Saturday, February 13, 2016

Northwest Arkansas Republicans spar over private option in state legislative races

Posted By on Sat, Feb 13, 2016 at 11:42 AM

click to enlarge SCOTT: "Arkansas Works is not a rebranding of the private option, and to call it that is an insult to our governor." - BRIAN CHILSON
  • BRIAN CHILSON
  • SCOTT: "Arkansas Works is not a rebranding of the private option, and to call it that is an insult to our governor."
Good story from Doug Thompson in yesterday's D-G on a recent candidate forum for three northwest Arkansas state House races featuring GOP incumbents facing challenges due to their support of the private option

The incumbents, Reps. Sue Scott, Jana Della Rosa and Rebecca Petty, all of whom reside in Rogers, all voted for Gov. Asa Hutchinson's 2015 plan to continue the private option and then create a task force to figure out what to do next. The governor is now pushing a slightly revised version of the PO, which he calls "Arkansas Works." Scott, Della Rosa, and Petty are all expected to back Arkansas Works. 

Like a number of other Republican incumbents, these three are facing Tea Party challengers who are attacking them on the private option. The "Arkansas Works" plan continues the private option coverage expansion but will add a few conservative bells and whistles, so the challengers say it's nothing but a re-branding. 

The forum took place in Bentonville Thursday. From Thompson's story:

"This side was endorsed to extend the private option with a new name," said Randy Alexander of Rogers, pointing toward the end of the table where the incumbents sat. "The vote (in the Legislature) is so close, that if you vote for this side of the table, it's not going to pass. If you vote for that side, it will. The governor hasn't just endorsed them, but he's been very active in their campaigns. I got a flier at my house where the governor's picture was about four times bigger than Jana's. Let's not kid ourselves on why."

It is more or less true that Arkansas Works extends the private option with a new name, and it is true that the vote count to get the needed supermajorities is extremely close. However, it's not really the case that these primaries will determine the outcome. The special session will happen this April, when the current members of the General Assembly vote on whether to approve Arkansas Works. Even if the aginners pick off Jana Della Rosa, for example, Della Rosa will still be voting on the future of the private option in a couple of months. 

That said, the appropriation still needs annual supermajorities and there's no sign at this point that things will calm down any time soon. Theoretically, Arkansas Works could pass this year only to have a rump group of aginners hold up the appropriation in 2017. If someone like Alexander or Debra Hobbs, the former state rep challenging Petty, manages to nab the seat, that's one more vote to stir up trouble and try to kill the PO in future years.

The bigger issue here is symbolic. Politicians are fraidy cats. If wobbly Republicans start seeing that a few incumbents got picked off because of their votes for the private option, that's going to make it that much harder to wrangle enough votes come April. That's likely part of the strategy of outside groups like Conduit for Action and Americans for Prosperity, which are pouring money into these races. They want to send a message that will resonate with the swing votes on the fence. 

Conduit for Action has involved themselves in a number of races, while Americans for Prosperity has focused on only Della Rosa and Scott. 

Hutchinson has endorsed all three of the incumbents at the Bentonville forum. Scott said that it was "an insult to our governor" to call Arkansas Works a re-branding of the private option. Della Rosa said that when she asks opponents to suggest an alternative, she gets silence. 

Support for special health care reporting made possible by the Arkansas Public Policy Panel.

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