Meet Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, no stranger to national controversy

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (R) is standing squarely in the national spotlight Thursday morning, a day after she vetoed a controversial bill that would have allowed businesses to deny service to gays and lesbians if they felt that serving them would violate their religious beliefs.


Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (R). (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, File)

It was far from the first time Brewer has found herself at the center of a national firestorm. From signing a controversial immigration law to making claims about headless bodies and suffering a infamous debate meltdown, this isn't the governor's first brush with national attention.

So where does Brewer's story begin? Hollywood, Calif.

That's where she was born Janice Kay Drinkwine on Sept. 26, 1944. She spent the first 10 years of her life in Hawthorne, Nev., where her father worked at a Navy munitions depot as a civilian supervisor. Brewer's father died of lung disease when she was just 11 and afterward, her mother opened up a dress shop. The exact circumstances of his death would become the focus of national scrutiny decades later when Brewer was running for her first full term as governor.

Brewer said in 2010 that her dad "died fighting the Nazi regime in Germany." The remark prompted criticism from Democrats and brought Brewer scrutiny from the national media. Brewer's spokesman responded that she meant he died from inhaling toxic fumes at the military factory where he worked.

The future governor studied to be a radiology technician. After marrying chiropractor John Brewer, the future governor moved to Phoenix. The couple had three children together. Brewer made her first foray into politics in the early 1980s when she was elected to the state House. She later joined the state Senate and worked her way up the ladder to an eventual leadership position. After the state legislature, Brewer served a six-year stint on the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors.

Brewer ran for secretary of state in 2002 and won. She became governor in 2009 when Janet Napolitano was tapped by President Obama to become Homeland Security secretary. (Arizona does not have a lieutenant governor and the secretary of state is next in line for the top job.)

Brewer decided to run for a full term in 2010, but she faced competition for other Republicans who wanted the job. Polls showed she faced a tough fight. But the turning point came in April when Brewer signed SB 1070, the nation's most restrictive immigration law. The law required legal immigrants to carry paperwork with them and compelled police to question anyone they suspected of being undocumented.

The law was panned by immigrant groups and Democrats. But in conservative Arizona, it made Brewer a rock star overnight. She quickly cleared the Republican field and easily defeated her Democratic opponent in the general election.

But during the campaign, she suffered a misstep that quickly went viral. During a fall television debate, Brewer froze up, appearing to lose her train of thought.

Brewer also drew criticism for a claim she later retracted during the campaign about headless bodies being found in the desert as a result of violence near the border.

So what's next for Brewer? She's term-limited but has left the door open to pursuing four more years in office, arguing the term limit law does not apply to her since she took over for Napolitano during her tenure. But with a full slate of other candidates already in the race and Brewer opting to veto a bill that would have made her popular among conservative primary voters, a 2014 run seems unlikely.

Even if the next few months amount to Brewer's swan song in elected office, her exit may not be so quiet if her history is any guide.

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Sean Sullivan has covered national politics for The Washington Post since 2012.
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