Fearing a Democrat political tsunami in 2014, Gov. Jan Brewer urged fellow Republicans on Friday to stop targeting their GOP colleagues who supported her Medicaid expansion.
In an open letter, Brewer noted there are intra-party efforts to oust at least some of the nine representatives and five Republican senators who aligned with Democrats to approve the measure. The governor said that course is fraught with danger.
"To continue efforts to potentially hurt and intimidate those who stood with me only puts Republicans' chances for electoral success next year back in harm's way,'' Brewer wrote.
And the governor warned that this might mean more than reducing the current GOP majority in the Legislature. She pointed out that every statewide office up for grabs in 2014 is occupied by a Republican.
"Democrats are looking for ways to tip the scales on a statewide level to increase Democrat turnout,'' she said. And she said divisive Republican primaries could do just that.
But Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, one of the chief foes of Medicaid expansion, said Brewer is off base in calling on fellow Republicans to back off. He said no candidate of any party is guaranteed party support in a primary
"And members who deviate substantially from Republican principles should be especially concerned,'' Kavanagh said.
"If Republican voters don't think that you represent their views, then you should go,'' he continued. "And I don't this those people represent Republican views on a major issue.''
Gubernatorial press aide Matthew Benson said his boss believes her Medicaid expansion plan is the fiscally prudent thing for the state to do. But whatever their views, Benson said the Republicans who opposed expansion -- and lost -- should just get over it.
"There was a full hearing on this issue, there's been a vote, it's been signed into law and we move forward,'' Benson said, saying the issue is "over and done with.''
"It's going to be self-defeating if Republicans spend the next 18 months if Republican have a bloodletting over this issue,'' he said. Benson said such a fight will only benefit Democrats.
Benson said the potential political problem for Republicans is not limited to primary challenges, citing the effort led by two former Republican legislators to force a public vote on the Medicaid expansion at the 2014 election.
"The referendum is terribly unhelpful to the Republican Party,'' he said. Benson said if the measure makes it on to the ballot it would create "a massive voter turnout mechanism for Democrats in the state.''
Benson said his boss wants the entire debate to evaporate.
"Gov. Brewer is rallying Republicans to turn their attention to defeating Democrats in 2014 rather than continue to target fellow Republicans.
But Rep. Carl Seel, R-Phoenix, another leader of the anti-expansion effort, said he and his colleagues are not about to back off.
"I think that the people who voted with the Democrats for the largest example of socialized medicine in Arizona history should suffer the wrath of the Republican voters in the next Republican primary,'' he said. And Seel said he is unconcerned with Brewer's fear that intraparty squabbling will lead to electing more Democrats.
"Effectively, if nine of the Republicans in the House vote consistently with the Democrats, or did in this case ... then what do we really have?'' he said. "We have a Democrat-led Legislature.''
Seel acknowledged that, other than Medicaid expansion and the related budget bills, most of the nine normally side with the GOP majority on partisan issues. But he said Medicaid expansion went to "core issues'' of the Republican platform like abortion, pointing out that the GOP dissidents and their Democrat allies worked to keep the measure from being amended to include language designed to ensure that Medicaid dollars would not be used to indirectly subsidize that procedure.
Brewer, however, said party members need to look at the bigger picture.
"Ronald Reagan often used the quote, 'The person who agrees with you 80 percent of the time is a friend and an ally, not a 20 percent traitor,' '' she wrote in her open letter.
"As fellow Republicans, we agree even more than 80 percent of the time,'' Brewer continued. "We are allies.''
Brewer's plea to Republicans comes as the governor's allies on the issue fired the first legal shots Friday in their anticipated bid to keep the referendum from getting to the ballot.
In a letter to Secretary of State Ken Bennett, attorney Kory Langhofer acknowledged constitutional provisions allow voters to get the last word on most legislation. The notable exception are laws for the "support and maintenance'' of state agencies.
Langhofer said while some of the He said while some of the funds would expand Medicaid, some will be used to restore coverage which had previously been cancelled due to budget cuts. And Langhofer said Bennett needs to know that.
"He's the chief elections officer in the state,'' Langhofer said. "If they file their signatures and someone wants to challenge the constitutionality of this, Ken Bennett is going to be a defendant in that lawsuit.''
But referendum organizer Frank Antenori said -- and Langhofer did not dispute -- that the letter to Bennett is legally meaningless, as only a court can declare the petition drive illegal. Antenori said the letter, which was purposely made public, is a sign that supporters of expansion are getting desperate.
"They're just hanging on, praying to God that they can find a knucklehead judge that might agree with them,'' he said.