Historians will determine the just-completed Arizona legislative session as the most significant in memory. An unlikely coalition, which included a hard-nosed, conservative and partisan governor, teamed together to pass Medicaid expansion.
We witnessed numerous examples of Republican legislative ineptitude, proving they are incapable of providing the competent leadership necessary to guide a young, energetic state.
The gratifying moment for Democrats came on June 17, when Gov. Jan Brewer signed into law Medicaid expansion. It is a measure that will provide coverage to an estimated 350,000 Arizonans, return hundreds of millions of federal taxpayer dollars to Arizona, keep clinics and hospitals open and provide 20,000 new jobs.
This could not have been accomplished without the steadfast support of the 37 Democrats in the Legislature. In a major reversal from just two years ago when Governor Brewer was throwing Arizonans off of Medicaid, she embraced this key portion of the Affordable Care Act. It means that once again Arizona will be doing the will of voters who approved Proposition 204, which mandated coverage for those living up to 133 percent of the federal poverty level.
This unlikely coalition included several moderate Republicans, and for once gave taxpayers what they have long demanded and seldom seen. We finally saw lawmakers reach across the wide gulf of the political divide to unite in a common goal and do the right thing. We applaud them, both Republican and Democrat, along with the governor for this rare and wonderful example of political courage. And it did take political courage to overcome the fanatical opposition voiced by extremists in the Legislature who insist on putting ideology ahead of people. Their voices remain as strident as ever, even as their numbers are dwindling.
The 2013 Legislature marked the end of the Republican “super majority,” which proved to be ineffective and inadequate to the task of governing. For the past two years, Arizona saw thousands of its citizens removed from the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System, hundreds of millions of dollars slashed from public education and first responders around the state targeted in an attack on public employee unions devised by ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council.)
While Arizona families were struggling to cope with the effects of the recession that ravaged the economy, the Legislature’s super majority was handing out corporate perks in the form of generous tax cuts. The eight seats Democrats picked up in the House and Senate proved vital in moderating the tone at the Capitol and restoring some much-needed balance when it comes to fiscal policy. The budget is a case in point. In addition to Medicaid expansion, Democrats were effective in restoring some of the devastating cuts to public education and universities, directing much-needed funds to child protective services and adding some much-needed common sense to the process.
We saw many welcomed advances this year. However, some last minute Republican mischief on sine die night is a reminder that much work remains. The disgusting hybrid that is HB2305 is a naked, full frontal shameless, attempt by partisan politicians to influence elections. One of its goals is to make it more difficult for third party candidates to appear on the general election ballot.
Rep. J.D. Mesnard, a Republican from Chandler, admitted during floor debate that at least one congressional race and maybe two did not go “in the direction I would have liked to have seen them go.” It’s clear what Republicans are trying to accomplish. Included in HB2305, under the guise of “election integrity,” are provisions that infringe on a person’s right to vote. In true Republican fashion, HB2305 attempts to solve the problems of the few by creating problems for the many. Democrats will continue to lead the fight against implementation of HB2305.
The 2013 legislative session saw the beginning of the end to the extremism which threatened to deadlock the state. We are hopeful the spirit of bipartisanship, which resulted in the passage of Medicaid expansion, was the beginning of a new era of cooperation and moderation. Arizona deserves it.
— Bill Roe is chairman of the Arizona Democratic Party.