As I’ve noted before, the “private option” is a mysterious business. Winston Churchill famously said that “Russia is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.” Well, Russia is a windowpane looking out onto a clear day compared to some political candidates’ perspectives on the “private option.” Exhibit A: Chad Niell, candidate for the Jonesboro state Senate seat.
I’ve been watching what candidates say about the “private option,” and I was surprised to see Niell’s Facebook statement about it yesterday:
For anyone who follows the news, Niell’s pronouncements here are startling.
Talk Business columnist Jason Tolbert wrote last week that “Niell has not yet made a decision on the private option and is still reviewing the law.” Democrat-Gazette reporter Mike Wickline wrote Monday that Niell “wants to read the measure before taking a stand on it”; last week, Wickline wrote that both “Niell and Sullivan said they need more information on the so-called private option before they take a stance on it.” Was Niell really suggesting that he’d been misrepresented about the same matter in the same way in three different news articles? More precisely: had Niell actually been triply misrepresented about the “private option,” or was it just that he eventually realized that his three prior remarks were politically inconvenient?
In an attempt to figure out what Niell thought was “not true,” I called him up. I began by reading back part of his post on Facebook to him. He responded emphatically by saying, “What more do I need to say? What more do I need to say?” I soon discovered, however, that apparently he needed to say a great deal more.
At the risk of sounding silly, I asked Niell if “not supporting” the private option was the same as “opposing” it and if he would oppose the funding of the plan, should he land in the Senate:
Ya know, if you oppose the funding — if it does pass — you know it’s tied to DHS right now? You realize that? So if you’re going to oppose that, you shut down your hospitals, your clinics, you shut down everything. So that has to get changed somehow. But I’m a small business owner. I don’t wanna, I’m not going to vote for anything that raises taxes. I’m opposed to Obamacare. This is an extension of Obamacare…The same thing happened in Tennessee ten years ago when they tried TennCare. Remember that? Remember TennCare? Well, look it up. And you look at the damaging results that that cost. Tennessee became the number two, I think, prescription drug user in the country…supply couldn’t keep up with demand. Birth…rates…I think…the birth rates…were just absolutely terrible. We’re borrowing federal money and…our country’s broke. It’ll be a quick fix for something that in 3-4 years, we’ll have to pick up the tab for.
This was not the first time I have asked a candidate about his views on the “private option,” only to receive a blistering denunciation of Obamacare. And so, because I was still unsure if I understood his position, I asked Niell again if he supports or opposes “private option” funding. He told me, after a long pause, “….Well, the funding for the private option right now is not just tied to the private option!” I told him it could be separated. “Well, maybe. You know, I’d certainly like to see that,” he said.
If “private option” funding could be separated from the DHS budget, would Niell support blocking the funding? He told me:
Absolutely. I mean, I can’t tell you how I would’ve voted before, and I can’t tell you how I’m going to vote right now. We have to get in there and see what we can do.
Niell then asked me if I thought that the “private option” would raise taxes. To me, the answer is pretty obvious. Furthermore, if Niell doesn’t have an opinion on that matter, it makes the force of his promise not to vote to raise taxes highly uncertain.
I also asked Niell about his suggestion that the Democrat-Gazette misquoted him:
I wasn’t misquoted. I just wasn’t quoted. After I filed my papers, he asked me some questions with a tape recorder and they did not quote anything that I said. That’s all I said. Wasn’t upset about it or anything else, I just said — he quoted what the other candidate said. He did not quote what I said.
(In the news article Niell is referring to, incidentally, Wickline quoted Niell as describing himself as “a no-nonsense honest guy.”)
I asked Niell, “Well, when Jason Tolbert interviewed you on Friday and you said you hadn’t made a decision and you were still reviewing the law, was that accurate or was that a mis-…”
Here — not for the first time — he cut me off.
I did not say I hadn’t made a decision. I said I hadn’t read it yet. I haven’t read it.
Wait…he still hasn’t read it? But, he said he wanted to read the plan before he took a position, so he must have read it by now — right? Apparently not:
Ya know, I started this morning. I’ve got the House bill, I’ve got the Senate bill; I’ve got everything for, I’ve got everything against. You gotta realize, two weeks before this happened, I didn’t know a whole lot about the private option. Why would I? As a small business owner, I’m doing everything I can to fight Obamacare right now and keep up with that. So, um, it’s not like we have 6 months to prepare for this and come in and hit and know what the issues are. We’re out here trying to get elected, we’re hittin’ the streets — we don’t have time to breathe. I mean, by the time the general election comes around in January, we’re going to know these issues. We’re going to have a better grasp of them. Ya know, if I was just some retired guy sitting around with nothing better to do, um, but, ya know I might, I might be keeping up with it.
Yesterday, Tolbert wrote that Niell had recently “come out against the private option.” I am not sure that’s right – but I don’t, by writing this, intend to criticize Tolbert. Perhaps the better conclusion is just to say: it is hard to know what to make of Niell’s snowfall of ambiguous pronouncements, except that they are difficult to summarize. It would be unfair to call them double-talk. Quadruple- or quintuple-talk, maybe.