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French Hill: the pope's man from 2nd District 

French Hill

Zac Lehr

French Hill

French Hill, the Republican banker just elected to Congress from the 2nd District, is no Vic Snyder. We knew that, but an article in the latest Arkansas Catholic, news organ of the Diocese of Little Rock, indicates that he's a conservative outlier in his own church.

Hill is described as the first Catholic elected to represent the 2nd District. He's not the first Catholic to represent Little Rock. That was William Leake Terry, who served from 1891-1901 when Little Rock was in the 4th District. Hill and his wife, the article noted, organized a "mass of Thanksgiving" at Christ the King Catholic Church the day after the election. His campaign sent the invitations.

Hill wasn't elected by Little Rock. Pat Hays carried Pulaski County and much of Little Rock easily, including much of the environs of the Country Club of Little Rock, where Hill golfs.

Hill's politics are better attuned to outlying counties, such as White, Faulkner and Saline, which gave the patrician millionaire big margins. Attuned to Pope Francis? Good question.

For example, Hill wouldn't commit to support the DREAM Act, which helps immigrants who came to America as children. Arkansas Bishop Anthony Taylor supports the DREAM Act. Passionately. Taylor has also preached about economic justice, as has Pope Francis. Hill opposes a minimum wage.

Hill shares some ground with church leaders. Hill supports sending public tax dollars to private schools in the form of vouchers. He opposes the mandated coverage of contraceptives in health insurance on religious grounds, though he claims to favor "more personal choice" in health care. His idea of choice just doesn't happen to include contraceptives or abortion. On same-sex marriage, Hill gave a disturbing response: "Hill said he thinks the states should be able to define what 'consenting adult relationships' are." Really? Define consenting relationships? Make a crime of unwed sex, say?

Hill, who spoke warmly about how Pope Francis has "humanized" the papacy, seemed less than humane in remarks about the federal Affordable Care Act. He described it as "a $2 trillion money machine that benefits hospitals and drug companies and hurts doctors and patients." He also lauded ARKids.

How insurance coverage hurts families and doctors Hill didn't explain. Nor did he explain what would become of sick people, who couldn't be insured without the mandate that all participate in health insurance, healthy and unhealthy. He also didn't explain how ending Obamacare — with it the loss of coverage for a quarter-of-a-million Arkansans, including many children — would be humane.

Hill's remarks were noted by Stephanie Spencer, a registered nurse and Catholic herself. She wrote a letter to the Catholic newspaper and sent me a copy. She said Arkansas's private option version of Obamacare had helped 250,000 and saved hospitals, including Catholic institutions, from eating the rising cost of uninsured care. The result is comprehensive care rather than stopgap emergency room treatment for real people. She wrote about Hill's "money machine":

"... our society does not generally construe an organization simply being paid for services rendered to be a giveaway. Since the implementation of the private option in Arkansas, hospitals have had a 56 percent decrease in uncompensated care costs. Hence, Arkansas's private option is helping to keep hospitals, often the primary economic force in rural communities, open and providing jobs and needed health care for Arkansans."

Spencer did a little preaching, too, saying, "As Catholics, we have an obligation to live the ENTIRETY of Christ's gospel, without a sole focus on abortion and gay marriage in political deliberations."

She also quoted the pope:

"I beg the Lord to grant us more politicians who are genuinely disturbed by the state of society, the people, the lives of the poor! It is vital that government leaders and financial leaders take heed and broaden their horizons, working to ensure that all citizens have dignified work, education and healthcare."

I don't think it a stretch to say the pope doesn't sound like someone who'd repeal Obamacare.

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