The swing votes in the Arkansas private option reauthorization fight 


With the margins tight and the political momentum seeming to run against the private option for now, vote counters are focused on Republicans who supported the appropriation last year but might flip this time. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but these are the names most commonly heard at the Capitol.

Rep. Ann Clemmer (Benton): ON THE FENCE. Clemmer is facing off against businessman French Hill in the Republican primary for the second Congressional district seat vacated by Tim Griffin. "I've always taught that what I wanted in a representative is someone who says what they believe and votes their conscience and stands for election at the end," she said. "But I have a great deal of ambivalence about [the private option]. And then the politics can push."

Rep. Les Carnine (Rogers): ON THE FENCE. "It was a difficult vote but I felt like for business and jobs in the state that was probably the right thing to do at that time," Carnine said. Carnine voted against the appropriation on the penultimate vote and is considered close to Rep. Terry Rice, who was slated to be Speaker until Davy Carter won the position, leaving lingering ill feeling.

Rep. Jon Eubanks (Paris): LEANING NO. "If the employer mandate had been delayed when we voted on it, I don't think it would have passed the first time," Eubanks said. "I think people have a trust issue with D.C. if they're going to follow through with their parts of everything. ... I would have to say I'm [leaning against it] but I am not firm one way or the other."

Rep. John Hutchison (Harrisburg): LEANING NO. Hutchison has a credible Democratic challenger, so unlike some of the Republican swing voters, he may have to worry about an opponent who is for the private option. "At this point, I cannot vote for it," Hutchison said. "There's got to be a few changes, got to be some major looking in to."  

Rep. Allen Kerr (Little Rock): LEANING NO. "If you made me vote today, I'd vote no," Kerr said. "The bottom line is I'm going to need a whole lot more information. They're going to have to re-sell this thing from the get-go."

Rep. Kelley Linck (Yellville): ON THE FENCE. "I'm probably as much on the fence this time as I was last time," Linck said.

Rep. Stephanie Malone (Fort Smith): ON THE FENCE. "I can't say I'm committed either way because so many things have changed since we were in session," Malone said. "I'm just going to sit back and listen to both sides."

Rep. Andy Mayberry (Hensley): LEANING YES. Mayberry is running for lieutenant governor. His most prominent opponent in the Republican primary, Rep. Charlie Collins, has been a strong supporter of the private option. "It would be an easier path to a Republican nomination to say, hey, I'm against the private option," Mayberry said. "I'm just trying to do the right thing. If I were to vote right now, I would vote to fund it again."

Rep. Sue Scott (Rogers): LEANING YES. Scott is facing a primary challenge and will likely be attacked for her vote, but said, "I stand with the decision that I made." 

Rep. Mary Lou Slinkard (Gravette): ??? Slinkard did not respond to a request for comment.

Sen. Bruce Holland (Greenwood): ??? Holland faces a primary challenge from private-option foe Rep. Terry Rice but sources at the Capitol believe that Holland will vote for the appropriation again. Holland did not respond to a request for comment.

Sen. Missy Irvin (Mountain View): NO. Irvin has released a statement that she plans to vote against the appropriation this time, making her the deciding vote for now. Supporters are holding out hope that she might come back around if her pet issues — Blue Cross reimbursement cuts and Health Savings Accounts — are addressed.

Sen. Eddie Joe Williams (Cabot): ??? Williams was considered a swing vote in the final days last year. Sources at the Capitol believe that he would support the appropriation if his vote was needed to put it over the top, but would be content with voting no if they're short of the supermajority. Williams did not respond to a request for comment.

What about NO to YES?

SENATE: A quick perusal of the list of NO votes in the Senate reveals why private-option proponents are so worried about Irvin's flip. It's almost unthinkable that Sens. Bryan King, Alan Clark or newcomer John Cooper would vote for the appropriation. We've been told that Bart Hester and Jim Hendren aren't impossible in the right circumstances but ... We'll believe it when we see it. That leaves Gary Stubblefield (considered a swing vote last time but close to King), Cecile Bledsoe and Jane English as possible targets if Irvin is unmoveable. Yikes.

HOUSE: A number of lawmakers believe it's possible to add support in the House, with some even hopeful of getting YES votes into the 80s. Randy Alexander said last year that he supported the policy but needed more time; Kim Hammer, as always, says he's keeping an open mind; Karen Hopper and Jonathan Barnett could perhaps be amenable to the policy. Nate Bell remains opposed to the policy but has been active in working on "tweaks and adjustments" and he may be a bellwether of whether other conservatives feel they get enough to support the appropriation this time, given the constraints of the fiscal session. David and Stephen Meeks, Bill Gossage, Charlotte Douglas and Charlene Fite are unlikely to fully embrace the private option, but might okay the appropriation in the right circumstances.

And the other side of the aisle?

If any Democrats peel off, the private option would be doomed. Leadership says that won't happen, but the Blue Cross reimbursement cuts loom as a sticky issue. Rep. Deborah Ferguson claims that with that unresolved, she is undecided on the private option.


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