The chairman of the Republican Party in Maricopa County rejected a call for him to resign Thursday for comparing Gov. Jan Brewer to Judas because she wants to expand the state’s Medicaid plan, but he said he didn’t mean to disrespect the governor or her office.
A.J. LaFaro said in an email to The Associated Press that he didn’t intend to offend anyone at a House hearing on the expansion plan Wednesday evening. He called the reaction to his remark about Jesus’ betrayer a “classic example of things getting blown out of proportion,” and said his comments reflected his passion on the subject.
House speaker Andy Tobin said LaFaro stepped over the line from impassioned debate and should apologize and step down. Tobin and Brewer are both Republicans.
LaFaro gave lengthy testimony during a House Appropriations Committee hearing on Brewer’s proposed expansion of the state’s Medicaid program, laying out his opposition and that of fellow GOP committee leaders. He said the governor’s decision to embrace a signature component of President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul law was a mistake, and that states should reject Medicaid expansion because it eventually will consume a huge chunk of the federal budget.
He ended his testimony by saying “Jesus had Judas, Republicans have Governor Brewer.”
Tobin said Thursday there’s no place for those kinds of comments in the state Capitol.
“I think we all should be treating each other with respect,” Tobin said. “The governor has a different viewpoint. It’s unfair for someone who’s not in her place to insult, and this is not a place to do that, and I won’t have it in our building, and I think he owes the governor a great apology.”
Brewer surprised many when she embraced the expansion during January’s state of the state address, coming after years of battling against the health care law. She has since gone on a statewide effort to drum up support, holding news conferences and enlisting business leaders and members of the medical community.
Still, she faces a tough road in the Legislature to enactment.
The governor’s plan calls for an assessment on hospitals to bring in about $250 million a year to pay for the state’s share of an expanded Medicaid program. The state can expect $1.6 billion a year in new federal funding, freeing health care providers of hundreds of millions of dollars in uncompensated care. The expansion would add at least 300,000 poor Arizonans to the nearly 1.3 million already on the plan, called the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System, or AHCCCS.
On Thursday, LaFaro issued a long statement, then responded to a follow-up email by saying he wasn’t resigning and neither should Brewer.
“Being passionate and having the conviction to stand up for what you believe in doesn’t merit resignation,” LaFaro wrote. “I think this is a classic example of things getting blown out of proportion. We are all human and sometimes mistakes happen.”
Brewer spokesman Matthew Benson said the governor has been around long enough to know people will sometimes call her names and act irrationally.
“She’s not concerned about it,” Benson said. “She’s concerned about getting her Medicaid plan over the finish line, and she’s not wasting any time over a party functionary nobody had heard of before Wednesday evening.”