Arizona Business Community Abandons GOP On Anti-LGBT Bill

If Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer decides to veto the anti-gay discrimination bill waiting on her desk, she’d have a lot of cover from a reliably Republican constituency to defy her GOP colleagues in the state legislature: the business community.

Every major state business group, along with several major individual businesses, have urged Brewer, a Republican, to veto the “religious freedom” bill. The legislation would require the government to have a compelling reason to stop somebody from exercising their religious belief, which gay rights advocates say would lead to LGBT discrimination.

Brewer hasn’t officially said what she’ll do with the bill — her options are to sign it, veto it or wait five days and let it become law without her signature. She has noted, that it’s very “controversial.” Her office didn’t comment to TPM.

What doesn’t seem to be controversial among prominent Republicans and business interests is what Brewer should do: Veto it. U.S. Sens. Jeff Flake and John McCain (R) want the bill stopped. A leading Republican candidate to replace her, Mesa Mayor Scott Smith, stated his opposition to it.

Now the business community is coming out in droves.

It’s a big deal, Rodolfo Espino, a political science professor at Arizona State University, told TPM. Arizona has a history with controversial laws — like the anti-immigration Senate Bill 1070 that went to the U.S. Supreme Court in 2012 — that have invited backlash. Businesses in the state don’t want to risk losing out-of-state dollars, and Brewer is looking to secure a personal legacy before she leaves office and ensure a Republican follows her in the governor’s seat.

“Anything that could impede our economic progress of course impacts the business community. Throughout Arizona’s history, you have these outside dollars weighing on their mind,” Espino said. “I think she’ll pay more heed to the business community. Whatever she does will impact the chances of the next Republican candidates.”

Four organizations — the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Greater Phoenix Chamber of Commerce, Greater Phoenix Leadership, and the Southern Arizona Leadership Council — co-signed a letter Monday urging Brewer to veto the legislation.

“We are troubled by any legislation that could be interpreted to permit discrimination against a particular group of people in the marketplace,” the letter reads.

Fortune 500 companies based in or with heavy ties to the states, including American Airlines and Marriott Hotels, issued their own statements opposing the bill.

W. Douglas Parker, CEO of American Airlines, wrote the following:

There is genuine concern throughout the business community that this bill, if signed into law, would jeopardize all that has been accomplished so far. Wholly apart from the stated intent of this legislation, the reality is that it has the very real potential of slowing down the momentum we have achieved by reducing the desire of businesses to locate in Arizona and depressing the travel and tourism component of the economy if both convention traffic and individual tourists decide to go elsewhere. Our economy thrives best when the doors of commerce are open to all. This bill sends the wrong message.

Those fears about tourists avoiding Arizona to send a political message might not just be conjecture. A top tourism industry official told the Arizona Republic that they were already receiving that message.

“We’re greatly concerned,” Kristen Jarnagin, senior vice president of communications for the Arizona Lodging & Tourism Association, said. “We’ve already received countless phone calls and e-mails from people canceling trips or threatening not to return.”

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