PHOENIX – Arizona's bitter debate over a signature part of President Obama's health care overhaul has sparked an investigation into lawmakers' safety after at least nine legislators received a threatening email over Gov. Jan Brewer's push to expand Medicaid access.
The message referred to Second Amendment rights and shooting someone, but did not include any direct threats. It was sent to House Speaker Andy Tobin, who opposes the Medicaid expansion, and eight other Republican House members.
"Please kill SB1492, the Medicaid Expansion Act," the email begins, before quoting the Second Amendment. It then reads, "If you are ever asked why you shot the person, the only answer from your lips should be, I felt my life, or/and my family's life was in immediate danger of death. So I did what I had to do in order to eliminate this threat. "
State police are also investigating a voicemail left for Rep. Kate Brophy McGee, a Phoenix Republican who supports the Medicaid expansion. She appeared visibly shaken Thursday as she described the message on the House floor and asked lawmakers to tell their constituents to be civil.
"The voice was a male who left a long rambling message with derogatory remarks aimed at Governor Brewer for Representative McGee," Bart Graves, a spokesman with the Department of Public Safety, said in an email Friday. "She felt there was a threatening undertone."
Lawmakers said they have received dozens of messages from supporters and opponents of the proposed expansion containing varying layers of vitriol.
"Sadly, the tone has been quite intense. People are emotional," said Republican Rep. Ethan Orr, of Tucson, who supports the Medicaid plan and received the email but said it did not make him feel threatened. "I wish people would have a more civil and respectful tone, but I understand why this is so important to them."
State police plan to interview the caller and email sender.
"We take these incidents seriously," Graves said.
The alleged threats come after a heated impasse between Brewer and Republican leaders in the GOP-led Legislature over the Medicaid expansion.
Brewer announced a moratorium on bill signings two weeks ago and vetoed five bills Thursday. Brewer's spokesman has said she will not sign anymore bills until significant progress is made on the Medicaid plan and the state budget. Lawmakers have five more weeks until the new fiscal year begins on July 1.
The State Senate president and House speaker oppose the Medicaid expansion, and some Republican lawmakers have labeled Brewer a traitor for backing it. She was among a handful of Republican governors who sued after the health care overhaul's passage. But Brewer and other moderate Republicans now say the plan will help poor Arizonans and there are enough votes in the Arizona Senate and House to pass the Medicaid expansion if the leadership doesn't stand in the way.
Arizona is among nine states where Republican governors have accepted the Medicaid expansion. Six of them have been able to get a deal with their legislatures or are on track to do so, including Arizona, where six Republicans joined all 13 Democrats in the Senate last week to pass a budget that included the Medicaid expansion.
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.