Yesterday we began our examination of legislative primaries by looking at the Senate District 18 race. Today, we turn our attention to Senate District 9, where incumbent Senator Bruce Holland faces a challenge from State Representative Terry Rice.
The Holland-Rice primary is already shaping up to be one of the more dramatic Arkansas primary match-ups, perhaps because it’s the only race in the state that features two incumbent legislators. More specifically, this race features two candidates with actual voting records — GOP primary voters will be able to get a decent idea of how they will vote in the future based on actual votes they’ve cast in the past.
In their first statewide interview as opponents, the candidates touched briefly on the topics of tax cuts and gun rights, but the focal point of the article was the Obamacare “private” option. I am devoting special attention to the PO this week, since it seems to be a focus of so many GOP legislative primaries.
Indeed, Rep. Rice told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette that the main thing that separates him from Holland is his position on the PO Medicaid expansion: Senator Holland has voted for the Obamacare “private” option multiple times, but Rice has voted against it every time, including in the recent fiscal session.
If you follow Rep. Rice’s campaign Facebook page, it should come as no surprise that he’s interested in highlighting the candidates’ differences on Obamacare implementation. In addition, it should come as no surprise that Medicaid expansion and Obamacare are central themes of many primary debates across the state — the sheer scope of the program’s costs and the continual failure of Obamacare make it a political hot potato.
Here’s what Rep. Rice had to say about the PO:
We’re putting our children and grandchildren’s future at risk…The federal people are in control of this state program that we’ve done. They’re the ones with the dollars…I’ve been in business for 40 years-plus, and there’s a payday coming.
In contrast, Holland defended his votes for the PO. From the ADG:
“I would have gladly voted for a better way to handle the effects of Obamacare in Arkansas. There wasn’t a better way.”
Holland said he could have voted against the private option and then told constituents he had voted against Obamacare, but that wouldn’t have been true.
“It took a lot more courage to stand up and do the right thing and vote for a very complicated piece of legislation and come back and explain it to my constituents,” he said. “We can speculate as to what the future is going to be. I’d love to have a crystal ball, but we have to act on what we know right now.”
At this point, I think Rep. Rice is winning the debate. In particular, there are three points I’d like to make in response to Senator Holland’s arguments.
1. Despite Holland’s assertion that “there was no better way,” there was a better way. Based on his repeated votes to implement Obamacare in Arkansas, I appreciate that Senator Holland strongly believes there was no better way to deal with the impact of Obamacare than to implement portions of it. This may be a heartfelt argument; nonetheless, it’s too bad that his opposition to Obamacare wasn’t as strongly felt. I think the best way to protect Arkansas and Arkansas taxpayers from the impact of Obamacare would have been to refuse to implement key elements of the disastrous law (a choice that was clearly within lawmakers’ powers) — specifically, the Medicaid expansion/”private” option and the Obamacare exchange. Senator Holland, unfortunately, voted multiple times to expand Medicaid; he also voted to set up the Arkansas exchange.
2. States have the opportunity to choose whether to expand Medicaid; a vote against the PO-Medicaid expansion is a vote against Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion. In fact, despite what Holland claims, an anti-PO vote would have been an anti-Obamacare, pro-taxpayer vote. As I wrote yesterday, the Supreme Court gave the states a tremendous opportunity to reject a large portion of Obamacare in 2012. Every state that borders Arkansas has seized this opportunity; every state that borders Arkansas has lessened the fiscal blow to their taxpayers and their economies. Unfortunately for Arkansans, our legislature passed on this opportunity; instead it plowed full-steam-ahead into Obamacare implementation by setting up an Obamacare exchange and expanding Medicaid.
3. I don’t have a crystal ball either, but I do watch the news. The idea that anyone can be certain about Obamacare’s future is absurd on its face. Nonetheless, anyone with a computer or a smartphone can see the piles of evidence that show that Obamacare is unworkable and is collapsing under its own weight. I realize it’s a great talking point to say that the PO has given us more certainty, more control over our future, etc. But the reality is quite different. Before the legislature first passed the PO, the Obama administration was struggling with how to enforce the employer mandate and how to handle cutting hospital subsidies. We warned that the system was unworkable, that the law would see significant delays/changes, and that the legislature should not rush into Obamacare implementation. Time has proven that our suggestions were justified — and we didn’t have a crystal ball.
Even worse, legislators had the benefit of knowing that these delays were in place before they voted to continue the program in the recent fiscal session. Nonetheless, the legislature, with the help of Senator Holland, moved forward with a program that has lost almost all of its central justifications due to the shifting sand of Obamacare.
It doesn’t take a “crystal ball” to see that Obamacare is a moving target that will likely never be fully implemented. As Holland said, “We have to act on what we know right now” and there were plenty of warning signs before the legislature passed the PO in 2013 and funded it in 2014 that trying to make long-term plans based on a constantly-changing law is unwise.
In fact, rushing into implementation has only created more uncertainty for Arkansas: while Holland and others want to pretend that “the ‘private’ option has nothing to do Obamacare,” it is, in fact, funded through the Affordable Care Act. This means that, when Obamacare goes away (a prospect that is looking increasingly likely), all of the funding for the “private” option will go with it, leaving Arkansas’s already hemorrhaging Medicaid system with 250,000 or so new enrollees — and Arkansas taxpayers on the hook. Presumably, pro-PO legislators will not be boasting about their great predictive powers if that happens.
A significant majority of Republican voters oppose the PO Medicaid expansion. Impact Management recently released a poll that shows that voters oppose the Obamacare PO 58% to 14%. Even more startling, our friends at CFA released a poll that showed 66% of likely GOP primary voters opposed the program. To be blunt, this is “easy pickin’s” for Rice and others who have stood strongly against implementing Obamacare in Arkansas. We think good policy is good politics, and we won’t be surprised to see PO-related disasters continue to play a role in the campaigns of pro-PO legislators in the future.
Although our House vs. Senate scores aren’t perfectly comparable (occasionally, the House considered a bill that the Senate didn’t, or vice versa), I encourage you to check out AAI’s Freedom Scorecard which rates legislative votes from last session. In the area of health care/Obamacare, Rep. Rice scored 100%. Senator Holland scored 13%.
Up next in our primary election series: a look at the Senate District 14 matchup between Senator Bill Sample and challenger Jerry Neal!