Tim Steller: Ariz. GOP unites against its own

Governor's position on Medicaid repels party in Pima, Pinal
2013-03-06T00:00:00Z 2013-03-06T12:29:52Z Tim Steller: Ariz. GOP unites against its ownTim Steller Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
March 06, 2013 12:00 am  • 

A galvanizing opponent is finally bringing Southern Arizona's fractious Republican Party groups together into a nearly united front.

Not the Democratic president - the Republican governor.

The Pima County GOP approved a resolution last month opposing Gov. Jan Brewer's proposed expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. Chairman Carolyn Cox argues the proposal would cost Arizona taxpayers and unwisely expand a social program that will be hard to cut back in the future.

"We're saying, 'Please, Governor Brewer, don't make this mistake,' " Cox told me Tuesday. "We honestly believe that it will not be a service to the people."

Most of the party's persistent factions - conservatives, libertarians and even some moderates - seem to agree. On Feb. 12, the executive committee passed the resolution unanimously - and the police weren't called.

That's not always been the case with the local Republican Party groups, here or in Pinal County. At the Dec. 15 annual meeting at Amphitheater High School, precinct committeeman Tommy Rompel, owner of Black Weapons Armory in Tucson, noticed that two Arizona Rangers there to provide security were armed.

It's against the law to be armed on school grounds, Rompel knew, in part because the law bothers him and he was not carrying a weapon because of it. When the rangers wouldn't leave or disarm, Rompel ignored some fellow party members and called Tucson police, who persuaded the Rangers to leave, he said.

Police were called to the Pinal County Republican Committee's annual meeting a week before that, and a similar united front against the governor's plan is forming there now, too. The Pinal party apparatus passed a resolution Feb. 16 opposing the proposed Medicaid expansion, with just one dissent and no call to police.

On Dec. 9, the party's then-chairman called police to have Republican National Committeeman Bruce Ash, of Tucson, ejected. When Florence police arrived, Ash did his best impersonation of a civil-rights protester, sitting down and refusing to leave, and eventually a deal was worked out allowing him to stay.

Seraphim Larsen was elected Pinal County Republican chairman that day, and he's opposing Brewer's Medicaid proposal now. The opposition began building in January, when Brewer presented her ideas on Medicaid at a meeting of party chairs from the state's counties and legislative districts, Larsen said in an email.

"I suppose the main message is that there is very widespread opposition among Republican leadership and activists to the governor's position," he said.

The governor argues we should take advantage of federal government obligations under the Affordable Care Act by using it to restore health care that Arizona voters have promised the state's poor in ballot initiatives.

Under Obamacare, the federal government will cover the cost of restoring Medicaid coverage to approximately 300,000 childless adults - many of them mentally ill - who lost coverage due to recent budget cuts. The catch: To get that federal money, Arizona must raise the eligibility cutoff for the state's Medicaid program from 100 percent of the federal poverty line to 133 percent.

If federal subsidies drop in the future, the governor would pay for the lost federal payments by putting assessments on hospitals.

The governor's spokesman, Matt Benson, insisted to me Tuesday that there is significant Republican support, including among business interests.

"I think what you have is a number of individuals who are opposed on the principle that they oppose the Affordable Care Act and the president," Benson said. "Trust me - the governor understands that sentiment. But she needs to govern."

State Rep. Ethan Orr, a Catalina Foothills Republican, said he's helping to write the bill that will be introduced, but he has not committed to the governor's proposal.

"Until there's a bill, it's difficult to weigh the specific merits," he said Tuesday. "I'm making a deliberate decision to have an open mind."

That makes him a member of a dwindling minority among Arizona Republicans. For most, the GOP governor has them happily united - in opposition to her.

IF YOU GO

• What: Forum on Medicaid

• When: 6:30 to 9 p.m. Thursday

• Where: The Loft Cinema, 3233 E. Speedway.

• Host: Americans for Prosperity, a conservative-leaning group that advocates for smaller government.

• Panelists: State Sen. Steve Farley, D-Tucson; state Rep. Ethan Orr, R-Tucson; local physician Dr. Jane Orient; Arizona Board of Regents member Tyler Bowyer; ex-state Sen. Frank Antenori, a Republican from Vail.

Contact columnist Tim Steller at tsteller@azstarnet.com or 807-8427. On Twitter @senyorreporter

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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