Many people are watching the four Republican state Senate primaries across Arkansas. And private-option obsessives like me have reason to: the outcome of these races will have a tremendous impact on the future of the Obamacare “private” option program. But the other half of the legislature is just as important: the funding for the PO barely cleared the House, both in last year’s session and in this year’s fiscal session. The future of the program could very well be decided in a few northwest Arkansas Republican primaries.
1. In District 87, Robin Lundstrum and Lucas Roebuck are racing to replace PO-opponent Rep. Jonathan Barnett. Barnett is currently term limited. Replacing him with a PO abolitionist will be critical to stopping the PO in the House. On Conduit For Action’s candidate survey, Lundstrum said she opposes the program; Roebuck did not complete the survey, but told me via email that he is “100% opposed” to the PO and lobbied his legislators to vote against it last session. He also pledged to vote against funding the program and promised that, if no one else proposes a repeal bill, “I will.” It’ll be important for anti-PO forces to keep a “no” vote in this seat. Based on these statements, it looks like both of these GOP candidates would be solid opponents of Arkansas-Obamacare.
2. In District 88, incumbent Rep. Randy Alexander is facing a primary challenge from Lance Eads. Alexander has been a consistent opponent of the Obamacare PO. On CFA’s survey, Eads says he also opposes the Obamacare expansion (although he has received some financial support from local chambers of commerce — staunch advocates of the PO — and Speaker Davy Carter, a private-option booster if there ever was one). Eads may make a fine legislator who will actively work to unwind the Obamacare mess in Arkansas, but Randy Alexander has a proven record of doing so. Keeping a strong PO opponent in this seat is important for the 2015 reauthorization battle.
3. In District 90, private-option opponents have a chance to pick up a vote. Rep. Les Carnine was an opponent of the program in 2013, but ultimately became one of the deciding votes to continue the program in this year’s session. Three Republicans — Paul Caldwell, Mike Whitmore, and Jana Della Rosa — are vying to replace him. Caldwell and Whitmore have both made their positions on Arkansas-Obamacare pretty clear: they’re agin’ it. How about Della Rosa? Well, that’s a trickier question.
Della Rosa (and other principals of the organization she is associated with — the misnamed Conservative Arkansas) adamantly supported the private-option Obamacare plan in 2013 while it was being hotly debated. Now that she’s running for office, however, Della Rosa is declining to take a strong position. At a candidates forum, Della Rosa recently announced that she’ll vote for continuing the program if it’s the best thing to do, and against it if it’s the worst thing to do. That is, according to her, “the straight answer.” She did not answer the CFA survey,
but her answer on the Family Council survey reads an awful lot like support for the program but this video was submitted this evening by a loyal Arkansas Project reader. In it, Della Rosa clearly states that she’s “not against” the PO and would’ve voted for it had she been in the legislature.* If District 90 sends a strong private-option opponent to Little Rock, continuing the program will become much more difficult in 2015.
4. In District 93, incumbent Rep. Jim Dotson is facing a challenge from W.P. Burckart. Neither candidate answered the CFA survey, but both told Family Council they oppose the Obamacare PO, with Burckart adding a caveat that he opposes the program “as written.” I contacted Burckart almost four weeks ago and asked him to clarify his position. He told me he would be getting back to me “shortly.” As of press time, I have not heard back from him. With that said, Dotson has a long, consistent record of voting against the program during his tenure in the legislature. There seems to be good reason to believe that, if re-elected, he would continue to be an advocate for limited government in the legislature.
5. In District 94, Rebecca Petty and Margaret Wolfe are competing to replace term-limited Rep. Debra Hobbs. Hobbs has been a consistent opponent of the PO. Wolfe did not answer the CFA survey, but told Family Council she is “interested in seeing the numbers in a year.” Petty told CFA and FC she opposes the program, but expressed skepticism that the program will end.
6. In District 95, Rep. Sue Scott is facing a challenge from Dane Zimmerman. Zimmerman launched his campaign in response to Scott’s votes for the “private” option. In fact, he recently told a local newspaper,
“Ultimately, the private option is the reason I’m running against her. It’s the largest expansion of government in Arkansas history.”
In 2014, Scott initially voted for the funding of the program, then against the funding, then ultimately voted for the program to help put the bill over the top. On that final day, she took to the well to explain her vote — she “sees people,” not numbers, she told her colleagues. She recently cited her “listening heart” as a qualification for her re-election.
To Scott’s credit, she told CFA and Family Council that she supports the “private” option; she was one of very few incumbents who were up front about their support. Zimmerman stated his opposition on both surveys. If Zimmerman is successful in his bid to unseat Scott, this would represent a pickup for the anti-PO caucus.
7. District 96 is the one House race I have already written about extensively: Grant Hodges is facing embattled Damon Wallace in a race to replace term-limited Rep. Duncan Baird. Baird was a reliable vote for the Obamacare-PO in both of the last two sessions, so this seat represents yet another possible pick up for the anti-private option contingent. Both Hodges and Wallace say they’re opposed to the PO, although Wallace noted on his Family Council survey that he’s interested in looking at ways to move forward with the PO intact. Hodges, on the other hand, asserts that the program is too expensive and is a massive expansion of government. Hodges is a serious, honest person who appears to have a strong belief in limited government. However, Wallace’s record of counterfeit qualifications and unpaid debts makes me wonder what he really believes.
8. Finally, two candidates are competing in District 98 to take Rep. John Burris’s seat. Burris is, by all accounts, an architect of the Obamacare “private” option, but is prevented from seeking re-election due to term limits. Jeff Boggs and Ron McNair are both hoping to replace him. Boggs told CFA he is opposed to the PO, while McNair said he is “undecided” on the issue, giving a similar answer on the Family Council survey.
Overall, there is potential for four anti-private option pickups in these NWA primaries. Wednesday morning, after the primary dust settles, we’ll know a lot about the future of Obamacare in Arkansas.
(*This story was updated at 8:49 p.m., 5/15/14 to include newly-uncovered video.)