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Updated Feb 28, 2014 - 3:51 pm

Backer of SB 1062 in the spotlight

PHOENIX — A group known as the Center for Arizona Policy usually gets its
way in the Republican-controlled Arizona Legislature, pushing through
anti-abortion bills and social policy embraced by conservative Christians.

But twice in the past year, the group has made political mistakes in pushing
for legislation at the heart of its mission _ most recently a religious freedom
bill known as Senate Bill 1062 that expanded the rights of businesses to refuse
service to gays and brought such an unwanted spotlight to Arizona that Gov. Jan
Brewer slapped it with a veto this week.

Last year, the group’s effort to tack abortion restrictions onto Brewer’s
Medicaid expansion proposal drew the wrath of the governor and a veto stamp.

The resulting negative focus on the group and its president, Cathi Herrod,
raises doubts about whether it can continue to wield strong influence at the
Capitol. But political observers and Herrod dismiss those doubts, and her track
record supports the stance.

“The Center for Arizona Policy has been here for many years and will continue
to be here for many years,” Herrod said in an interview on the eve of
Wednesday’s veto. “Many, many Arizonans support our work and we’re not going
anywhere.”

Herrod’s group has sway among Republicans who control the Legislature. She’s
considered so powerful that even GOP lawmakers who oppose some of her
legislation decline to speak in detail about their reservations.

Her efforts routinely draw scorn from Democrats, and a group called Citizens
for a Better Arizona vowed this week to pressure lawmakers to stop backing her
bills.

Brewer has signed many bills sponsored by Herrod’s group over the years. For
instance, the Legislature approved and she signed a 2012 bill that banned
abortions after 20 weeks. That action came despite knowledge by all parties that
it ran afoul of U.S. Supreme Court precedent. The resulting legal battle ended
with the ban being overturned after a costly legal battle.

Another 2012 bill banned Planned Parenthood, which provides abortion services,
from receiving any state Medicaid money for its other services. That too, was
slapped down by the courts.

When Brewer vetoed Senate Bill 1062, she made no mention of the bill’s
legislative sponsors or Herrod’s group. But it was clear that Brewer believed
the proposal was unnecessary, saying it was aimed at a problem that didn’t exist
in Arizona, was broadly worded, and could result in “negative and unintended
consequences.”

Despite the losses, Herrod continues to press her agenda at the Capitol. In
addition to the religious freedom bill, she’s pushing a measure that would drop
a requirement for an administrative search warrant before an abortion clinic is
inspected after a complaint. The House gave initial approval to the proposal
Thursday, despite warnings from Democrats that it would surely lead to costly
litigation.

A federal appeals court ruled in 2004 that warrantless inspections allowed
under a 1999 Arizona law were unconstitutional, and a final 2010 settlement of
the case put in place the current system. The warrants have rarely been used,
only once in the past three years, calling into question the need to ditch the
system.

The Center for Arizona Policy is also joining with the Goldwater Institute to
push a major expansion of the state’s school voucher program.

Brewer is an advocate of many of the group’s positions.

“The governor has been very supportive of a lot of the pro-life issues that
Cathi has advocated since she took office,” said Doug Cole, a political
consultant who has worked on Brewer’s campaigns. “On the other side, Cathi’s
organization last session was extremely unhelpful on the Medicaid restoration
and expansion debate – very unhelpful – so it’s a mixed bag.”

The national attention that 1062 battle brought on the state hasn’t been wasted
on Herrod, who needs ongoing donations to fund her group. In an email to
supporters Friday, Herrod said she was headed to New York to appear on former
Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee’s nationally televised talk show.

___

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

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