Gov. Napolitano's Move Leaves Some Arizonans Angry

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With Democratic Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano moving to Washington to become Homeland Security Chief, she's leaving behind a state entirely under Republican control. Some local Democrats feel abandoned in the midst of a severe budget crisis.

ALEX COHEN, host:

Democratic Governor Janet Napolitano of Arizona is expected to become the nation's next Homeland Security chief. If that happens, she'll leave behind a sea of unhappy Democrats back home. That's because under Arizona's constitution, the Secretary of State, Jan Brewer, would take her place, and she is a Republican. From member station KJZZ, Rene Gutel reports.

RENE GUTEL: Democratic State Senator Ken Chevron is ticked off that Governor Napolitano would even think of taking the Homeland Security job.

State Senator KEN CHEVRON (Democrat, Arizona): You know, ever since I've heard the news, I've been angry.

GUTEL: Republicans are already in the majority at the state legislature. And Arizona is facing a billion dollar budget shortfall. Chevron says the timing couldn't be worse.

Senator CHEVRON: And it's almost like she's jumping ship in order to go on to better waters. And I would hope that she would put the needs of Arizonans before her own political career.

GUTEL: For the last six years, Napolitano has served as a backstop to the Republican-dominated state legislature. She's vetoed a record 180 bills. For example, she refused to sign a ban on so-called partial birth abortions. And she vetoed a permanent repeal of the property tax. With Napolitano gone, Chevron worries about total GOP control of state government.

Senator CHEVRON: And I'm almost certain that they will be putting forth legislation that will take us back 20 years when it comes to not only social programs, but programs for children, for the elderly, for many mainstream Arizonans.

GUTEL: Kirk Adams couldn't disagree more. He's a Republican from the Phoenix suburb of Mesa and the incoming speaker of the Arizona House.

State Representative KIRK ADAMS (Republican, Arizona): I do believe there's been a bit of a characterization that the Republicans are sweeping in like Attila the Hun to take over the state and pillage the village. And I certainly do not see that happening.

GUTEL: Adams says by necessity, the billion dollar budget crisis will overshadow anything else on his agenda for next year. Still, he acknowledges that with Napolitano out of the way, GOP lawmakers could go back and reintroduce bills she vetoed.

Representative ADAMS: I certainly see us being able to move forward on a firmer Republican agenda at the legislature with her departure.

GUTEL: Meanwhile, right wing talk radio hosts, like JD Hayworth, are celebrating Napolitano's impending exit. On this day, Hayworth takes a '60s pop hit and reworks it to a vent against Napolitano. His nickname for her is J-No.

Mr. JD HAYWORTH (Radio Host): (Singing) Nobody ever fixed the border, she sure didn't. Nobody ever fixed anything, she sure didn't. Nobody did anything to get rid of this billion dollar shortfall. That's J-No, and you can color her gone. And that's a good thing for Arizona, but not such a good thing for the rest of America.

GUTEL: As for the governor, she says all this speculation is premature until an official announcement comes from President-elect Obama. Here she is on a KJZZ call in show last week. In spite of the rumors, she said she's still Arizona's governor.

(Soundbite of KJZZ interview with Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano)

Governor JANET NAPOLITANO (Democrat, Arizona): Obviously, I'm very committed to this position. I'm honored to be holding this position, but no positions lasts forever. There's always going to be change, and you know, that's just the way it is.

GUTEL: Ted Prezelski is a Democratic blogger in Tucson. He says he's resigned himself to watching Republicans at the helm of state government until the next election.

Mr. TED PREZELSKI (Blogger): I'm going to spend the next two years just going on my computer and complaining about it.

GUTEL: But although he'd be sad to see Napolitano go, Prezelski says he can't blame her for moving to the Obama administration. Like many Arizonans on both sides of the aisle, he says it's tough for anyone to say no to the president. For NPR News, I'm Rene Gutel in Phoenix.

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