Most of what Gov. Jan Brewer had to say at the State of the State speech on Monday, Jan. 14, was fairly predictable: She wants more money for the state's troubled Child Protective Services, she wants more funding for education, she wants a simplified sales tax and she likes handguns.
But the big surprise came when Brewer strayed from the prepared speech that had been handed out to the press and announced that she wanted the state to embrace a big expansion of health-care insurance coverage for Arizona's poorest residents.
Brewer called for the state to grab the federal dollars available for insuring people below 133 percent of the federal poverty level, which is a key element of the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare.
"With this move, we will secure a federal revenue stream to cover the cost of the uninsured who already show up in our doctors' offices and emergency rooms," Brewer said.
As the Weekly reported last week ("Unhealthy Options," Jan. 10), the AHCCCS expansion requires a relatively low buy-in from the state to unlock a big flow of federal dollars. The Grand Canyon Institute has estimated that it will cost the state roughly $1.5 billion dollars over the next four years—but will bring in nearly $8 billion from the federal government.
As of our deadline, the details remain sketchy. Brewer said she'd find the money for the expansion by using a voluntary assessment from hospitals and health providers, but is that a tax increase that requires a two-thirds vote from the Legislature? Will Republicans go along with the expansion as part of a budget deal? If not, is there a way that Brewer can go around them as via executive order?
Stay tuned: The expansion is shaping up to be one of the big fights of the session.
KOZ'S BIG SWITCH
Tucson City Councilman Steve Kozachik made the big switch last week: He gave up his membership in the Republican Party and joined the Democrats.
Kozachik's change means that there are now zero Republicans on the Tucson City Council.
Given how critical Kozachik had been of the GOP in recent months, the leap wasn't entirely unexpected.
In an open letter to Tucson residents, Kozachik said that "over the past two election cycles it has become clear that the local and Arizona state Republican Party is being driven by a small, but vocal faction that has taken it far to the political right. That faction has effectively taken over the party leadership and is driving an ideological agenda that I do not believe reflects the common will of the community."
When The Skinny spoke with Kozachik over the weekend, he told us that the move had generated "an overwhelmingly" positive response.
"This is nothing at all against the rank-and-file Republicans in this state who are embarrassed by this Republican Party and where they're going," Kozachik said. "It's my sense that this party is going to have to start hemorrhaging some centrist members before they start to understand how detached they are from the values of this community."
Kozachik was welcomed by Democrats. New Pima County Democratic Party chairman Don Jorgensen sent out a bulletin saying that the switch "highlights the fact that the Democratic Party represents mainstream Arizona values that place common sense and the public good ahead of partisan ideology."
Many of Kozachik's loudest critics had a different perspective. Former state lawmaker Frank Antenori, who lost his bid for reelection after redistricting put him in a central Tucson district, said that "for a moment, I thought he'd reached a period of lucidness when he announced that he'd become a Democrat. Then I read his communist manifesto announcement and realized the guy's still just an unabashed liar and just totally in another world."
Antenori takes issue with Kozachik's open letter announcing the switch because he says that Kozachik had assured Antenori that was a true believer in conservative principles when he first ran for office in 2009.
"Everything that he says he doesn't agree with now, he said he supported," Antenori said. "The guy's a liar. His liberal buddies will probably appreciate that—'Oh, good, he lied to the Republicans.'"
The switch definitely makes Kozachik's reelection a lot easier this year. Had he remained a Republican, he would have likely faced a Republican primary in central-Tucson Ward 6 and then a Democratic opponent in a citywide general election.
Now he'll probably be able to avoid a primary fight (and even if he has one, he'll win easy; central-city Democrats love him) and he has a significant voter-registration advantage going into the November general.
Antenori told The Skinny that he's recruiting a candidate to run against Kozachik, but the Republicans he'd been interviewing as potential challengers probably won't work out anymore.
Instead, Antenori believes he's found an independent candidate to challenge Kozachik, although he didn't want to tell us a name yet.
"I don't want to spoil it yet, but he's an independent," Antenori said. "He's well liked by both Democrats and Republicans. If we can rally the Repbublicans and some of the Democrats and the independents behind this guy, I think we can beat (Kozachik)."
WE HAVEN'T SEEN THE LAST OF FRANK
Speaking of former state lawmaker Frank Antenori: He told The Skinny he is putting the final touches on creating a new non-profit, the Foundation for Responsible and Accountable Government.
"We're going to keep an eye on fraud, waste and abuse," said Antenori. "We're going to expose government largesse and corruption. And we're going to go after politicians that say one thing and do another."
By using a 501(c)(6), Antenori will be able to keep the names of his donors secret. Whether he'll be able to raise all that much money, especially now that he's no longer in the Legislature, remains to be seen. Or not seen, given the rules of dark money in campaign finance these days.
When we talked to Antenori this weekend, he was in the midst of a remodeling project on his eastside home. He tells us he's fixing the place up so he can sell it.
"The city is going down," Antenori said. "I want to get out before my property value goes with it. I don't want to end up like houses in Detroit, where you can't give them away."
His long-range plan, however, is not to move to a heavily armed citadel in Idaho. Instead, he's just going to relocate a few miles to the southeast so he'll be in Legislative District 14, a solidly Republican district. He figures the current lawmakers in LD14—Reps. David Stevens and David Gowan and Sen. Gail Griffin—will hit their term limits in 2016, which will allow him to make his triumphant return to the Arizona Legislature.
"There will be open seats out there," Antenori said.
RUM, ROMANISM AND RESURRECTION
Former state lawmaker Tom Prezelski has resurrected Rum, Romanism and Rebellion, the left-leaning blog established by his brother Ted, who gave up the writing when he went to work for Tucson City Councilman Paul Cunningham last year.
"I think that there is a need to provide a more historical perspective on what is happening," Prezelski told The Skinny. "Though there is some good stuff out there now, there is something missing in terms of real expertise and experience. I hope I can provide that."
Prezelski hopes to blog two or three times a week and expects that he'll "be a little wonkier than Ted."