TRAVERSE CITY — State Sen. Howard Walker lashed out at a conservative talk-radio host who accused him of being a "weak Republican" because of Walker's vote to expand Medicaid in Michigan.
"Screw you, as far as weak Republicans, dude," Walker told Brian Sommerfield at a Republican Party luncheon in Petoskey on Monday.
Walker, a Republican whose state Senate district includes Grand Traverse County and several other northern Michigan counties, then repeated his comment for those who missed it the first time.
"I said, 'Screw you, as far as calling me a weak Republican,'" Walker said. "The heck with you. I stood by my campaign commitment and I think I did what was right.
"It was a lot easier saying no than it was saying yes on that," Walker said.
The same day Walker defended his vote in Petoskey, Gov. Rick Snyder signed into law legislation that will expand the government health insurance program to an estimated half-million Michiganders as part of the federal Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.
Many GOP-led states opposed to the law have declined the expansion, despite the U.S. government promising to cover the entire cost for the first three years and 90 percent later.
The bill, dubbed “Healthy Michigan” by its supporters, earned bipartisan support in the House but the majority of Republicans in the Senate opposed it. The bill passed in the Senate on Aug. 27 after just eight of the chamber's 26 Republicans, including Walker, joined all 12 Democrats.
Sommerfield, a Petoskey accountant, said northern Michigan Republicans overwhelming opposed the expansion and he wanted to know why Walker went against his party's majority.
Sommerfield said he didn't think his question about Walker's vote was too tough, but his characterization of Walker as a "weak Republican" pushed the veteran lawmaker over the edge.
"I thought he wasn't just responding to me ... I think it was directed at everyone who supported him and expected him to oppose Obamacare," Sommerfield said.
Not true, Walker said.
"I spoke directly to him and his reference to my Republican qualifications," Walker said. "It sounds to me like he's trying to blow it up."
Walker, of Traverse City, has been a lawmaker for nine years. Walker said he has used strong language on occasion, but "not that kind of language."
He apologized to Sommerfield after the luncheon for his use of "course" language, but he's not taking back the sentiment.
"I felt like he was attacking my integrity, and that was after I explained this issue was part of my campaign platform," Walker said. "I have a right to defend myself."
Walker said part of his platform in 2010 was to make sure rural hospitals in his district were financially sound and had access to quality healthcare. He didn't realize at the time it would require him to support Obamacare.
Walker said Medicaid expansion in Michigan will help reduce the problem of uncompensated care in hospitals and the shifting of those costs to business and people with health insurance.
"It's been a contentious issue," Walker said. "I felt I did the right thing."
— The Associated Press contributed to this report.