Fallin

Is Fallin ACA Op-Ed A Signal?

Image of Gov. Mary Fallin

“We hope that Congress would offer targeted, temporary relief for people to maintain their current coverage while we work together on free-market, consumer-friendly solutions for the future.”—Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin in a recent opinion article in the Tulsa World

Is Gov. Mary Fallin signaling to the U.S. Supreme Court that she and other Republican governors actually want it to uphold the tax-credit features of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) while saving political face with their voter bases?

It sure seems that way, and it’s incredibly hypocritical and crass politics at its most manipulative. In a recent opinion piece, Fallin argued if the court finds for the plaintiff in King versus Burwell, she wants “relief” for Oklahomans now covered under the ACA, which mean, in effect, she wants it to continue at least temporarily. The word “relief” is an important one for its symbolic connotations.

Look at the circumstances. Fallin is a second-term lame duck governor, who hasn’t really expressed an interest in running for office again. She’s also from one of the reddest states in the nation. Fallin can simply qualify her argument while giving cover to other Republican governors, who are still politically viable.

Are you listening, SCOTUS, are you listening?

The court has heard arguments over whether people should qualify for tax credits when they buy insurance under (ACA) in those states that didn’t establish health care exchanges. It’s a bizarre, right-wing quibble. The law states the tax credits will come from “an Exchange established by the State.” In context, it should be clear that by the State (note the caps), the law means the entire federal government, along with states, but conservatives ague the language means those credits should only go to people in “states” (note the lower case) that established exchanges.

Most states—34 of them in all, which includes Oklahoma—did not establish exchanges but millions of people who live in these states have bought health insurance through “the State” or the federal exchange and received tax credits through the Internal Revenue Service. That includes nearly 125,000 Oklahomans, according to recent media reports.

Fallin, of course, criticized the ACA in her commentary, and Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt has filed lawsuits against it. But she’s clear on this point:

We hope that Congress would offer targeted, temporary relief for people to maintain their current coverage while we work together on free-market, consumer-friendly solutions for the future.

In other words, please continue the ACA until we find something better, but Republicans don’t have a viable plan upon which they can agree and never will. Everyone on the court knows that. The ACA already offers “free market and consumer-friendly solutions.” It’s certainly not the universal, single payer system this country so desperately needs.

It’s clear if Republicans are successful with the court in cutting the health insurance of some portion of more than 11 million people, they will face a political disaster. Locally, it might just make more of those 125,000 Oklahoman vote, and they would have a good reason to vote against Republicans for ruining their health care. At the same time, these Republicans have demonized the ACA so much, they risk looking like tremendous hypocrites if they just simply conceded that the ACA is working.

Some might think my interpretation of Fallin’s editorial on the larger, national political level is a stretch, but as much energy as she and Pruitt have used criticism of the ACA as a political cudgel and to win votes, she sure comes across as the ultimate hypocrite.

Fallin Makes Some Points

Image of Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin

I’m struck by what Gov. Mary Fallin’s State of the State address didn’t include this year.

Gone was the sanctimonious lecturing about how Oklahoma was going to teach the federal government a thing or two about good governance. Gone were the cliché calls for “right sizing” whatever needs to be right sized in this state. Gone were the calls for major tax cuts aimed to increase the take-home income of Oklahoma’s most wealthy people.

Fallin did argue, “Our people are known nationally – and internationally – as ‘Oklahoma Strong.’” This was in reference to our responses to all our natural disasters, and I don’t want to quibble too much here, but in all my travels outside the state I’ve never heard the “Oklahoma Strong” mantra from anyone at all, ever, and I don’t expect I ever will. Many people outside the state know us, really, only for people such as science unbeliever U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe or the LGBT intolerant state Rep. Sally Kern.

What we had then was a rather bland but competent speech, and I actually mean this in a fairly positive way, that drew attention to education and health issues, but came with the important and mostly unspoken caveat that state agencies were going to face budget cuts of approximately 6.25 percent and education funding was pretty much going to remain stagnant even though the state faces a major teacher shortage.

On education, Fallin stayed generic:

There are many things we can and must do to increase education levels in Oklahoma. Whether it’s raising academic standards to ensure our high school graduates are actually graduating with 12th grade level skills, increasing funding – which I support – or finding ways to empower parents and students, we must do more.

I look forward to working with educators, parents, and our new Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister in support of those goals.

One thing we know we can do NOW, that doesn’t require large sums of new money, is to help strengthen partnerships between local businesses and local schools where students can dual track their education and work skills.

Note that reference to the lack of “large sums of new money.” That’s the important part. I sense that as long as Republicans dominate state government here education funding will remain at some of the lowest levels in per pupil spending in the nation. Local businesses are not going to help in any significant way to solve our teacher shortage problems.

A point Fallin made in her speech that I really did like was her mention of our overcrowded incarceration system and how we need to become “smart on crime.” Fallin said:

It costs the state around $19,000 a year to house an inmate, but only $5,000 a year to send an addict through drug court and on to treatment. In addition to being less expensive, it’s also more effective; the recidivism rate for offenders sent to drug court is just one-fourth of the rate for those sent to prison.

This is a legitimate argument that I hope receives some attention from the legislature this year, although I’m not hopeful. Most law-and-order state Republican lawmakers still retain a myopic punitive mentality about crime, even for non-violent offenders, rather than a rehabilitation mentality about crime. Fallin, in her last term of governor, can speak as much common sense as possible at this point, but will anyone in her party listen to her and does she really even care that much?

Fallin’s call for “performance informed budgeting” and setting various goals for the state seemed overly bureaucratic and perhaps was just filler for her speech. The state has major problems related to health outcomes and education funding. It’s fine to set goals, but without a meaningful budget commitment nothing will improve here drastically.

But, in the end, Fallin’s speech could have been worse for progressives, and it did make a salient point or two.

No One

Image of Mary Fallin

“Mary Fallin. Because no one cares more about Oklahoma. No one.”

The above text or a version of it that end Gov. Mary Fallin’s reelection campaign television advertisements have become especially grating to me for different reasons.

I hear those lines, and I cringe. No one cringes more than me. No one.

I know I could be accused of nitpicking here, and I’m certainly not going to apply some faux-Pinocchio media test about truthfulness to Fallin’s ads, but I still do think it’s important to delve deeper into such hollow political discourse rather than just numbly and dumbly accept it as part of life as an American citizen trying to participate in the election process. No wonder voter turnout is so low here in Oklahoma and elsewhere.

So here are my problems with those particular lines:

(1) It’s a sweeping generalization that can never be measured or proven in any quantifiable manner. We can assume Fallin means that there are other people who care just as much as she does about Oklahoma, but that no one, absolutely no one, cares more. Does Fallin constantly care about Oklahoma throughout the day? How many hours? Does she ever not care about Oklahoma? What about when she’s watching a movie? What about other state leaders and the possibility they actually care more about Oklahoma than Fallin does at any given moment in the day? How do you measure it? How do you define it?

(2) What does it mean to care for a state, anyway? Is that necessarily a great attribute in itself? What if you care about more than one state or even more than one country? What if you care about four or even five states? By using the word care, we can also probably assume Fallin means she cares about people that live in Oklahoma as well as, say, the state’s natural beauty. Yet many people would argue that Fallin has a funny way of caring about certain groups of people who live in Oklahoma, such as students who attend underfunded schools and low-income people who can’t afford health care. Remember, no one cares more than Fallin does. No one.

(3) Generally speaking, I know that in the advertising world grating and annoying repetition in commercials can reap rewards for companies. Is this the intent of the Fallin campaign, sort of like the use of the Aflac duck? If so, it doesn’t make it any easier to stomach. I also wonder if the numbing repetition even works in the case of an incumbent governor who has fallen in popularity. Anyone still riding the fence in this gubernatorial election could conceivably view the lines as an insult to their intelligence or, probably more so, simply as an aggravating nuisance as they’re trying to watch the six o’clock news.

Does any of this really matter in the larger scheme of our political campaign system? Well, I’ll say this: No one cares more about this issue of reductionist and clichéd political discourse than me. No one.*

*Slight qualification. Okay, except for the millions of other people in this country who care about it, too.

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