PHOENIX - Surrounded by what could be the new, more moderate legislative majority, Gov. Jan Brewer signed legislation Monday to expand Medicaid in Arizona.
The governor noted the measure was approved by an unusual coalition of 14 Republicans working with all of the Democrats in the Legislature, and they did it despite opposition from the majority of Republicans who control both chambers, as well as the House speaker and the Senate president.
And it came even as foes of expansion have threatened to do everything possible to ensure this will be the last term in office for the Republicans who supported it. Brewer, in signing the measure, took note of their actions.
Backers "displayed something we don't see a lot of in politics today," she said. "And that is courage."
To those who voted for the bill, Brewer, who announced her support of Medicaid expansion five months earlier in her State of the State speech, said, "You put people before politics and you stayed strong in the face of personal attacks."
The new law is designed to swell the rolls of the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System, the state's Medicaid program, from about 1.3 million to more than 1.6 million.
The federal government, using provisions from the Obama administration's Affordable Care Act, will kick in about $1.6 billion a year, with Arizona's $240 million share coming from what amounts to a tax on hospitals. Despite that, the Arizona Hospital and Healthcare Association signed on in support, on the premise more people with health coverage means fewer people unable to pay their bills.
The real lasting legacy could be some of the more politically moderate legislators in the Republican Party ignored their own more conservative leadership and found common ground with the Democrats, which could open the door for more cooperation and less partisan bickering.
"We need to have more respect for each other," said Sen. Steve Pierce, R-Prescott. "It's been gone down there."
He said Brewer can help restore that, and predicted more bipartisan cooperation next session.
That's also the assessment of House Minority Leader Chad Campbell.
"We put aside the politics," he said. "We put aside the rhetoric, at least some of us put aside the rhetoric."
Despite all the self-congratulations, Monday's signing is just another act in a political drama that continues to play out.
Former state Sen. Frank Antenori said he may be ready as early as today to file a referendum to put the question of Medicaid expansion to voters.
Antenori and former Sen. Ron Gould need 86,405 valid signatures on petitions by Sept. 12 to hold up enactment of the law until it goes to the ballot. And the next scheduled general election is not until November 2014, 11 months after Brewer's expansion plan is scheduled to kick in.
Gubernatorial press aide Matthew Benson said the governor's legal advisers do not believe the measure is subject to referendum because it is part of the budget. But Antenori said the lawyers with whom he has consulted believe the policy of expanding eligibility for free care, from 100 percent of the federal poverty level to 138 percent, is subject to voter review.
The other question is whether the $240 million hospital assessment can also be referred to the ballot, or whether it must be challenged in a lawsuit because it was not approved by a two-thirds vote of both the House and Senate, a constitutional requirement for new taxes or increases in state revenues.