Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano has done little to protect the state from illegal immigration, and under her leadership Arizona is now tied for last place in the nation for emergency disaster preparedness.
So why has incoming president Barack Obama picked Napolitano for secretary of homeland security? It clearly has nothing to do with her record. She is leaving Arizona with the highest budget deficit ever, and the highest budget deficit per capita in the nation after California, at more than $2 billion.
Obama probably selected Napolitano because she is one of a small handful of Democrats who fit the necessary stereotype of “tough,” and she satisfies a female diversity quota. Napolitano looks and sounds tough, but her policies suggest otherwise. Democrats find this kind of person appropriate for a law enforcement leadership position, much the way Janet Reno was tapped by former president Bill Clinton to fill the attorney general position. In fact, many initially thought Napolitano would be selected by Obama for that same office.
What is Napolitano’s actual experience and legacy in Arizona? Napolitano was elected governor in 2002 due to an unprecedented relentless campaign on her behalf by the local liberal newspapers. She disingenuously ran as a conservative, the only way to get elected to statewide office in Arizona, emphasizing her former law enforcement role as the state’s attorney general.
Napolitano’s most visible legacy is turning Arizona into the biggest police state in the nation with “Janet Cams,” authorizing more speed cameras than any other state. State Treasurer Dean Martin has argued that they are unconstitutional, because the legislature did not approve them as an additional taxing source. The Arizona Department of Public Safety has admitted their purpose is not public safety, but revenue generation. Ballot initiatives are already circulating to repeal the cameras, since the last thing the state needs right now is another license to spend more money. Fines from the speeding tickets go to fund Clean Elections, a failed government experiment that funds the campaigns of candidates running for state offices.
In terms of her administrative abilities, Napolitano was the first governor in Arizona to use debt to balance general fund budgets — finding a way around the state constitution’s prohibition against the state accumulating more than $350,000 in debt. Business Week recently ranked Arizona’s budget problems the worst in the country.
Although Arizona has the highest rate of illegal immigration in the country, and the highest number of illegal immigrants proportionate to the general population of any state, Napolitano vetoed seven bills as governor that would have cracked down on illegal immigration. She supported drivers’ licenses for illegal immigrants, and took away funding from Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio that he was using to enforce illegal immigration laws. She opposes a border fence, laughingly dismissing it, “you show me a 50 foot fence, I’ll show you a 51 foot ladder.”
Napolitano has made only two symbolic efforts to combat illegal immigration, repeatedly touted by her proponents as evidence she is tough on illegal immigration. The first was sending the National Guard to the border, which she was forced into doing after first vetoing a bill ordering her to. She initially tried to get out of it by claiming it was the federal government’s responsibility to fund the National Guard at the border. Ultimately she sabotaged the effort by limiting the role of the National Guard to administrative functions, not illegal immigration law enforcement.
Napolitano’s second symbolic measure against illegal immigration involved Arizona’s employer sanctions law. When it was first passed by the legislature in 2006, Napolitano vetoed it, claiming it wasn’t tough enough. At the time, everyone knew it was unlikely because she had vetoed every other law against illegal immigration. So the legislature called her bluff. The next year, it passed a tougher version of the bill, and anti-illegal immigration activists circulated an even tougher ballot measure in case she vetoed it. Considering Arizona voters passed four anti-illegal immigration measures with over 70% approval in 2006, Napolitano was trapped and forced to sign it, giving Arizona the toughest employer sanctions law in the nation.
Napolitano’s accomplishments prior to becoming governor of Arizona were unimpressive. She was tapped by former President Bill Clinton for U.S. attorney after she came to public prominence representing Anita Hill against Clarence Thomas at his judicial confirmation hearings. In his book, The Real Anita Hill, David Brock documented how Napolitano put a witness on the stand who wasn’t corroborating Hill’s version of the facts, so Napolitano took her off the stand and had her return and claim amnesia. After leaving the U.S. attorney’s office, Napolitano became state attorney general, where her only memorable accomplishment was banning Christmas decorations from the public areas of the office, which received national attention and protest.
In her six years as Arizona’s governor, Napolitano has proactively failed to protect Arizona’s borders from the highest rate of illegal immigration in the country. Based on this record, it is unlikely she will do much better protecting America’s homeland from terrorists. Arizonans are delighted to see her go so we can fix our budget and illegal immigration problem, but at what cost to the nation as a whole?