I wrote a few weeks ago about the Republican state Senate primary in District 9. Unlike other primaries this year, it’s the only race that features two incumbent legislators facing off against each other. Therefore, both candidates have voting records for voters — and their opponent — to examine and scrutinize. Personally, I think this is awesome: it gives us all a chance to measure the candidates not only by what they say they will do, but by what they have actually done. This dynamic lends itself to a substantive policy debate.
Today, The City Wire published a new story that features comments from both candidates — incumbent Senator Bruce Holland and challenger Rep. Terry Rice. There are a few comments that deserve further examination. Grab your popcorn.
I. Holland barbs Rice on his Second Amendment score from AAI
In the piece, Senator Holland took this shot at Rep. Rice for his record on Second Amendment issues:
The Advance Arkansas Institute gives me a 100% ranking with the Second Amendment and gives Terry a 74%, based on the bills presented last session.
Holland is mistaken here, on two accounts. First, Rice actually scored a 71% on the AAI scorecard. But more importantly, Holland is mistaken to believe that his Senate score is comparable to Rice’s House score. Different bills and different versions of bills were considered in the separate chambers (that’s because not all bills make it through both chambers). Our own report discusses this on both its first page and its last:
Not all bills that the House voted on made it to the Senate floor, and not all bills that the Senate voted on made it to the House floor. Because of this, scores between the House and the Senate are not meaningfully comparable. That is, you can meaningfully compare the scores of two House Members against each other or the scores of two Senators against each others, but you can’t meaningfully compare the score of a House Member to a Senator.
In short, when we’re talking about these two ratings, it’s important to remember that we’re talking about two different yardsticks.
II. Rice and Holland spar on the Obamacare “private” option
Changing gears, Rep. Rice told the City Wire that Sen. Holland broke his promise to his constituents by helping to implement Obamacare in Arkansas:
In the last campaign, he put out flyers and mail pieces stating that he would help to stop Obamacare here in Arkansas. That is not a promise kept. That is a promise broken. He voted for the implementation of Obamacare in the 2013 regular session and again in the fiscal session of 2014. In fact, he was the deciding vote in the state senate to pass it during the fiscal session. I have consistently voted against implementing Obamacare here in Arkansas. This was the largest expansion of government in Arkansas history. Again, that is a promise broken, not a promise kept.
Rice is right: he has consistently voted against implementing Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion and he has consistently voted against setting up an Obamacare insurance exchange in the state. Conversely, Holland has voted repeatedly in favor of Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion and in favor of setting up an exchange. This is not my opinion; this is public record, made easily available to you in our legislative scorecard. As for who was the deciding vote? Well, more on that in a minute.
In response to Rice’s claims, Holland said Rice is “misleading folks:”
Terry is misleading folks. The Private Option is not Obamacare. It is federal law that governs all insurance. Everyone in the state of Arkansas that has insurance at all has Obamacare. I don’t have a vote on it. That’s a federal issue. Mark Pryor voted for Obamacare. Mike Ross, Blanche Lincoln, on the federal level, voted for the Affordable Care Act. We never voted for the Affordable Care Act in the Arkansas state legislature. That is very misleading to the people of Arkansas.
Two things: first of all, when Senator Holland says “the private option is not Obamacare,” he is simply wrong. The “private” option implements a key component of Obamacare by expanding Medicaid eligibility and adding hundreds of thousands of Arkansans to the Medicaid rolls. The private option is paid for with Obamacare dollars. The “private” option is Obamacare.
Secondly, when Holland suggests that states had no say-so in the matter, he is equally wrong. Senator Holland is free to disagree, but he’s not just disagreeing with me — he’s disagreeing with the Supreme Court of the United States. The Court, in the NFIB decision, announced that each state had the authority to decide whether or not to implement Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion, giving states a tremendous opportunity to reject a very large portion of Obamacare. 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.
As for the idea that “everyone that has insurance at all has Obamacare,” I honestly have no idea what Senator Holland means. Perhaps he’s referring to the components of Obamacare that impose new regulations on existing insurance policies. However, and I would have thought that this is too obvious to need to point out, Obamacare also provides insurance coverage to folks who cannot obtain coverage through their employer or another group plan. These folks purchase insurance through the Obamacare exchange. To suggest that everyone who has insurance in the state of Arkansas has an Obamacare insurance policy demonstrates a serious misunderstanding of Obamacare and the policies that Senator Holland has himself helped bring to Arkansas.
III. Who was the “deciding vote” on the Obamacare “private” option in 2014?
Here’s what Senator Holland had to say in response to Rice’s charge that he was the “deciding vote” on the PO this year:
I voted when my name was called. Now if voting in the middle of the pack, if ‘H’ is the deciding vote, then I guess I did (cast the deciding vote)…But it was the right thing to do, whether I was the first vote or the last vote. It was the right thing to do. That’s why I voted that way.
Maybe Senator Holland was kidding with this response. Or at least I hope he was kidding. Nonetheless, what really matters when casting votes in the legislature is how you vote, not when you vote. It doesn’t matter if Holland casts his vote first, third, or tenth; it only matters how he votes. Again, I feel silly even having to explain this, but let me elaborate.
In this year’s fiscal session, the funding for the “private” option only cleared the Senate by one vote. In other words, the bill received exactly the number of votes that it required to pass. Therefore, any of the senators on the pro-PO side of the aisle, with their one vote, had the ability to change their vote and to stop the bill. Senator Holland, along with 26 of his colleagues, declined this opportunity. All things considered, it seems perfectly fair to say that any one of the 27 senators who voted in favor of the PO cast the “deciding vote;” each one of them also had the opportunity to stop it and declined, thereby pushing the bill over the threshold.
I’m enjoying watching this debate unfold. In general, primaries are healthy for our state and our citizens. Whoever emerges from the primary in May will be the state senator for District 9 for the next four years; he will be a much better representative of his district as a result of this debate. However, it is important that candidates speak accurately about their records — if only because it will make my job a lot easier.