PHOENIX (AP) – A Republican member of the Arizona House who supports GOP Gov. Jan Brewer’s push to expand Medicaid received an obscene and threatening voicemail at her office, a sign that the rancorous debate over embracing a signature component of President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul in the state is far from over.
A visibly shaken state Rep. Kate Brophy McGee of Phoenix urged fellow members Thursday to tell their constituents to be civil, after a fellow lawmaker encouraged opponents of the plan to call Brophy McGee and other GOP supporters.
“Let’s tone down the rhetoric, let’s focus on the issue, and let’s disagree without making someone like me frightened to come to work,” Brophy McGee said on the House floor.
Other lawmakers who support or are believed to back Medicaid expansion reported getting email and phone calls containing varying layers of vitriol.
“We’re all getting these,” said Rep. Bob Robson, R-Chandler, who has not publically committed to expansion.
Arizona is among nine states where Republican governors have accepted the Medicaid expansion offered under Obama’s health care law. Of those, six have been able to get a deal with their legislatures or are on track to do so.
The six are Arizona, Iowa, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico and North Dakota, with Arizona in the midst of a heated Legislative battle. The three other GOP governors ran into trouble with lawmakers of their own party, and prospects look dim for Medicaid expansion in Florida, Michigan and Ohio.
Brophy McGee got the threatening message after Republican Rep. Bob Thorpe of Flagstaff sent an email earlier in the week urging his constituents to call her and five other GOP House members who support Medicaid expansion. Thorpe said he sent an apology to the lawmakers late Wednesday, telling them he “screwed up” and wouldn’t do so again.
“I think that kind of behavior is intolerable and terrible and it’s very unfortunate that that happened,” Thorpe said of the threat against Brophy McGee. Thorpe, however, said he’s not to blame because he specifically urged people to be polite.
Brophy McGee said it was, “too little, too late.” She added that while she takes, “a fair amount of insults and abuse, this was beyond the pale.”
Brophy McGee said her assistant called state House security Thursday upon hearing the male caller begin making threats in the message. Brophy McGee said the caller sounded intoxicated and left a telephone number. House security is investigating.
Other groups have also named the GOP lawmakers supporting Medicaid expansion, and it isn’t known if Thorpe’s email prompted the caller. But state House speaker Andy Tobin said he talked to Thorpe and the apology followed.
“I don’t think he urged them to call and threaten,” Tobin said.
The Republican-controlled Arizona Senate passed a state budget last week that included the Medicaid expansion provision championed by Brewer. Five Republicans joined all 13 Democrats in adding the provision to a budget bill, and a sixth GOP lawmaker then joined them in approving the entire package.
Conservative Republicans were furious at the supporters. The head of the Maricopa County Republican Party, A.J. LaFaro, called the day of the vote “a day of infamy.”
“Their political careers are all but over and their days numbered,” he said of the GOP proponents.
The House is similarly split on the provision, but there appears to be enough Republican support to push it through with all minority Democrats on board. A vote could come soon.
Brewer shocked many in January when she announced she wanted to embrace a key part of the Affordable Care Act by expanding Medicaid after being one of the most outspoken governors against Obama’s plan.
The federal government will pay 100 percent of most costs for three years and 90 percent thereafter, a much more generous share than with the rest of the Medicaid population. The governor’s proposal includes a “circuit breaker” that would cut the new insurance if federal funding drops below 80 percent.
AP reporter Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar contributed from Washington
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