Janice K. Brewer is passionate about community involvement and giving back to others.
Serving as Arizona’s fourth female governor and its third consecutive female governor, Brewer has had a successful political career. She served as Arizona’s 22nd governor from 2009 to 2015 and is recognized for her major policy successes including the reformation of the child welfare system and revamping the state’s business-tax structure. Brewer was instrumental in establishing several education reform initiatives and created the Arizona Commerce Authority, which serves as the statewide economic development organization that focuses on business attraction, retention and expansion in Arizona.
She has lived in Arizona for more than 40 years. She has spent 32 of those years serving the people of Arizona.
Brewer served as Arizona secretary of state from January 2003 to January 2009, and also served as chairman of the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors before running for secretary of state in 2002. In addition, she also served as an Arizona state senator and state representative for District 19 from 1983 to 1996.
Recently, Brewer gave the keynote address during the Chamber’s Professional Women’s Alliance luncheon on Oct. 13, where she shared her personal journey in politics and the challenges she faced along the way, as well as adjusting to life out of the public eye for the first time in over three decades. She also offered a rare glimpse into her upbringing and formative years.
From an early age, Brewer understood about responsibility and facing enormous challenges.
Although she was born in Hollywood, Calif., she and her family lived on a military base in Hawthorne, Nev., until she was 10 years old. After her father developed severe health issues as a result of exposure to hazardous materials in the base’s ammunition depot, her family moved to California. Sadly, his condition worsened and he died when Brewer was just 11 years old.
“Let me tell you about the most important woman in my life,” Brewer said. “My role model was my mother, Edna Drinkwine, a true heroine.”
Brewer continued, “My mother knew that she had to support me and my brother. So with a meager savings, she bought a small dress shop. That dress shop was really a classroom for me. It was where I learned the importance of hard work, responsibility, honesty, integrity and courage. I followed that example as I faced challenges of my own.”
Brewer’s career path has had many unexpected twists and turns. After earning a radiological technologist certificate from Glendale Community College, Brewer worked at the Los Angeles County Hospital. At one point, she worked at a shoe store, a jewelry store and a doctor’s office—all at the same time.
“I have faced challenges throughout my life, but I never gave up,” she said. “I witnessed firsthand what it took for my mother to keep a family together, struggling to make ends meet while caring for her family and keeping her business going. And I learned from her example.”
Brewer is quick to offer powerful words of encouragement.
“Act on your passion,” she implored. “I didn’t come here today to do victory laps with you about my accomplishments. I’ve come to urge you and hopefully inspire you as leaders. Answer that little inner voice that is calling to you to make a difference.”
What was that inner voice for Brewer?
“I was a mother with three boys in school and I was very concerned about the quality of education that they were receiving so I thought I’d run for the school board to try and make a difference,” she explained. “And then I thought if I really wanted to make a difference, I would run for the state Legislature. That was 30-plus years ago and there were plenty of doubters that a Glendale housewife could defeat an incumbent state legislator. And then they said that I’d never get elected to the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors. I heard the same thing while running for secretary of state. Even after I became governor when Janet Napolitano resigned, many critics said that I wouldn’t be elected in my own right. Well, they were wrong.”
Brewer applauded the Greater Phoenix Chamber of Commerce for creating the Professional Women’s Alliance and for providing such a wonderful environment for women to grow, get involved and of course, learn.
She also recognized that there is much more work to be done on women in leadership while sharing a few amusing stories and quotes including a story that President Ronald Reagan used to tell, according to Brewer.
“It all started with a traffic accident,” Brewer said. “The victim was stretched out on the side of the road and a crowd had gathered around. A man elbowed his way through the crowd. There was a woman who was bent over the victim and the man pushed her aside. The man said ‘I’ve got training in first aid, let me take over until a doctor gets here!’ The man tended to the victim and administered a few things he learned in a first aid class. The woman then tapped him on the shoulder and said ‘When you’re ready for the doctor, I’m right here.’ “
Brewer noted that there are days when that story seems so out of date for her. But unfortunately, there are still moments for Brewer when President Reagan’s story is as topical today as it was more than 30 years ago.
“I know because I’ve lived those moments as the governor of the state of Arizona,” Brewer said. “All around the world, there simply aren’t enough women in politics or in corporate senior positions making decisions. However, it is clear to me that women have made great strides, both in business and in politics. As Margaret Thatcher reminded us ‘If you want something said, ask a man. If you want something done, ask a woman.’ “
One of Brewer’s top priorities as governor was to make Arizona more economically competitive with practical, business-friendly policies. She made great strides with historic tax reforms that removed obstacles to business expansion and relocation to Arizona. She was instrumental in making corporate tax rates more regionally competitive, making the property tax system more equitable and simplifying the complicated sales tax code.
Brewer stated, “I know that a flourishing economy and a successful business climate rely on low taxes, lean regulations, a strong workforce and a government that gets out of the way of the free enterprise system so that they can do what they do best: create jobs.”
Brewer is a tireless spirit. To say that she is involved in her community is an understatement. Even out of office, Brewer can be found helping Arizona organizations and can be heard promoting community involvement.
“This great nation, our wonderful state and our local communities need leaders to step up to make more of a difference. Support your local food banks. Volunteer your time. Become a foster parent. Start that business you’ve always dreamed about. Run for the school board or run for the state Legislature,” she said. “This is a good month to start, too. October 24 marks the annual Make a Difference Day.”
In closing, Brewer concluded, “Being elected governor of Arizona is truly one of the greatest honors of my life. It provided me an opportunity to do my part of making this state a better place for those here today and for future generations yet to come. None of this would have been possible if I didn’t respond to the voice inside of me telling me to do something about my children’s school. I responded to the call.”