New Arizona governor avoids major issues with apparent ease

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Posted: Mar 31, 2015 3:31 AM
New Arizona governor avoids major issues with apparent ease

PHOENIX (AP) — Less than three months into his tenure, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey has largely managed to avoid having to make the tough political decisions that could have alienated him with the two wings of the Republican Party he has courted.

Past Arizona Legislatures have not been shy about sending hard-line bills to the governor's desk, most notably on issues such as immigration, gay rights, guns and abortion. For the most part, the 2015 Legislature has given Ducey a pass.

Lawmakers on Monday axed a bill that would have allowed residents to bring guns into libraries, courthouses and other public buildings. Former Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed that proposal three times in the last four years. They also killed a bill that would have ditched the state's Common Core school standards.

Both issues are crucial to the state's conservative Republican base, but cause skittishness among moderate, pro-business party members. During his 2014 campaign and in his first legislation session, Ducey has tried to appease both voting blocs.

But Ducey couldn't avoid two other bills that hit his desk — an anti-abortion measure that he had no trouble signing and a bill requiring law enforcement agencies to keep the names of officers involved in shootings secret for 60 days that was opposed by police chiefs. Ducey vetoed that bill, one of four he hit with his veto stamp Monday.

The abortion law requires doctors in Arizona to tell women they can reverse the effects of a drug-induced abortion. But its primary provision bars women from buying any health care plan through the federal marketplace that includes abortion coverage.

The abortion reversal provision has been denounced by many in the medical community and critics who say there's no science to show drug-induced abortions can be reversed. But an anti-abortion physician pitched it to lawmakers and they added it to the bill.

But Ducey's support of the legislation was not surprising because he has been a staunch abortion opponent and a close ally of the conservative group that wrote the legislation. Ducey spoke at a rally put on by the Center for Arizona Policy at the Capitol earlier this year. The group tweeted a picture of Ducey signing the legislation minutes after he took action on the bill.

Ducey didn't comment on the requirement that women be told drug-induced abortions can be reversed. He said in a statement that he signed the bill to prevent taxpayer subsidies from being used to fund abortions in a near echo of statements made last week by the group's president, Cathi Herrod.

"The American people overwhelmingly oppose taxpayer funding of abortions, and it's no different in Arizona, where we have long-standing policy against subsidizing them with public dollars," Ducey said. "This legislation provides clarity to state law."

The Center for Arizona Policy wrote legislation last year that would have given protections to businesses that refuse service to gays based on religious objections. Lawmakers passed the bill and put Brewer in the middle of a firestorm over gay rights similar to what Indiana is experiencing with a similar measure. She ultimately decided to veto the bill.

In past years, lawmakers also sent a series of attention-getting anti-immigration measures to the desks of Brewer and her Democratic predecessor, Janet Napolitano.

On the issue of Common Core, Ducey last week sidestepped a decision on killing the standards outright by asking the Board of Education to initiate a review. That request allowed Ducey to fulfill a campaign promise to conservatives who oppose Common Core standards while not alienating the business and education community, which generally back them.

The Senate gave him a hand on Common Core on Monday, narrowly rejecting a bill that would have abandoned the standards. It was not the result many conservatives wanted.

"I think the state is pretty clear in what they feel about this thing called Common Core," said Sen. Steve Smith, R-Maricopa. "The people of this state do not like Common Core, or whatever name you want to insert."

Ducey also vetoed three other bills in a flurry of activity that saw his first vetoes of his tenure. Also getting a veto stamp was a bill barring police from requiring officers to meet ticket quotas, one changing animal cruelty laws that activists said weakened protections for farm animals and another exempting counties from having to pay mental health treatment costs for felons too ill to legally be sentenced.

With Monday's action, Ducey has gotten through the majority of his first legislative session as chief executive without angering major special-interest groups. The one major exception was the state budget.

Ducey's firm stand on not canceling scheduled business tax cuts made it necessary for him for cut more than $200 million from the state's spending proposal. The bloodletting was spread around, with universities taking the biggest hit — nearly $100 million, or 13 percent of last year's state general fund appropriation. Also on the block was school funding, which took a small hit, and various social-service budgets, including Medicaid. Public assistance for the neediest residents was also cut back.

But Ducey appears to have come out of that effort largely unscathed. And as the Legislature heads toward adjournment, few hot-topic issues remain for the freshman executive.

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Follow Bob Christie at http://twitter.com/APChristie.