May 16 was an eventful day at the state Capitol. It was one of those rare occasions when some members of the state Legislature put aside petty bickering, ideological pandering and self-aggrandizement to simply do what was right for Arizona by passing Medicaid restoration in the state Senate.
This could not have been accomplished without the steadfast support of the 13 Democratic senators, who unlike Gov. Jan Brewer, were on the right side of the issue from day one. Like the majority of Arizonans, Democrats in the Legislature saw the positive benefit of ensuring that hundreds of thousands of low-income Arizonans have health care.
Democrats in the Legislature did not need to wait until it became a crisis, nor did they have to be heavily lobbied by industries that rely on a fix to this problem. They did not have to be promised campaign contributions, nor did they have to have their political careers threatened. Democrats in the Legislature supported Medicaid restoration for one reason — it was the right thing for Arizona.
Unfortunately, this reason is not the prevailing intent behind the majority of the legislation that has passed through the Legislature this year. When you look at the issues that matter the most to Arizonans, they will not find much relief from the bills that have passed the 51st Arizona Legislature.
Many may lament the lack of leadership displayed in the Legislature.
But Democrats maintain it’s not the lack of leadership but rather the absence of the right kind of leadership that results in the public’s understandable frustration at the Legislature’s unwillingness to tackle the issues which are important to voters – issues such as funding for public education, attracting high-paying jobs to our state, meaningful gun safety legislation and comprehensive ethics reform to avoid another Fiesta Bowl scandal.
Medicaid restoration was headed down that same legislative dead end that nearly all of these other important issues fell casualty to until May 16. For that one day, 13 Democrats joined with a handful of Republicans to do what they were elected to do—their jobs. They put the public ahead of politics and in some cases they risked their jobs.
This does not have to be a rare event, and we do not have to relinquish hope of passing other meaningful legislation. It is simply time to realize that the Republican Party in Arizona has been hijacked by those with an extreme ideology. This ideology prioritizes blind allegiance over compromise, conspiracy over science and it seems to place a high premium on making Arizona the laughing stock of America.
It is hard to explain how else we have turned Medicaid expansion into the single most controversial topic of 2013. The Republican Party in Arizona has rendered itself essentially incapable of governing the state. While Republicans continue to argue about Agenda 21 and the location of President Obama’s birth, Democrats will continue to focus on a solutions-oriented approach to the problems that Arizonans care about.
— D.J. Quinlan is executive director of the Arizona Democratic Party.