There is something much bigger and much more important than the results of the funding fight over Arkansas’ Obamacare Medicaid Expansion.
The more important factor is what the Governor’s tactics reveal about character and the state of the Arkansas political process. It is not pretty. It is brutal. It is scary.
PART I. TAUGHT TO BE PRINCIPLED
We all watched Jimmy Stewart in “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” and came away putting people on a pedestal for being principled. We were taught to be principled.
It turns out that being principled is not acceptable if you disagree with big business, their politicians, and others who are getting a slice of government pie. Big business interests and their politicians teach different lessons – Pragmatism – Assimilate or lose power and reputation.
Such is the case with the Senators and House of Representative members who have stood on principle and exercising their constitutional right to vote “No” against funding Obamacare “Arkansas Works.” Their reward is to be demonized by the Governor. Their reward is for the Governor to use deceitful claims to work people into a frenzy so that people will make physical, financial, and political threats against them. When you are willing to win at all costs – deceit apparently is not an obstacle.
PART II. USE OF DECEPTION AND INTIMIDATION AND WHAT IT REVEALS ABOUT CHARACTER
The Arkansas political system is such that the Governor resorts to tactics of deception in order to stir up the public. He makes the outrageous claim of a future $100 million budget hole and then relies on unrealistic projections of budget cuts to inflame every interest group in the state.
Budget hole myth. The Governor claims there will be a budget hole of one hundred million dollars if Arkansas Works is not passed. He makes this claim despite the feeble and unreliable basis of the claim. It is based on a consultant’s estimate. A consultant that admitted in its report that it was supposed to write a report favorable to Arkansas’ Obamacare Medicaid Expansion. Most items in the estimates are just liberal wishful thinking. It includes:
- The liberal idea that the more you spend on big government the more taxes you will get back
- Over blown projections
- Numbers without any historical precedent
- An insurance premium tax on Medicaid Expansion policies that should be rejected on the next waiver application by the federal government as a blatant scheme to skim money from the federal government.
Doom and gloom budget. The Governor uses the highly questionable estimate to then make outrageous claims of massive budget cuts if Arkansas ends Medicaid Expansion. He is working to stir up every interest group with threats of education cuts, highway cuts, cuts to cities and counties, even a ten million dollar cut in foster care.
Even if the consultants estimates were true, the Governor fails to mention:
- A $100 million state surplus is projected for next year.
- There are tens of thousands of dollars sitting in a trust fund which skimmed from the federal government from Medicaid Expansion.
- The Governor is protecting millions of dollars he uses for projects and holds over the heads of legislators who do not bow to his wishes, and he uses to pick winners and losers among businesses by awarding money for such things as a building for a Taekwondo business.
- Does not mention the $20 million legislators divide so they can have discretion over spending for things as low priority as a local fireworks show or as wasteful as giving over a half million dollars of taxpayer money to a small PRIVATE religious school, Ecclesia College.
- The Foster care budget is still a $10 million increase over last fiscal year, not a cut.
Deceptive vote – The plan is or has been to amend the DHS funding bill to prohibit funding of Arkansas Works and then veto the provision, thereby passing the appropration for Arkansas Works with less than a three-fourths vote. Legislators who want Arkansas Works have to vote against it in order for it to pass. Confusing.
Deception the go-to play. The Governor’s use of deception is a huge disappointment, but it is not unusual in the history of Obamacare Medicaid Expansion in Arkansas. There has been consistent deception:
- 2013 –Adopting the “Private Option” fights Obamacare – John Burris. (The Private Option which is being renamed Arkansas Words does not fight Obamacare. It is Obamacare.)
- 2013 – It is for working families. (Nope. It is overwhelmingly for able bodied working age adults with no children and about half do not bother to work at all.)
- 2015 – We are ending it. – Senator Jim Hendren (Nope. They were just trying to keep it going while working on renaming it.)
- 2015 – If we don’t take the money the feds will send our money to some other state -Rep. Charlie Collins. (Nope. This silly talk has been debunked even by the Congressional Research Office. The federal money is funded with federal debt.)
- 2016 – State Government can’t survive without it. (Nope. Just over blown projections and deceptive proposed cuts.) Arkansas Works is being presented as the modern version of the cheesey 1960’s toy gun “Sixfingers” that was supposed to look like a finger. The jingle went, “Sixfingers, Sixfingers. Man alive. How did I ever get along with five.”
- 2016 – Deceptive vote against Arkansas Works and then passage of funding based on Governor line item veto.
Surely there are supporters of Obamacare who are also uncomfortable with the Governor’s win-no-matter-what tactics.
PART III. The media
And what about the media? The media has played an important role spreading misinformation and stirring a frenzy of hate by failing to question the alleged budget hole or the validity of threats of budget cuts. For example, the Batesville Guard (unwilling or incapable of checking facts) made it their mission to post a front page attack article against Senator Linda Collins Smith based the on the reckless claims of the Governor. As for Senator Collins-Smith she is doing exactly what she promised when the majority of voters in that area elected her – fight against Obamacare Medicaid Expansion.
If this is the best the media can offer then they could save money by firing reporters and just let the Governor write the stories.
PART IV. INTIMIDATION AS A POLITICAL TOOL
Obviously the Governor’s wild claims have stirred up political threats. Such is politics. Yet, it is unfortunate that misinformation is being used to instigate it.
The Governor’s scare tactics are working in that he has recklessly scared people into making physical treats.
- One person wrote on the Arkansas Blog “I’d pay good money to see someone shoot” (name of legislator omitted here) “in the face.”
- Another legislator said privately, “I’m concerned about leaving my family alone.”
Playing loose with the truth, just to scare people so you can win a fight. Well played – when you have no character.
Threats against livelihood
The shameless folks at Arkansas Business suggested Senator Cecile Bledsoe’ husband and son should lose their jobs because she has voted against Arkansas Works. “As far as we know, the Drs. Bledsoe, James and Greg, are perfectly qualified. But if Sen. Bledsoe votes — in effect — to blow a $100 million hole in the governor’s budget, his administration ought to consider applying the principle of last hired, first fired.”[i]
Direct retribution by the Governor
Representative Josh Miller opposed the Governor on Obamacare Medicaid Expansion, and the Governor tried to defeat Miller for reelection by supporting a challenger in the primary. Fortunately, the people of Miller’s district didn’t buy into what the Governor is selling.
Tip of the iceberg?
“When you talk about two billion dollars, people get really serious.” – Senator Alan Clark
Several legislators have commented on the type of pressure put on them during the 2013 and 2014 fight over Obamacare Medicaid Expansion.[ii]
- Senator Allan Clark recently said “Pray for us” as he described previous intimidation, blackmail and bribery.
- Representative Nate Bell took to the House floor in 2013 to talk about legislators being intimidated and receiving threats against their families, livelihoods, and reputations if they didn’t support Obamacare Medicaid Expansion.
- Representative Richard Womack talked to the Arkansas Project and had this to say: “A lobbyist asked me if I would consider changing my vote [on Obamacare Medicaid Expansion] for $20,000-$30,000 in my campaign account, as soon as they could put it in there legally, and two elections unopposed.”
- Representative Bruce Westerman (now U.S. Congressman) spoke on the House floor in 2013 asking, “Is this vote worth thirty pieces of silver?”
Arkansas politics isn’t a place for principled conservatives or even principled liberals. Remember this when you:
Want to stop lobbyists from providing food and drink to legislators, or
When you want to stop Common Core but the schools want the federal money, or
When you want businesses to grow but not by the Governor picking winners and losers, or
When you want stop General Improvement Funds from being used by legislators for pet projects (such as giving money to a private college).
Remember Arkansas politics is not a place for principled people, then fight anyway and stay principled whether you are conservative or liberal.