County GOP to vote on Steve Pierce 'censure': Many unhappy with senator's stance on Medicaid expansion

Steve Pierce (Courier, file photo, 2013)

Steve Pierce (Courier, file photo, 2013)

PRESCOTT - Yavapai County Republican Committee members plan to vote Saturday about whether to "censure" their own state senator and other Republicans who voted to expand Medicaid in Arizona.

Approximately 200 precinct committee members are eligible to vote on the symbolic action during Saturday's meeting at the Heights Church in Prescott. They also will vote on replacements for two executive committee members who have quit.

Sen. Steve Pierce, a rural Prescott rancher and native Arizonan, was one of the Medicaid expansion's most vocal supporters, and he is among those that the county party resolution seeks to censure. So are Gov. Jan Brewer, nine Arizona House representatives and five other state senators, all Republicans. All but one joined Democrats to push through the Medicaid expansion in June.

Sen. Michele Reagan originally voted yes, but then voted no.

"Brewer and a handful of selected people decided to ram this through the Legislature and employed... unethical tactics," said Jim Dutton, chair of the Yavapai County Republican Party.

Tim Sifert, communications director for the Arizona Republican Party, noted the county parties are autonomous. He was not sure if other county parties have voted on similar resolutions.

Sifert was unaware of any county parties ever censuring their state senators during his two decades in Arizona politics, but added that it could have happened.

The resolution says the Republican legislators and Brewer "flagrantly disregarded Republican principles" and disregarded precinct committee members.

The Medicaid expansion violates the state and federal Constitutions, grants taxing powers to the governor, increases abortion services and "condemn(s) a prospective 300,000-plus people to welfare," the resolution adds.

Pierce said he was disappointed in the resolution.

"It just shows people on the other side how divided the Republican Party is, and that's sad," he said.

Pierce argued that with-out accepting the billions of federal dollars that come with the Medicaid expansion, rural hospitals and mental health care facilities were facing possible closures because they have to care for indigent patients anyway.

That would hurt the rural economies as well as all the patients who would have to travel elsewhere for treatment, he said.

He noted that the entire Yavapai County Board of Supervisors and county sheriff supported the expansion because the feds would help cover their mental health care costs, too.

The Yavapai County Republican Party's 10 area directors voted back in April to oppose the Medicaid expansion. They drew criticism from Pierce and Mal Barrett, Jr., immediate past chair of the Yavapai County Republican Party, for not first seeking the opinions of the precinct committee members.

Barrett said he won't be attending Saturday's meeting where the precinct committee members will cast secret ballots.

"I am disappointed by the resolution because the role of the committee is to support our elected Republican officials," Barrett said.

"It can be counterproductive" for Republican groups to criticize their Republican leaders in public, Sifert said.

Dutton said a precinct committee member submitted the resolution. He declined to release the person's name. He defended the executive committee's decision to submit the resolution to its members.

"It just simply is a strong disapproval of the behavior of elected representatives," Dutton said.

He compared the resolution to a family disagreement. "If it's someone in the family, you can love them and disagree with them," he said.

Dutton, a Baptist pastor from Paulden who was a relative newcomer to local politics, beat Barrett, a businessman and Prescott native with a long history in local politics, for the chairmanship in January.

For a related story on Medicaid expansion, see www.dCourier.com.

Follow Joanna Dodder on Twitter @joannadodder.