Arizona Governor Jan Brewer Pushes Through Medicaid Expansion Despite Death Threats And GOP Opposition

When finger-wagging-in-Obama's-face Gov. Jan Brewer does something progressive, particularly in alignment with that president, hell truly has frozen over. Image @BlogForArizona

When finger-wagging-in-Obama’s-face Gov. Jan Brewer does something progressive, particularly in alignment with that president, hell truly has frozen over. Image @BlogForArizona

Apparently hell has frozen over. When the reddest of red states, Arizona, does anything that smacks of progressive thinking, it merits mention; when über-conservative, finger-wagging-in-the-President’s-face Governor Jan Brewer not only does something progressive, but something in alignment with that same president, hellfire’s gone, ice is hard, and devils are out on skates. It’s been announced that a bipartisan coalition passed a measure on Thursday that will expand Medicaid for nearly 300,000 poor Arizona residents, a move not only supported by Governor Brewer, but pushed ahead despite fierce opposition from fellow conservative Republicans in both the Arizona Senate and House.

Clearly there are economic ulterior motives:

States that refuse the expansion risk losing $8.4 billion in federal money and face $1 billion in new state spending on programs to compensate hospitals that treat people without health insurance, according to an analysis released last week by the Rand Corporation. About 3.4 million people who could have gained health coverage under Obamacare will remain uninsured next year because of states that won’t expand the program, Avalere Health estimated.

But despite those more practical motives, there is something bold about an avowed anti-Obamacare Republican risking her political currency in such a controversial manner. This is the state, after all, where some who’ve sided with Brewer on this issue have received death threats; Arizonans don’t take lightly to their conservative principles being ignored! But Brewer has stood firm throughout the process, which culminated in a session that began Wednesday afternoon, June 12, and extended through Thursday morning, leading to a final vote by Thursday afternoon, making Brewer one of nine Republican governors who’ve joined Democrats on Medicaid expansion.

In a statement released on Thursday, Governor Brewer made clear her support of the new legislation:

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“As an elected official of more than 30 years, I know that this process was not easy or without political risk. By joining me in extending health coverage to hundreds of thousands of Arizonans, legislators of my own party have come under sharp criticism in some quarters. Some have had threats made not just against their political future, but also their personal livelihood.

“But I also know this in my heart: The great majority of Arizonans stand with us. Our citizens have – time and again – voted to extend cost-effective care to the working poor. Over the last five months, more than 400 community groups have rallied behind our effort. They include nurses and doctors … who described the desperate plight of uninsured Arizonans forced to seek care in the emergency room. Business leaders … who pay the Hidden Health Care Tax that results from this uncompensated care. First responders and members of law enforcement … who see the human toll on our streets and in our communities as so many Arizonans with mental illness lack access to basic care. [… ]

“This Medicaid Restoration Plan does not solve all of Arizona’s health care challenges. But it will extend cost-effective care to Arizona’s working poor, using the very tax dollars our citizens already pay to the federal government. It will help prevent our rural and safety-net hospitals from closing their doors. And it will boost our economy by creating more than 20,000 jobs at a time when Arizona needs them most. ” [Read full statement here]

Brewer has, frankly, surprised a number of people on both sides of the aisle in her undeterred stance on the Medicaid expansion. She called a special session on Tuesday to get the adjourned legislature back to the table to work on that issue as well as other aspects of the state budget, and there were some who were not particularly happy with the demand:

“I’m deeply and profoundly disappointed at the manner in which this came down,” said Senate President Andy Biggs, before voting against the measure Thursday. […]

“This proposal is not a freebie for Arizona taxpayers,” said state Sen. Nancy Barto, a Republican and the chairwoman of the health committee, on the floor Thursday. “Here we are, once again, putting ourselves at the mercy of the federal government.” [Source]

Brewer didn’t seem to care, despite those comments and other fierce condemnation over her support of the Medicaid measure. Term limits keeps her from another term as governor and one can extrapolate that the unburdening freedom of that has, in part, influenced her uncharacteristic political independence. But it comes down to sheer, unadulterated practicality, something Brewer and other Republican governors have been forced, willingly or otherwise, to ultimately embrace.

And the flip side of Republican disdain is the rare appreciation from progressives and liberals:

“This is a big deal because Arizona and Gov. Brewer are very conservative,” said Ron Pollack, executive director of Families USA, a consumer advocacy organization that supports the health care reform law. “It shows that at least for this governor and this state, practicality and common sense has prevailed over ideology and partisanship,” he said. “This is a reflection of what we’re going to see over time in many other states across the country.” [Source]

Perhaps once the heat dies down and her term at the helm of Arizona is finally over, Brewer can shake off her past and look to the possibility of declaring as an independent. Hell froze once in that red state; who says it can’t happen again?