The comments by Maricopa County Republican Party chairman A.J. LaFaro equating Gov. Jan Brewer to Judas Iscariot for pushing Medicaid expansion have created a firestorm and led to calls for his resignation.
House Speaker Andy Tobin denounced LaFaro on his Twitter page on Wednesday, soon after the local party official’s testimony before the House Appropriations Committee, which held an informational hearing on the governor’s Medicaid expansion plan.
Even some who oppose the plan joined Tobin’s demand, arguing that LaFaro can no longer be effective in his role after making the “outlandish” remarks. LaFaro said “Jesus had Judas. Republicans have Gov. Brewer.”
He indicated today he apologizes to anyone he offended.
“My words concerning Governor Brewer, as spoken to our legislators and to the public, were not as well chosen as they could have been, and I apologize to those that I may have offended,” he said in an email to the Arizona Capitol Times. “But I am sincere in my opposition to her plan, as are a great many Republicans in Arizona.”
In his email, LaFaro said he hopes Brewer “has learned a lesson here – I know I have.”
That lesson is that rhetoric can become overheated when both sides are passionate, he said, adding he respects Brewer “as a person, and I respect the Office of the Governor of Arizona.”
He added that what he said during the hearing was a reaction to Brewer’s comment that she “didn’t want dead people in the streets” because of reductions in Medicaid.
Later in the day, he said: “No, I’m not resigning [and] neither should the governor.”
Brewer told a Capitol Times reporter that she didn’t hear any apology directly from LaFaro.
“I haven’t heard from him so I’m certainly not accepting his apology from you,” she told the reporter.
A few hours later, LaFaro emailed an apology to Rep. John Kavanagh, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. LaFaro told the Fountain Hills Republican that he apologized to Kavanagh, his committee members and the governor for his Judas comment.
However, LaFaro had not yet sent an apology to Brewer. He said he planned to email an apology to her as well.
In his email to Kavanagh, LaFaro said he reacted with “sincere and passionate opposition” to Brewer’s plan.
“My intentions were not to offend anyone, but to clearly sound a warning about the consequences of approving this future unsustainable burden on taxpayers,” he said.
The controversy surrounding LaFaro’s comments highlighted the heightened emotions surrounding the governor’s proposal, which is to expand health coverage to all Arizonans who earn up to 133 percent of the federal poverty level.
The governor’s plan has divided the Republican Party, pitting her against some grassroots activists who point out that the expansion is a key component of the federal Affordable Care Act and who have accused her of surrendering the state’s authority to the federal government.
Supporters, however, said the plan is sensible and the only responsible choice for Arizona, which stands to draw billions of dollars from the federal government to help pay for health care coverage.
At stake is the health care of tens of thousands of residents who may lose coverage if Arizona decides against expanding or if it can’t pay for their healthcare.
The backlash against LaFaro was swift.
“If its true Mar.Cnty Chair LaFaro said ‘Jesus had Judas. Repubs have Brewer’ He should apologize & resign. Stoops to name calling, childish,” Tobin said on his Twitter page.
Kurt Davis, a Republican political consultant, echoed the call, also on Twitter: “From the ‘Not prepared to lead’ file…it is apparent that Maricopa GOP Chair, A.J. LaFaro is clownish character. Resignation is necessary.”
Davis said once a party leader crosses the line when publicly attacking elected officials, his ability to lead is “eviscerated.”
He added it takes a lot of “apologies, backtracking, serious admission of being misguided and certainly [of being] clownish in their behavior” to repair the damage. He said party leaders can’t sever their individual remarks from their position.
Some opponents of the Medicaid expansion plan also worried that LaFaro’s off-the-cuff comments merely served to detract from and diminish their cause against the governor’s plan.
Still, some said the issue is being overblown and questioned the assertion that it could hurt the opposition’s cause, arguing people have long decided where they stand on the issue.
Some, like former senator Ron Gould, who chairs the Mohave County Republican Party, said they agree that Brewer has “abandoned” Republicans and conservative principles.
But Gould said he always refrained from using Biblical references to “villainize” people. “I take the Bible seriously,” he said, adding to use it to berate people is “just harsh.”