I’ve wondered in this space why Americans for Prosperity has been so aggressive in targeting Rep. Jana Della Rosa over her support for the governor’s plan to continue the private option. After all, around 60 Republicans supported the governor’s 2015 plan to continue the private option for two years and create a task force to figure out what to do next, including some AFP darlings.
Some theories I’ve heard thrown around: There may be some personal antipathy towards Della Rosa among some conservative members of the GOP caucus. Perhaps AFP doesn’t like Della Rosa’s campaign finance transparency efforts (although her bill was relatively small potatoes and wouldn’t have directly impacted AFP, rhetoric about campaign-finance sunshine might not sit well with groups that prefer the shadows of dark money — and Della Rosa goes around calling groups like AFP “puppet masters”). 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.
When I asked AFP about it earlier this month, I got a non-response: “We are currently engaged in Medicaid expansion accountability efforts in House districts 90 and 95 and we are publicly thanking Sharon Lloyd for her pledge to oppose Medicaid expansion in Senate District 7.” (In addition to Della Rosa in District 90, AFP has also sent fliers attacking Rep. Sue Scott in District 95.)
A northwest Arkansas Republican in the know offered what sounds to me like a more plausible explanation. According to this Republican, AFP’s motivation here is to protect Sen. Bart Hester, an extremely loyal foot soldier to AFP who has benefited from gobs of dark money from the group and its allies during his campaigns. Hester probably has the deepest connection to AFP and its leadership of any lawmaker in the state legislature. If you look at a vote map of northwest Arkansas, it remains solidly Republican, but there is a split of sorts: the rural areas break for a Tea Partier like Hester, while the cities lean toward establishment figures like Della Rosa. Hester could eventually be vulnerable as the urban areas grow. AFP sees Della Rosa as a potential threat to their favorite son, either in a future state senate race or potentially in a battle for Congress if a U.S. House seat opens up. They’re looking to pick off Della Rosa now, the theory goes, to help keep a clear path for Hester going forward.
My source speculates that the mailers on Scott are essentially cover, so that the group isn’t just awkwardly targeting one single GOP incumbent. And while Scott, another Rogers-area Republican, isn’t seen as the same kind of threat to Hester, slapping down another pro-PO Republican in the area wouldn’t hurt.
The irony here is that Hester himself voted for the governor’s 2015 plan, which kept the PO in place for two years and set up the task force. However, passage of that bill was seen as a foregone conclusion at the time and Hester reportedly made clear that he would not vote to keep the coverage expansion in place when it came up for a vote again. All indications are that Hester will remain a loyal vote for his benefactors at AFP.
Support for special health care reporting made possible by the Arkansas Public Policy Panel.