officially filed this morning to run for governor, calling himself a conservative Democrat and criticizing Republican opponent Asa Hutchinson
for Hutchinson's lack of a position on the private option
for Medicaid expansion, currently being debated in the legislature.
Ross said that attempts to brand him as too Obama-friendly or liberal for Arkansas wouldn't work because of his Blue Dog rep.
"I've got a pretty good brand," Ross said. "People know that I'm a conservative Democrat. People know that each of the 12 years I was in Congress, I was consistently listed as one of the most independent members of Congress. People know that I chaired the Conservative Democrats when I was in Congress."
On the private option, Ross said:
This is the most substantive policy discussion going on this state in a very long time. This is not about authorizing the private option, this is about re-authorizing the private option. The private option was passed nearly a year ago. Yet Asa Hutchinson says he's still studying it. Really? He's been studying it for a year and he says he's still studying it.
Let me be clear: I would have voted for it, I would have signed it into law, and as governor I would do my best to continue the private option. To me, it's just a common-sense issue and it's becoming a partisan issue and it should not be. It makes sense.
Ross made some of the familiar arguments for the policy: the hundreds of millions in net savings to the state budget, the hundreds of millions more coming in to hospitals in need. Ross said the private option is "not Obamacare, it's so far removed from Obamacare that the state of Arkansas had to go to the federal government and get a waiver to be able to implement it." This is a similar frame that Republican architects and supporters of the private option use and it makes sense for Ross, who is trying to establish centrist cred and appeal to conservative-leaning independents.
Said Ross, "Whether you like Obamacare or not — I don't," the federal law requires the state to pay in via taxes and Medicare reimbursement cuts, with the federal money coming back via the Medicaid expansion "partially making [the state] whole. ...If we don't do the expansion, hospitals will still take the hit with the Medicare [reimbursement] cuts and it's going to leave a lot of our rural hospitals in a very serious bind. "
"We owe it to the people of Arkansas to continue to do all we can to ensure that health care is affordable and accessible for the hardworking people in this state that are simply working the jobs with no benefits," Ross said.
Ross also expressed concern about a small minority of legislators using the appropriation process to attempt to change a law supported by the overwhelming majority. "A greater concern that the people of Arkansas need to have a discussion about is should a minority — 26 percent of a legislative body — be able to stop something?" Ross said. "It's my understanding that we're the only state in America where that's the case."
"We all have to stand before the voters," Ross said. "We're doing that this November. I hope that the voters will look at the candidates and figure out which candidates are supporting the private option, which means they're supporting fiscal responsibility...and rural hospitals, and which ones are not."
Of Hutchinson, Ross said, "two days ago he said he was still studying it—still studying something that passed a year ago—and now I understand he's changed his position yesterday to say we only have one governor at a time so I shouldn't take a position on a state issue. Well I think he's already taken a lot of positions on state issues, ranging from education to taxes. Looks like to me he's trying to conveniently pick and choose what issues he takes a position on...If you're going to stand before the people of Arkansas and tell them you want to lead this state, you should let the people of Arkansas where you stand on issues. Especially the most substantive policy issue facing this state in a very long time...stop straddling the fence."
Ross was also asked about the recent Republican Governor's Association attack ads
. Ross responded:
I think it's a reflection that Asa Hutchinson, before he even filed for governor, began a very desperate campaign that's being funded by his wealthy, out-of-state special interest friends who are going to continue for the next 8 months to misrepresent the facts, distort the truth, and lie about me and my record.
They don't know how to run against a conservative, pro-business Democrat. All they know how to do is to see how many times they can say Pelosi, Obama, Ross in 30 seconds. They're doing pretty good, they're up to 5 times. They're doing pretty good, if they can get one of those announcers from the northeast they might be able to get up to 7 times. The truth is, when Nancy Pelosi was speaker, the only time she had an opponent, I gave the nominating speech for her opponent with her sitting on the front row. There's a lot of things President Obama and I disagree on. I voted against Obamacare four times, I voted to repeal it 23 times, I voted against cap and trade, I voted against the Dodd-Frank banking regulation.
Cue team Asa howling about Ross's vote to pass a version of the Affordable Care Act
UPDATE: The Hutchinson campaign statement:
“Yet again, Congressman Ross' comments today are the height of hypocrisy. Our campaign has nothing to do with ads running right now. Congressman Ross says that they are lying about his record yet he voted for every bill mentioned. If Congressman Ross is going to accuse someone of lying, he needs to back it up with facts. It is a fact that he voted with Nancy Pelosi for the bailouts, the stimulus, and more spending in Washington, DC.
Furthermore, regarding the Private Option, Congressman Ross needs to remember that we would not be in the situation that we are now had he stopped Obamacare when he had the chance. We have one Governor at a time and the last thing the legislature and the Governor need are candidates playing politics on issues. Asa has remained consistent in his opposition to Obamacare.”