It was a busy week at the state Capitol. We’ll recap all the week’s top stories.
Backers Of Two Ballot Referendum Petition Drives Approaching Deadline
Backers of two ballot referendum petition drives are rapidly approaching deadlines to get them before Arizona voters in 2014. Barry Hess of the Libertarian Party said the Protect Your Right to Vote Committee has collected at least 130,000 signatures in its attempt to block an omnibus election law from taking effect. In part, the legislation would significantly increase signature requirements for third party candidates.
The other drive, a charge by the United Republican Alliance of Principled Conservatives to halt Medicaid expansion in the state, has to collect more than 86,000 valid signatures to get on the November 2014 ballot. If the group reaches that goal, the expansion would be stopped in its tracks, a potentially significant blow to the Arizona economy, and a sign that the state’s residents are not in tune with legislative action taken in June.
Late that month, former State Sen. Frank Antenori made it clear that collecting enough signatures would be an uphill climb.
"We have a monumental task in front of us. If you read all the reports in the media, they say we can’t get it done," Antenori said. "The left has this thing where they say ‘si se puede’—yes we can, but when we say we’re going to go out and do something, it’s always ‘no they can’t, no they can’t.'"
Former State Sen. Ron Gould is co-leader of the anti-expansion effort. While in office, he famously walked out on Gov. Brewer’s State of the State Address when she called for temporarily upping Arizona’s sales tax. Here is Gould at a June rally.
"Let’s show the moderates, quote moderates, in our party that we’re not going to tolerate this. We are the Republican party. We have a set of principles," Gould said. "If you don’t like our principles, there’s another party that has a different set of principles. Sign up for that party."
"When you do a referral, it’s basically a small minority that can usurp the will of the people," said Jaime Molera of the Molera Alvarez Group is with Restoring Arizona which is supporting Medicaid expansion.
"This is not just an expansion. The majority of this is restoring what Arizona voters did in 2000 with Proposition 204," Molera said. "260,000 people have been taken off the Medicaid rolls during our last recession because Arizona, like every other state in the union, had massive problems."
But opponents of the Medicaid legislation are upset with Gov. Brewer, saying she is now buddy-buddy with President Obama, contradicting her opposition to the Affordable Care Act.
So when the anti-Medicaid effort needed an influx of cash, it is no surprise a sizable contribution, $20,000, recently came in from the Tea Party Patriots, a national organization. The money was expected to be used to pay petition circulators among other things.
"Volunteer circulating is extremely difficult. That’s why you see most efforts that are successful are paid," said Andrew Chavez., owner of the Phoenix-based nonpartisan Petition Partners, which has been involved in signature-gathering drives since 1999. He said the summer is an especially tough time to get voters to sign petitions, not that it is ever easy.
"Most circulators deal with an 80 percent rejection rate. Most people who go into a grocery store only want to go in, get their milk and bread and get out," Chavez said. "They don’t want to have a conversation with a stranger in front of the store. As a petitioner, you definitely need to understand rejection very quickly."
Chavez said state lawmakers have made it harder to get proposed ballot referenda in front of voters. Increased oversight from the Secretary of State and Attorney General’s Office basically guarantees that signature collection is just one step in what has become a longer process.
"These groups right now that are running referenda, both Medicaid expansion and 2305, have to assume, and they will be in court, sometime at the end of November," Chavez said.
But for both sides of the Medicaid expansion debate, the fight is worthwhile. Opponents say they are trying to prevent the federal government from bigfooting on Arizona. Supporters like Molera believe the state is trying to avoid a misstep into a very deep hole.
We believe it would be devastating for those folks, 63,000 Arizonans who would lose their coverage, many of whom even if they are going through cancer treatment it ends. That is the reality. One of the big arguments going through the legislative process of why the legislature voted to do this—because there are significant stakes in play if this were not to happen.