Brewer releases copy of letter she handed to Obama
by Yvonne Wingett Sanchez - Jan. 26, 2012 10:43 PM The Republic | azcentral.com
In a sudden about-face, Gov. Jan Brewer on Thursday evening made public a copy of the letter she handed President Barack Obama during their high-profile encounter a day earlier that dominated national news, the blogosphere and water-cooler conversation.
Brewer had presented the letter to Obama during an official airport welcome that turned into a brief confrontation, during which she pointed a finger at the president.
At one point Thursday, the feisty interaction at the start of the president's visit to the Valley sent "Jan Brewer" to No. 8 on Twitter's trending topics in the U.S. Online sales of Brewer's book "Scorpions for Breakfast" exploded. And the "finger wag" led to a petition by state Democrats asking Brewer to apologize to the president.
Brewer continued to defend her actions Thursday, saying she meant no disrespect to the president and explaining that she often gestures when she speaks. She called allegations that their confrontation was a publicity stunt "absolutely ridiculous."
In a Thursday night interview with ABC's Diane Sawyer, Obama shrugged off the tarmac encounter.
"What I have discovered is that -- I think it's always good publicity for a Republican if they're in an argument with me."
He added: "But this was really not a big deal."
Some of the discussion Thursday in the media and on the Internet about the encounter centered on what was in the letter the governor delivered to Obama on the tarmac of Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport, particularly after her office said it would not be releasing the letter.
When The Arizona Republic requested a copy, Brewer's spokesman, Matthew Benson, said no copies existed and the letter was "personal, handwritten" correspondence not subject to open-records laws.
On Thursday, Benson released the letter, saying: "Unbeknownst to me" a copy was made. "I sincerely regret the miscommunication."
The one-page letter was written in cursive script on Executive Office stationery. The letter touches on job creation, the state's budget, and Brewer mentions visiting the border.
The letter says in part:
"You've arrived in a state at the forefront of America's recovery -- and her future," she wrote. "We both love this great country, but we fundamentally disagree on how to best make America grow and prosper once again. I'd love an opportunity to share with you how we've been able to turn Arizona around with hard choices that turned out to be the right ones. And, of course, my offer to visit the border -- and buy lunch -- still stands."
The governor signed the letter "With respect, Jan."
After Brewer delivered the letter to Obama, the two spoke intensely for a few minutes and she pointed her finger at him. During the encounter, they were talking over each other before Obama appeared to walk away from the governor while they were still talking.
Brewer later said that the conversation left her "breathless" and that Obama had brought up her book.
Brewer's book, "Scorpions for Breakfast: My Fight Against Special Interests, Liberal Media, and Cynical Politicos to Secure America's Border," deals with the state's tough immigration law, Senate Bill 1070, the events that precipitated it and the fallout from its passage.
She repeatedly skewers the president in the book, painting a different picture of her June 2010 Oval Office meeting with Obama than she did in media interviews after the event, when she told media it "was a successful meeting, and I'm encouraged by that."
In the book, however, the governor criticizes Obama for publicly mocking the state and SB 1070. She said Obama was condescending towards her during their 2010 meeting and lectured her about his efforts for comprehensive immigration reform.
"It wasn't long before I realized I was hearing the president's stump speech," the book said. "Only I was supposed to listen without talking. He was patronizing."
And after Wednesday's encounter, she called Obama disrespectful because he walked away from her in mid-sentence.
"Well, I would never have walked away from anybody having a conversation," she said. "And, of course, that is what it is. It is disrespectful for me."
Video and photos of the encounter overshadowed the presidential visit and once again catapulted Brewer into the national spotlight.
She's been there before for different reasons.
In 2010, when she signed immigration law SB 1070 into law, she did it on a national stage. Months earlier, she was thrust in the national spotlight after she paused for 13 seconds during a televised campaign debate. Critics ridiculed her for mangling the English language, saying "We have did what was right for Arizona."
Despite her most recent headlines, Jay Carney, a White House press secretary, on Thursday told reporters on Air Force One that the airport confrontation was "overblown."
"It's not a very big deal, at all," Carney said. "Some of this is political theater, to some degree, I guess."
Brewer's initial handling of the letter, and her contention that it was personal, raised legal questions about the way the Governor's Office was complying with the state's public-records law. Experts considered the letter to be a public record that should be released.
"There's nothing remotely personal about this," said Dan Barr, a First Amendment attorney who also advises the First Amendment Coalition of Arizona Inc. "She presented it to the president of the United States in the most public way possible. The whole reason to hand him this letter in public is for political theater, and then to be asked what was in the letter."
A public record generally is defined as any record created or maintained by a public official or government entity, no matter whether it is handwritten, typed or recorded.
Benson said late Thursday that he does not know who made a copy of the letter, and he would not say who informed him of the copy.