Senator Bryan King on the “Private Option” Drama, and the Fight for the Republican Brand

by Mark Moore
I recently had an opportunity to interview State Senator Bryan King.   King has been twice named to the Arkansas Watch list of “Ten Best Legislators“.   The subject of the interview was the battle over Obamacare in Arkansas specifically, and the risks overall to the Republican brand in this state generally:
Moore: Some people think that the Arkansas Republican party is split on the gigantic issue of Obama-care. Is that your view?
King:  No. It’s not the 800 pound gorilla in the room.  It’s the 8,000 pound elephant in the room.
I don’t see the Republican party split. Most of the rank and file members, county committee organizations, and leaders of the Republican Party are against the private option. They see it as I do — still expanding Obama Care.
Moore: Some members of your party went from at-first trying to deny that the so-called “Private Option” was in fact an implementation of Obama care to saying “Well, we had no choice, Obamacare is the law and we were stuck with it anyway.” That sure was not what they were saying last year when they were campaigning, but what about their present claim that nothing could have been done to stop the implementation of Obamacare? Is there anything they could have and should have done differently that would have blocked the implementation of Obamacare in this state?
KIng: First, the statement that we had no choice is completely untrue. Each state had some things that had to be done to comply with the Obama Care. One of the key components of Obama Care was the expansion of Medicaid.   This was clearly left up to the states to decide. Arkansas did not have to expand.
Were we stuck with it?  That claim is misleading. Delays in implementing this law have been happening.  In fact,  just a couple months after the regular legislative session President Obama delayed the employer mandate.
The employer mandate was the biggest argument for Private Option supporters, Beebe included, that Arkansas had to expand Medicaid. Beebe said the mandate would put 35 million in taxes on small businesses. One thing Beebe always does is overestimate the impact to skew the numbers.
There were Republican members calling this the “conservative” choice. There were Republicans saying this was a good deal for the state and bad for the federal government. I have never understood this argument as good for our country or state. I get tired of “free” federal money being promoted. I always tell them look at our national debt and tell me how federal money is free. We were told the whole session that we wouldn’t address medicaid expansion. We were told medicaid expansion would be for a special session. This was thrown at us at the end of the session and now we are having to deal with the consequences. The Private Option turned into the WashingtonDC version of the ACA.
Moore: Your earlier answer indicated a rift between what the people who run the Republican party are doing and what the rank and file want done. Obamacare is not the first time this has happened, it is part of a depressingly consistent pattern. What is behind it? Why does the party constantly try to cajole the grassroots to the left on things like Obamacare, Education, Amnesty and open borders, and the growth of government, especially through debt?
King: I would not blame the party. I would say that Private Option has caused many to question our new-found Republican majority. The first problem was the election of Representative Davy Carter as Speaker of the House. Representative Terry Rice was clearly the conservative and a handful of Republicans and all the Democrats, along with Governor Beebe, put Carter in as Speaker.
Not all of us will agree on everything. I have made your top ten list  two times. But even you and I disagree. However, when the people of Arkansas elect a Republican majority – they expect certain values.. Gun rights, protecting life,  and photo identification for voting were some positive outcomes but with all the Democrats voting as a block and a few Republicans with them, Arkansas passed the largest expansion in Arkansas history. It is sad.
Moore: It seems like there is a “battle for the soul” of ARGOP. What are the stakes? What do you see happening to ARGOP if this dissonance between what the grassroots want and what party officials do is not corrected?
King: I was elected to the House in 2006. That year was a tough year for Republicans. Pres Bush was unpopular, the war was unpopular, and Republicans were not known as fiscal conservatives. Politics is cyclical. Anybody that thinks otherwise will be reminded in a election cycle.  The other problem is political obstructionism. For example, myself and other legislators could not get straight answers out of DHS about the cost of the Private Option and the demographics of the enrollees. So as Audit Chairman, I asked for a special report on the Private Option. This should be a simple request to  find out the cost to taxpayers, right? But the meeting to approve the request turned into a political melee with Democrats and some Private Option supporting Republicans. Representative John Burris was the biggest obstructionist and said things like “this is a waste of time” and called wanting answers “grandstanding”.
If tea party and typical Republican base voters continue to see things like expanding Obama Care along with political obstructionism – then we will lose.
Moore: What can the rank and file member of the party do to fix this? It seems like the emails, phone calls, faxes, and the rest are just completely blown off. How can the average county committee member affect change?
King: Do not give up and support those that are fighting the good fight. Look at the recent John Cooper election in Jonesboro. He fought off two Private Option supporting Republicans in the primary. Both candidates outspent John Cooper by a huge margin, but he still won. He then runs against a Beebe-backed Democrat that supported the Private Option. The race was primarily about the Private Option and Cooper still won. When the grassroots get motivated and works hard – great things will happen. We need to keep working for the right people for the right reasons.