The citizen referendum against Gov. Jan Brewer’s Medicaid expansion has begun.
The United Republican Alliance of Principled Conservatives, which is headed up by former Sens. Frank Antenori and Ron Gould, took out petitions for a citizen referendum this morning at the Secretary of State’s Office in Tucson. The group has until Sept. 11 to collect 86,405 valid signatures to refer Brewer’s expansion plan to the November 2014 ballot.
The measure would refer two key portions of the Medicaid plan to the ballot – the section expanding Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System eligibility to 133 percent of the federal poverty level and the provision implementing a hospital tax that will fund the state’s portion of the program and qualify the state for federal matching funds.
URAPC Chair Christine Bauserman, a Tucson tea party activist, said the campaign will kick off with a rally at the Capitol on Saturday morning. She said the campaign already has about 1,200 volunteers, and will begin its canvassing initially in Legislative Districts 15 and 18, the home districts of several pro-expansion Republican lawmakers.
“People are coming in from all over Arizona asking for stacks of 100 petitions,” Bauserman said. “They’re ready to go. They’re jumping at the gate to go.”
Bauserman said the group doesn’t have much money. But she and other organizers say they won’t need much money and will be able to collect enough signatures with an all-volunteer effort. She said numerous legislative district GOP organizations have pledged to collect 4,000 to 5,000 signatures apiece, and other conservative groups are throwing their support behind the effort as well.
“They want something to do to make them feel like they’ve got something to do to fight all this,” she said. “I don’t think anybody’s really grasping how angry the people are.”
Bauserman said the group’s goal is to collect about 120,000 signatures.
By launching the signature collection on June 22, the group will need to collect more than 1,460 signatures each day to hit its target.
Antenori, a Tucson Republican who clashed frequently with Brewer during his time at the Legislature, said collecting the signatures will be tough.
“It’s not going to be a slam dunk, but it’s doable. We have so many energized people,” he said. “We’ve got a wide swath of the most activist members of the Republican Party fired up and ready to go.”
The referendum campaign is likely to face resistance on several levels. The Governor’s Office argues that Medicaid expansion cannot legally be referred to the ballot under a 1991 court ruling barring taxes passed to fund the operations of government from being sent to the ballot under Arizona’s referendum laws.
Bauserman said URAPC’s lawyers are prepared for a legal battle. The Goldwater Institute has also offered to represent the group if it faces a lawsuit.
A spokesman for Brewer could not be immediately reached for comment.
But Brewer’s allies are planning to continue their fight. Jaime Molera, a spokesman for the Arizona Chamber of Commerce-backed Restoring Arizona campaign, which advocated for Medicaid expansion throughout the session, said the group will actively oppose the referendum drive.
Molera said Restoring Arizona will continue educating the public about Medicaid expansion, including by going to areas where URAPC is collecting signatures, and will keep an eye out to make sure “all their activities are done above board and are being done the right way.”
He said Restoring Arizona may also bring a legal challenge to the referendum.
“We’re… not going to sit on our hands. This is something where we’re going to very engaged and very much actively participating by going to areas where they might be collecting signatures or trying to collect and educating the public as to what this means,” Molera said. “We’re going to be very aggressive.”
After the Legislature passed her Medicaid plan, Brewer said she didn’t think the referendum drive will be able to gather enough signatures.
“And I think that, if it does even reach to the ballot, I bet the people overwhelming will concur with what the Legislature did,” Brewer told reporters on June 13.
But Brewer said it would be a shame if referendum organizers collected enough signatures to put Medicaid expansion on the ballot because it would put the program on hold until after the November 2014 election.