Governor Brewer's vetoes were a setback for the conservatives who control the Arizona legislature.

In explaining her decisions, Brewer called the "birther bill" "a bridge too far" and said she vetoed the campus gun law because it was poorly written.

In its original form, the gun bill would have allowed concealed weapons into campus buildings and classrooms. But after it caused a furor, the measure was scaled back to allow weapons – open or concealed – in public "rights of way" on campuses. In her veto letter, Brewer said the parameters of what was allowed weren't sufficiently defined.

"Bills impacting our Second Amendment rights have to be crystal clear so that gun owners don't become lawbreakers by accident," she wrote. She also questioned whether the phrase "educational institution" in the bill could be applied to elementary and high schools. State Sen. Ron Gould, the bill's sponsor, told the Arizona Republic that it was a "very rude veto letter."

Forty votes would be needed in the House to override a veto, but supporters look to be short of that mark. The bill passed in the House 33 to 24.

Arizona would not have been the first state to allow guns on all college campuses; that distinction belongs to Utah, where firearms are allowed in campus buildings. About half the states prohibit guns on campuses, and about half leave it up to individual campuses.

It has become a hot topic, however, spurred in part by the Virginia Tech massacre in 2007. Gun-rights advocates argue that such laws are necessary to allow people to defend themselves, and dozens of bills in about half the states have been proposed to allow guns on campuses – though all except Utah's have failed. Texas is currently considering its own guns-on-campus bill.

Brewer's decision was particularly surprising because she has been a champion of gun rights in the past, signing bills that allow guns into bars and restaurants and that permit gun owners to carry concealed weapons without a permit. Another controversial gun bill is on her desk now: It would require local and state government to either allow guns in public buildings or secure those buildings with metal detectors and armed guards.

The "birther bill," meanwhile, was a first by a state legislature. Ostensibly driven by the debunked – but widely believed – claims that President Obama's birth on US soil has not been proved, it would have required any presidential candidate to provide a "long form" birth certificate (what birthers say Obama has not produced) or other proofs of birth for their names to be placed on the Arizona ballot.

"I never imagined being presented with a bill that could require candidates for President of the greatest and most powerful nation on earth to submit their 'early baptismal or circumcision certificates' among other records to the Arizona Secretary of State," Brewer wrote in her veto letter. "This is a bridge too far."

The vetoes may be signs of the limits of conservative legislative zeal. Or, as some observers have suggested, they may be motivated in part by PR concerns.

Brewer – and the state – were villified by many after she signed last year's immigration-crackdown bill, requiring the police to investigate anyone they suspect of being in the country illegally.

"She know that these bills are not going to help with Arizona's image," Arizona Sen. Steve Gallardo, a Democrat, told Reuters. "All they do is put us in the national spotlight and make us look silly."

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