At a press conference today, President-elect Obama announced the members of his national security team. Among them was Arizona governor Janet Napolitano, Obama's nominee for Director of Homeland Security. When news of her possible nomination first leaked a few weeks ago, TNR's Seyward Darby explained why Arizona Democrats aren't thrilled with the choice:
Arizona governor Janet Napolitano looks likely to be secretary of Homeland Security (thank you, leaky transition team). Though many are applauding her candidacy, her pending appointment is raising anxiety among Arizona Democrats. "It's a dreadful step," Democrat Phil Lopes, minority leader in the state house, told TNR today. "There is very serious potential of us backsliding on things we Democrats and the residents of the state think are important. ... I do wish that she would [stay] because with us in the minority chambers, she's the only one who can put a stop to [the GOP]."
Napolitano, a widely popular Democratic governor in a red state, has two years left in Phoenix's executive office. During her tenure, Napolitano has broken the Right's iron grip on both houses of the state legislature by vetoing several Republican-backed bills. Among other things, she nixed denying in-state tuition and day care to illegal aliens and allowing law enforcement greater latitude to enforce immigration law. "Our plan with her in office is one thing, but without her in office, we would have to change the strategy totally," Lopes said, affirming that several Democratic officials have even personally lobbied Napolitano to keep her post.
"I'm horrified at the thought of Napolitano abandoning the state," Amy Silverman, managing editor of the Phoenix New-Times, told TNR today. "She has not been a perfect governor, but when it comes to the big picture--balancing out the incredibly far-right and often wing-nut state legislature--she's been a godsend."
Not only will Democrats lose Napolitano as a crucial ally--they will also have to contend with her constitutionally mandated successor, Secretary of State Jan Brewer, a rank-and-file Republican elected in 2002. "The population needs to be more careful in whom they elect secretary of state," said Democrat Marsha Arzberger, minority leader in the state senate. "I do not think she's a leader, I do not think she's prepared for the task, and I don't think she has a vision in mind." Silverman added, "She's from the same cloth--literally, she came from the legislature--as the wing of the GOP Napolitano has battled with for years."
If Napolitano leaves, the GOP will be a triple threat, controlling the governorship and both houses of the state legislature. "Just as conservatives worry that having so many Democrats in Washington could thwart real debate about the problems facing America," Silverman said, "Many in Arizona--and not just liberals--are worried today about the same thing happening with far-right Republicans here."
So while many acknowledge that this might be a smart career move for Napolitano, Arizona's Democratic leaders agree: Without her, their plans for education, taxes, and other core issues are down the drain. "The nation's gain is going to be Arizona's loss," said Democrat and senate minority whip Rebecca Rios. "In terms of what change we're going to be able to effect in the next two years, it's going to be slim to none."
--Seyward Darby, with reporting by Marin Cogan