Among the most politically contentious in recent years, 2013 inevitably produced its set of diminished stars and short-lived meteorites — individuals and groups that made a strong impression, all for the right or wrong reasons.
But others also won big, such as the hospitals, which are now better positioned after years of cuts to their reimbursement rates and struggling to pay for uncompensated emergency care.
The list includes mainstays of Arizona’s Capitol community, as well as new groups that formed to fight off laws approved by the Legislature and signed by the governor. For some, the political battle is just beginning, and 2014 will spell their success or doom. For others, however, the fight ended early and miserably.
Gov. Jan Brewer is no stranger to fierce battles at the Capitol. But in getting lawmakers to pass her Medicaid expansion plan over strong opposition from her fellow Republicans, she achieved what likely will be remembered as the crowning success of her governorship. When Brewer announced in her annual state address that she would pursue expansion — the unanswered question had been lingering for months — a door opened for Democrats. Suddenly, legislative Democrats found themselves in a rare alliance with the governor, and, for the first time in years, had a seat at the negotiating table. But partisans in the Republican caucuses also lined up with their respective factions. In the end, the opposition stood helplessly as Brewer and her coalition passed a budget that included the expansion of Arizona’s Medicaid program.
Long accustomed to being sidelined by the majority, Democrats, who have been in the minority in both chambers for decades, shared center stage with Brewer, coalescing with a handful of Republicans to pass Medicaid expansion.
Brewer and Republicans who supported the governor took the lead, but the plan’s success hinged on Democrats’ support. In return, the minority got a seat on the table, especially in crafting the annual budget, and the party’s leaders had an open line of communication with the governor’s top aides, something that hadn’t really happened since 2008, when Democrat Janet Napolitano was the governor. The Democrats’ influence this year was palpable in beating back attempts to include pro-life language in the Medicaid expansion legislation. And while it was clear that Brewer and her allies had the votes to pass the health care law, it was upon the urging of House Minority Leader Chad Campbell that the coalition finally decided to call for a special session to approve the expansion.
Ultimately, the biggest winners in the Medicaid expansion battle are the hospitals, who will directly benefit from the decision to expand eligibility for the state’s health insurance program. A few years ago, hospitals resisted the idea of taxing themselves in order to pay for part of the state’s Medicaid program, but the severity of the financial crisis led them to reconsider. Greg Vigdor, CEO of the Arizona Hospital and Healthcare Association, said Brewer’s plan was so important that hospitals agreed to impose an assessment on themselves to fund the expansion. The Medicaid expansion includes a hospital assessment, which the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System director will determine. That assessment will allow the state to fund the expansion of Medicaid eligibility to all Arizonans who earn up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level without having the state shoulder the costs, thanks to a massive influx of federal dollars.
At first blush, 2013 may not seem like the best year for the campaign financing mechanism labeled as “dark money,” under which the true financiers of groups that influence elections remain hidden behind a veil. Thanks to the highly publicized activities of Arizona-based Americans for Responsible Leadership, a conservative group that helped defeat two ballot measures in 2012, dark money easily became a punching bag for political pundits. But while the practice of dark money was under fire throughout 2013, it weathered the storm in Arizona. The proposed legislation here never got off the ground. And for all the publicity surrounding a California fine, the amount was a drop in the bucket considering the scores of millions of dollars involved. Also, Phoenix’s municipal elections were dominated by dark money this year. The subject is also likely to be on the radar during the 2014 legislative session. Sen. Michele Reagan, R-Scottsdale, is working on a bill to require real disclosure of the source of funding. But some Republican lawmakers are wary of new laws that they say infringe on free speech rights, and any proposal aimed at curbing dark money may have an uphill climb.
Protect Your Right to Vote
Killing a bill after it has been passed by both chambers of the Legislature and signed by the governor is no small feat. To even get a shot at it, critics would have to find at least 86,000 registered Arizona voters who disagree with the law, and get them to sign a petition to stop it. But the Protect Your Right to Vote Committee accomplished the feat. Major backing for the referendum effort against HB2305 was provided by the Democratic Party and its traditional union allies. But the drive brought together a coalition of volunteers, financial contributors and supporters rarely seen in politics. The battle to stop the law’s provisions is continuing and the law’s fate is ultimately up to the voters to decide in the 2014 election. But by turning in more than 110,000 valid signatures against the law, the Protect Your Right to Vote Committee put HB2305 on hold until the election and showed it is a serious force on the campaign trial.
Andy Biggs and Andy Tobin
Republican leaders walked away from last legislative session bruised and battered, barely escaping with their titles. House Speaker Andy Tobin and Senate President Andy Biggs were both nearly overthrown by the coalition of Democrats and Republicans that ultimately approved the governor’s Medicaid expansion plan. This came after the coalition grew frustrated with the leaders’ refusal to schedule a vote on any budget that included the expansion plan. Though both leaders were bloodied, Tobin caught the worst of it, as opponents and proponents of the plan felt he was stringing them along. By straddling the fence and never staking a clear position, Tobin lost some respect from both sides of the issue. While Tobin has a perilous road ahead of him, Biggs’ path is just as rocky. If Gov. Jan Brewer calls for any significant spending increases next year, the raw wounds within Republican ranks will likely be ripped open, and the bipartisan coalition may again have to take control of the chambers to pass a budget.
Arizona Public Service
Despite spending millions of dollars in an intensive and expensive public relations blitz, the state’s biggest public utility failed to persuade the state’s energy regulators to drastically reduce a key incentive, which has allowed thousands of Arizonans take advantage of solar technology to power their homes. Arizona Public Service argued that the net metering system, under which the utility company purchases excess rooftop solar energy, is unfair to non-solar rooftop users, who end up paying for the cost of maintaining the grid, which delivers power to all types of users. Instead of slashing the savings of rooftop solar users by roughly half, the Arizona Corporation Commission adopted a surcharge of only 70 cents per kilowatt on residential solar. But while the prevailing sentiment is that APS spectacularly failed in its campaign, a closer scrutiny yields a more measured victory for solar rooftop firms, and perhaps even a partial victory for the utility company. APS didn’t get the surcharge amount it asked for, but the commission still moved in its direction by requiring a new fee on residential solar. More importantly, the company also succeeded in establishing — at least as far as the commissioners are concerned — that the current solar net metering scheme shifts the burden of maintaining the electricity grid to non-solar users.
Clarence Carter, director of Economic Security
Department of Economic Security Director Clarence Carter came to Arizona in 2011 with a resume that looked like a perfect fit for the Arizona agency that employs thousands of workers and runs a multitude of programs such as doling out subsidized meals, caring for the poor, elderly and children, and protecting children. After all, Carter had run large social service programs. He didn’t show up to just run DES, but to transform the safety net system from one that simply meets needs to one that frees people from dependency. But Carter, even with his impressive resume, walked into a dysfunctional Child Protective Services system, in which workers were streaming out of the door in high rates, and abandoning their cases even while calls into the Child Abuse Hotline were spiking. The recent revelation that 6,554 child abuse reports were set aside without an investigation — a violation of Arizona law, which requires all reports to be investigated — raised questions about what he knew and when he knew it. Brewer voiced her confidence in Carter, but Democrats and some in the media have called for his head. When Carter goes to the Legislature to ask for money next year, the response from lawmakers will be telling.
Gary Husk, former Fiesta Bowl lobbyist
Being under indictment can’t be good for business. But it also isn’t good for anyone who is connected to the long-time lobbyist and owner of Husk Partners, who was fired in 2011 by the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl following allegations of illegal campaign contributions. The indictment, however, is not over the work Husk did for the Fiesta Bowl or for the role he played in one of Arizona’s biggest political scandals. Instead, Husk stands accused of soliciting political contributions from Husk Partners employees and their spouses for which they were reimbursed. It’s the same scheme that former Fiesta Bowl CEO John Junker’s attorney accused Husk of coming up with for the bowl game.
United Republican Alliance of Principled Conservatives
The anger among Republicans over Gov. Jan Brewer’s decision to expand Medicaid in Arizona and thereby comply with a key component of the federal Affordable Care Act became a lightning rod for the GOP’s Tea Party base. But the United Republican Alliance of Principled Conservatives, which hoped to put Medicaid expansion on the 2014 ballot, fell short. The group, which is headed by GOP activist Christine Bauserman, collected roughly 81,000 signatures in its referendum drive. The group needed at least 86,405 valid signatures by Sept. 11 to put the Medicaid expansion law on hold until voters decide its fate next year. In the end, the group decided not to submit the signatures collected by its all-volunteer effort.