Brewer Flips Off 600,000 Military Vets in Arizona by Axing Colonel Joey Strickland

The only thing surprising about how Governor Jan Brewer's flunkies forced Colonel Joey Strickland to resign from his post as director of the Arizona Department of Veterans Services is that people are surprised by it.

We're talking about "GED Jan" here. She's governor only because HighGround Public Affairs' Chuck Coughlin told her to sign Senate Bill 1070, the infamous ethnic-cleansing legislation authored by recalled, disgraced ex-state Senator Russell Pearce.

The results: a tsunami of hate we're still recovering from and Jan's landslide 2010 election.

A class act she's not. Never has been, from back in her days in the state Senate, when she benefited from legislative immunity after an alleged DUI, to her claims of "beheadings" in the Arizona desert to her denying driving privileges to young DREAMers eligible for President Obama's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program to shaking her finger in the president's face.

Her recent pitch for expanding Medicaid to 400,000 Arizonans? That, friends, has zero to do with "compassion" or her being a "pro-life governor," as she claimed when she announced the proposal in March, surrounded by healthcare professionals.

Rather, it has more to do with Coughlin's lobbying on behalf of the healthcare industry, and that Coughlin is smart enough to know that if Republicans refuse to expand access to AHCCCS (Arizona's Health Care Cost Containment System), they'll be handing the Democrats a cudgel to beat them with in 2014.

After all, Brewer and the Republicans cut the Medicaid rolls by 110,000 people in 2011. So, between 2011 and 2013 Brewer grew a conscience?

I think not. Nor a brain, apparently, as is evidenced by this blunder over Strickland's resignation, demanded of Strickland by Brewer's chief of staff, Scott Smith.

The way I heard it, Smith was ticked that Strickland had hired Tucson teabagger Terri Proud for a low-level, $40,000-a-year job at the ADVS.

Last year, the governor's staff had advised Strickland not to hire Proud when she was in the Legislature, but Strickland believed that had to do with Proud still serving in the state House.

Sure, Proud is no great catch. I mean, at the top of her LinkedIn profile, under "education," she lists "Tucson bartending."

She has a record of saying stupid stuff — like the time she wrote to a constituent saying women who want an abortion should be forced to watch a video of the procedure before they can get one.

Whether it was spouting misinformation regarding Arizona's Independent Redistricting Commission or misquoting Susan B. Anthony on abortion, Proud had a particularly bad case of heel-in-mouth disease, a condition she confirmed as untreatable during a recent interview with the University of Arizona's student news service, which asked her about women in combat.

"Women have certain things during the month [that] I'm not sure they should be out there dealing with," she told a reporter. "I don't know how to address that topic in a very diplomatic manner."

In the piece, Proud was identified as just having been hired by the ADVS as an administrative assistant. The article made the Governor's Office go ballistic.

According to Brewer's office, Strickland, a combat veteran who did two tours in Vietnam, violated a direct order not to hire Proud. Strickland has countered that he recalled the order from last year but did not know this order was an indefinite prohibition on Proud.

Thing is, Proud hadn't even started her new position. A job offer easily could have been rescinded.

Instead, all this resulted in Strickland's turning in his resignation on Smith's order.

What exactly was the objection to Proud?

"I'm not going to get into the details of that," Brewer's flack, Matt Benson, told me. "But any doubts we had were validated by her highly questionable public remarks . . . regarding women in the military."

Now that's funny. After all, if there were a ban on state employees making inane comments, Brewer no longer would have a job.

On the surface, it sounds as if Brewer's little bitch, Smith, had a hissy fit and ended up ousting a respected public servant who's done more for this state than Smith has in his career as a professional sycophant.

Strickland told me that Smith flipped out on him over the Proud kerfuffle, dropping F-bombs all over the place, calling Strickland and his staffers "fucking ignoramuses," among other epithets.

"I was so startled, I asked him if he wanted me to resign," Strickland related. "He said, 'Fucking yes!'"

Needless to say, Smith never served in the military. The guy's been a desk jockey all his life.

Perhaps there were second thoughts on Smith's, or on someone's, part, as there was a follow-up meeting in Strickland's office with Smith and others where the Proud matter was discussed. After it, Strickland was told to go ahead with his letter of resignation.

The backlash to this incident has been intense, with leaders of veterans' groups and others calling on Brewer to reverse Smith's action.

Many vets admire Strickland for reforming a department riddled with incompetence when he was appointed by Governor Janet Napolitano in 2008, after she wooed him from a similar position in Louisiana state government.

Brewer kept Strickland on, and Strickland scored nearly $20 million from the feds and another $10 million from the Legislature to open a new veterans' home in Tucson. Facilities were planned for Yuma and elsewhere.

Strickland also got money for new veterans' cemeteries and to help homeless vets. Last July, the White House honored Strickland as one of 11 "Champions of Change" for his accomplishments.

And in February, Brewer was recognized as "Advocate of the Year" by the National Association of State Directors of Veterans Affairs, because of all the work Strickland's done over the past five years.

Former Maricopa County Attorney, Vietnam veteran, and current Arizona Veterans Hall of Fame Society president Rick Romley is one of the many vets upset by the way Strickland was treated.

"Even if you took everything at face value, it's such a small infraction compared to [his accomplishments] in the past," Romley said.

"I'm pretty tied into the veterans community," Romley continued. "I can tell you that the vast majority of veterans and veterans' groups are very appreciative of what he's done . . . There's no reason to let him go. It makes no sense."

So far, Brewer and Smith have sunk their feet in concrete, refusing to budge. Romley and others think they can prevail on Brewer to re-hire Strickland.

I'd love it if Brewer proved me wrong, but I've got a feeling it ain't gonna happen.

The pettiness, cheap cruelty, and sheer stupidity of the Brewer administration reminds me of the character of young punk King Joffrey Baratheon from the HBO series Game of Thrones.

In part, the character's ruthless tyrannical ways are born of his own insecurities and the secret, inward knowledge that he's a coward and doesn't belong on the Iron Throne.

Similarly, Jan "We Have Did" Brewer is an idiot, and she knows she's an idiot. The psychological defense for that is imperiousness and feigned infallibility.

Brewer's no Iron Lady — no Margaret Thatcher — who exhibited (despite her faults) real intelligence and command presence as England's prime minister.

Instead, Brewer's over-compensating for her lack of gravitas and leadership skills. Because if she had either, she'd reverse her lackey's order. And fire the lackey.

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Stephen is a former staff writer and columnist at Phoenix New Times.
Contact: Stephen Lemons