Conservative advocacy group Americans for Prosperity and other outside groups are attacking Republican incumbents who backed Gov. Asa Hutchinson‘s plan last year to continue the private option through the end of 2016 and establish a task force to figure out what to do next. The mailer above hammers Rep. Jana Della Rosa with a “Wheel of Fortune” theme.
Della Rosa is hitting back, with some help from Gov. Asa Hutchinson:
So the dispute here is over the fact that Della Rosa did in fact vote to appropriate the funds to continue the private option, and for a task force that now backs continuing a version of the private option, albeit with some conservative tweaks and a new name, “Arkansas Works.” The governor says this counts as “ending the private option” and AFP disagrees. This is just the latest chapter in the ongoing split within the GOP over the PO.
The policy squabble aside, politically, it’s big news if AFP is planning to play a major role in attacking GOP incumbents in primaries over the private option (and potentially duking it out with Hutchinson himself). In other states, such as Tennessee, the group has been a key player in blocking Medicaid expansion. In Arkansas, AFP has played a more muted role. The group opposed the private option back when it was first developed in 2013, but the policy nevertheless passed with a supermajority, largely thanks to the backing of prominent Republican lawmakers in the House and Senate. AFP then more or less sat out the very tough re-authorization fight in 2014 — it announced that it would not “score” the vote and reportedly worked behind the scenes to back the compromise put forward by Rep. Nate Bell, continuing the private option for a year with a few tweaks but banning state-appropriated funding for outreach. The group remained fairly quiet earlier this year when Hutchinson proposed continuing the private option for two more years and creating the task force to figure out what to do next; in a statement at the time, AFP said that it appreciated the governor and legislature’s desire to address the issue but asked for a “definitive end date to the Medicaid expansion” and said “there remains some concerns about the future of health care reform in Arkansas.”
But in December, AFP slammed the governor’s Arkansas Works framework and now it appears prepared to go after any Republican who voted for Sen. Jim Hendren‘s 2015 bill to keep the PO funding flowing for two years and establish the governor’s task force (only a tiny scattering of 23 legislators in the entire General Assembly voted no, so that’s a whole lotta targets!).
AFP poured millions in dark money into the last two legislative races, helping to usher in the now-dominant Republican majority. If they’re planning to bring the big guns out in intra-party squabbles, that could make Republicans wobbly on the Medicaid expansion nervous (though the big vote will come in April, after the primaries). In addition to AFP, Conduit for Action and a dizzying slew of PACs and other organizations affiliated with Joe Maynard, a Fayetteville businessman rabidly opposed to the private option, is expected to spend tens of thousands of dollars (or more) in the primary races, with Della Rosa one of their prime targets.
Della Rosa is hitting back against the dark money, calling groups like AFP and Conduit “puppet masters” and “special interest groups”:
She even calls AFP out by name, hard to imagine a Republican doing back in 2012. Worth noting that Della Rosa has backed campaign finance transparency legislation, so her speaking out against dark money here isn’t just a matter of political convenience. Little side bit of drama to this civil war: Tea Party groups have feuded in the past with Della Rosa’s mom Patsy Wootton of Springdale, the executive director of Conservative Arkansas, a group which has backed pro-PO Republicans.
AFP also opposed De La Rosa when she first ran in 2014, accusing her of being too much of an Obamacare squish.
Conduit for Action, which has been even more aggressive about attacking pro-PO Republicans (their record is mixed, but they did successfully target Rep. John Burris in his run for state senate, helping political newcomer Scott Flippo to victory) has been cheerleading the attacks on De La Rosa on their website.
Here’s the other side of that AFP mailer:
De La Rosa’s primary opponents, former state Rep. Randy Alexander and Jana K. Starr — both say they oppose the private option.
Postscript: Something I should add is that it is curious that AFP is going after Della Rosa and a few others in particular but not the scores of other lawmakers who voted for the bill in 2015. Twenty-seven senators and 80 House members voted for it. That includes AFP darlings like Sen. Bart Hester and Hendren (who sponsored the bill!). Sometimes these things are as much about personality as about policy so I have to wonder if there’s some kind of personal beef between AFP and Della Rosa. Folks wonder about these things in the other direction too — Sen. Bryan King expressed bafflement in 2014 that AFP treated Burris with kid gloves.
One possibility is that AFP particularly doesn’t like Della Rosa’s efforts to bring transparency to campaign finance in Arkansas. Although her bill wouldn’t have directly impacted AFP, efforts to bring sunshine to campaign election don’t always sit well with groups that prefer the shadows of dark money. Well, now that she’s calling them “puppet masters,” maybe they’ll kiss and make up.