PHOENIX -- With just a day left to reach their goal, opponents of a new law expanding Medicaid in Arizona were scrambling to collect 5,000 more signatures to put a referendum on the issue for the November 2014 ballot.
The conservative Republican group needs to collect 86,405 signatures by Wednesday, organizer Christine Bauserman said. Bauserman said the group, Republican Alliance of Principled Conservatives, had about 81,000 signatures Tuesday but were still getting more petitions delivered to their headquarters.
That's far short of the group's goal, which was to gather at least 92,000 signatures to cover any names that are rejected by officials. And it's far less than most political groups aim to get to ensure they have enough valid signatures.
If they fail, it will be a victory for Republican Gov. Jan Brewer, who put her political legacy on the line by embracing a signature part of President Barack Obama's health care law and pushing it though a Legislature packed with conservative GOP opponents of the law. She managed to corral enough members of her own party to join with Democrats and pass the law on June 13 in the final hours of a tumultuous session.
Bauserman joined former Sens. Frank Antenori and Ron Gould in organizing the effort to block the law through a referendum. Gould and Bauserman cited a hot summer, a short time frame and efforts by a group backing the governor's Medicaid expansion plan, known as Restoring Arizona, to limit their fundraising and run a counter-petition drive.
``It's probably the worst three months of weather in the state of Arizona,'' Gould said. ``It's hard to motivate people when its 115 (degrees) to go out and gather signatures.''
Gould in June predicted the group would succeed because conservative Republican party activists were so motivated to go out and get the needed signatures using volunteers. But even a last-minute infusion of $20,000 from a national tea party group that was used to hire paid petition circulators failed to do the job.
``This is something that the governor, business community, the hospital community, every major group wants but that small group,'' said Jaime Molera, spokesman for Restoring Arizona, who said his group followed through on their promise to oppose the referendum effort at every turn.
Brewer's office declined to comment because the Wednesday deadline for turning in referendum signatures hasn't passed.
If the referendum effort fails, the Goldwater Institute is considering a lawsuit to block the law. The group argues that because it uses a new assessment on hospitals to pay the added state costs, Medicaid expansion requires the 2/3 legislative vote needed to raise taxes. It must wait until the law officially takes effect Thursday to file suit.
Goldwater attorney Christina Sandefur said Tuesday the group has also pledged to represent the referendum backers if they file petitions and they are challenged.