Long before lawmakers took a vote on Medicaid expansion, Republican precinct committeemen across the state issued a warning to GOP
legislators: If you vote for expansion, we will do everything we can to take you out in the next primary election.
And now, after 14 Republican lawmakers joined forces with Democrats to pass the governor’s marquee proposal, many of the district and county parties are following through with those threats.
Four districts have approved resolutions of “no confidence” in their elected Republicans who voted for expansion or censures for Gov. Jan Brewer and all the wayward Republicans.
And GOP grassroots activists say more votes of censure and “no confidence” are on the way.
Although the admonishments carry no legal weight, the elected precinct committeemen and district chairs say they serve to remind voters in the 2014 GOP primary that the Republicans who supported Medicaid expansion aren’t real Republicans: they’re RINOs, or Republicans In Name Only.
They hope the formal reprimands will be a black stain on the names of those who voted for expansion, and ensure their defeat in the next primary election.
But in some of the state’s competitive legislative districts, party leadership is trying to avoid formally reprimanding elected officials, believing that such a move puts the incumbent Republican at a greater risk in the primary election. They fear that could lead to hardline conservatives advancing to the general election, opening the door for Democrats to win the seats.
Republicans in moderate Republican districts argue the move to cleanse the party of moderates could backfire, shrinking the Republican tent and pushing moderate voters away from the GOP.
Competitive districts and moderate Republicans
Pima County Republicans were thrilled last year when they managed to get Republican Ethan Orr elected to the Arizona House of Representatives against long odds in the Democratic-leaning Legislative District 9, which covers the northern areas of Tucson.
But after Orr voted for Medicaid expansion, many of the people who worked to elect him felt betrayed, according to LD9 GOP chair Donna Alu.
Alu disagrees with Orr’s decision, but she’s also a realist. She credits Orr with being a strong candidate who can make personal connections that overcome political differences, and said Orr is their best — maybe only — shot at retaining the seat for Republicans.
And although Republican precinct committeemen in the district are overwhelmingly opposed to Medicaid expansion, nobody has been talking about issuing a censure, Alu said.
“District 9 is not a Republican district, it leans Democrat,” she said. “We can’t put in (Republican Sen.) Al Melvin and win… Censuring (Orr) doesn’t make sense, not in LD9 anyway,” she said.
In LD28, which covers parts of central and east Phoenix, the district’s Republican leadership actually supports their two Republican lawmakers who voted for expansion: Sen. Adam Driggs and Rep. Kate Brophy McGee.
While LD28 Republican Party Chairman Scott O’Connor and the district leadership team oppose Obamacare and want Congress to repeal the law, he said they support the governor’s decision to expand Medicaid coverage.
Though the district has a 13-percentage point Republican voter registration advantage, the electorate is notably moderate, and Democrat Eric Meyer holds the second House seat. O’Connor said the move by other districts to condemn Republican lawmakers — including Driggs and Brophy McGee — is counterproductive and amounts to
“(Republican) party suicide.”
“It will end up being ammo for a flier from Democrats next year,” he said.
O’Connor said that, while elected Republicans have a responsibility to listen to their precinct committeemen, they ultimately have to make their own decisions, and shouldn’t kowtow to the far right wing of the party that tends to be the most active and vocal in party politics.
He said some precinct committeemen in the district have advocated for a censure of their Republican lawmakers, but the leadership team doesn’t want to go that route.
“If it did come to a vote, it would be close. But the moderates have the numbers,” he said.
What kind of Republican?
That’s not the case in LD15, which covers northern portions of the Phoenix metropolitan area, including parts of Glendale, Cave Creek and Scottsdale, and is one of the more conservative districts in the state. Republicans have an almost two-to-one voter registration advantage over Democrats in the district, and the victor of the GOP primary is assured an easy win in the general election.
The question for voters in LD15 isn’t whether they want a Republican or a Democrat. The question is, what kind of Republican do they prefer?
In the past two election cycles, Republican primary voters have
chosen Rep. Heather Carter. In 2010, Carter was the top vote-getter in a seven-way primary. In 2012, she won nearly 40 percent of the vote in a four-way primary. Her closest competitor won 23 percent of the vote.
Despite her obvious popularity in the district, her district party still overwhelmingly approved a vote of no confidence against Carter.
District chair David Henderson said although Carter has won the approval from Republican voters in the past, she betrayed the will of those voters by supporting Medicaid expansion. He said the vote of no confidence will hopefully bolster a Republican challenger to Carter, and the district can replace her with someone who toes the line on important issues like Medicaid expansion.
LD15 was one of the many district and county parties and other Republican groups that passed a resolution urging their lawmakers to oppose Medicaid expansion when the proposal was still being debated at the Capitol. The LD15 resolution chided Carter for supporting the measure “in direct opposition to the overwhelming majority of LD15 precinct committeemen.”
But Carter worries that voting to denounce their fellow Republicans over a policy difference shrinks the size of the GOP tent, and pushes those Republicans with opposing views away from the party, when the party should be doing the opposite.
Carter cites Republican President Ronald Reagan’s 80-20 rule, which states that someone who you agree with 80 percent of the time isn’t your 20 percent enemy, and reminds fellow Republicans of Reagan’s 11th Commandment: “Thou shall not speak ill of any fellow Republican.”
“I think we should be focusing on the things that bring us together more than on the things that separate us,” Carter said.
Jerry Clingman, chairman of the Legislative District 16 Republican Party, echoes the sentiment of many precinct committeemen across the state when he says the Republicans who voted for expansion — including LD16’s Sen. Rich Crandall and Rep. Doug Coleman — turned their backs on the party and should be voted out of office. The district, which covers parts of eastern Maricopa County and northern Pinal County, including Mesa, San Tan Valley and Apache Junction, has a 17- percentage point Republican voter registration advantage, and Clingman wants to make sure the district’s lawmakers will be conservative Republicans who adhere to the party platform.
His current delegation doesn’t fit that description, he said.
“It seems we have some people who ran as a Republican and they tricked us,” Clingman said. “We need to figure out who the real Republicans are so that we can back them. And those who want to fool us, we’re going to get them out (of office).”
Republican precinct committeemen in LD16 are scheduled to vote July 18 on a resolution to censure Brewer and the Republican lawmakers who voted for her Medicaid expansion plan.
Clingman said he has no doubt that the precinct committeemen will approve the resolution.
“The question is, will it be unanimous?” he said.
If the vote follows the established trend, it will be approved overwhelmingly. In all four districts that have already taken votes, the motions to reprimand lawmakers who supported expansion have been supported by a vast majority of the precinct committeemen.
When the Maricopa County precinct committeemen in LD1 approved a vote of no confidence for Sen. Steve Pierce at their June 17 meeting, the vote was unanimous. The precinct committeemen pulled no punches in wording the motion, which stated that Pierce stood with Democrats and voted against party principals, and they made their intentions clear: “This will remind us, as precinct committeemen, where we want to invest our time and effort in the next LD1 primary election.”
Republicans in LD25, a solidly Republican district that covers much of Mesa, approved a resolution against their own Sen. Bob Worsley and all the other Republican lawmakers who supported Medicaid expansion, along with Brewer. The resolution listed more than 20 reasons why the Republicans deserved a censure, and there were only two dissenters in the June 20 vote.
Precinct committeemen in LD15 approved a vote of no confidence in Carter at their June 28 meeting by a vote of 54-5.
Even in the Democratic stronghold of LD27, GOP activists are scolding the Republicans who voted for expansion. At their July 9 meeting, Republicans in LD27 voted to censure all the legislative Republicans supporting expansion, along with Brewer, approving the measure unanimously.
Maricopa County Republican Party Chairman AJ LaFaro said this is just the beginning of a growing trend, which he expects to pick up steam when legislative districts resume regular meetings in the fall.