Montana Politics

Bohlinger Parachutes Into the Medicaid Expansion Debate and Muddies the Waters

Today, a coalition of Montana groups committed to Medicaid expansion announced their submission of ballot language for the 2014 election, kicking off the process of getting approval, informing voters, collecting signatures, and ultimately passing much-needed expansion of Medicaid in Montana.

It’s going to be a Herculean task, given the sheer energy necessary to mount a statewide campaign, not to mention the challenge of working against what will surely be well-funded opposition. Educating voters about the need for Medicaid expansion will also be a complex challenge.

And that task wasn’t made any easier over the past two days when former Republican and current Democratic candidate for the Senate John Bohlinger leapt in, calling for a special session of the Legislature to expand Medicaid. Instead of a couple of days of clear stories about the need for a ballot initiative, Montanans will see competing stories about two different strategies to expand Medicaid, muddying the message.

A special session is a total non-starter, as nothing that has happened in the months between the session and today makes the body any more likely to adopt the expansion. Calling for it may enhance Mr. Bohlinger’s reputation, but it does little to actually move the ball forward.

Incredibly, not satisfied with preempting the coalition announcement today, Mr. Bohlinger actually appeared at their press conference to promote his competing—and entirely self-serving—strategy, as Sanjway Talwani reports:


That seems a lot like political calculation being valued before a policy decision to me.

Politically, though, it’s also terribly confusing. Calling for a special session is a direct repudiation of the strategy embraced by Governor Bullock, who will support the ballot initiative to expand Medicaid. For those of you keeping score at home, Democratic candidate John Bohlinger has opened his campaign with attacks against or criticism of Democratic Governor Steve Bullock, Democratic Lt. Governor John Walsh, and  Democratic Senators Max Baucus and Jon Tester. As the Governor’s office said:

“Mr. Bohlinger’s a dedicated public servant, but I’m disappointed that rather than engaging in a serious discussion he’s looking for an easy headline on a complicated issue.  If he’s serious about how to expand coverage for 70,000 working poor and create 13,000 new jobs, he’d pick up the phone and ask the governor how he could help,” Bullock spokesman Kevin O’Brien said in a statement Wednesday.

Instead of promoting his own interests, at the expense of progressive priorities, perhaps Mr. Bohlinger should give some thought to working with the party he’s suggested he wants to join and the people who are working hard to expand access to health care in Montana.

If you appreciate an independent voice holding Montana politicians accountable and informing voters, and you can throw a few dollars a month our way, we would certainly appreciate it.


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  • I can’t remember the last time I saw somebody fumble so badly the facts of a political situation.

    The initiative is Plan B. Nobody wants 70,000 Montanans to have to wait an extra year for health care just so Dems have something good to campaign on next fall (at least I hope that’s not what’s motivating those opposed to a Special Session).

    “A special session is a total non-starter, as nothing that has happened in the months between the session and today makes the body any more likely to adopt the expansion. ” You’re misreading things multiple ways in that sentence. First, a lot has changed. The GOP is pretending to care about implementation, even though they blew it on Medicaid implementation as bad as the clowns who built the website. Another big thing, Schweitzer isn’t running for Senate. The GOP now has a chance. Daines does not want this initiative on the ballot giving a reason to vote Dem to 70K Montanans. None of the Republicans want this on the ballot. They don’t care about this as much as winning the US senate. This is such a big deal for you that you complain about somebody building urgency on the issue, but is also such a small deal that it hasn’t changed anything politically?

    Not just that, but your entire premise is wrong. The Special Session is the best thing that could happen for the initiative campaign and the efforts of Democrats to win back the legislature. Special Sessions really are special. The attention of the entire state will be on the legislature. And if they again reject, people will be fired up to sign the petition and vote against the GOP in November.

    And remember, even if this does pass, initiatives can’t appropriate money. That means this still has to go through the legislature in 2015. There is no doubt that this has to go through the legislature. Plan A remains to do it ASAP, especially before the ACA expands further at the end of the year. The initiative provides leverage to get the GOP to approve now and keep it off the ballot. That leverage will be gone in the 2015 session, there will be no way to prevent the Republicans from simply voting to overturn the will of the voters. It could medical marijuana 2011 all over again.

    You should be applauding the fact we finally have some statewide leadership taking up Senator Christine Kaufmann’s call for a Special Session, not defending the governor’s acceptance of defeat until 2015 and beyond.

    You have everything 100% backwards. Including the sequence of press conferences stepping on message.

    • I’m just going to focus on one aspect of this message for now. On Twitter, you claimed that those who supported the ballot initiative are happy that their efforts are a Plan B for Bohlinger’s ambition, yet here you seem to claim that Bohlinger should get some sort of credit for having gone first. You write:

      You have everything 100% backwards. Including the sequence of press conferences stepping on message.

      I don’t mean to question the veracity of your claims, but if this is part of a grand strategy, shouldn’t Bohlinger have known the coalition planned to announce today? Shouldn’t they have planned out a more cohesive rollout?

      They didn’t, because your guy is just trying to get headlines for himself. You don’t have to believe me. Ask the governor’s office, who said:

      “Mr. Bohlinger’s a dedicated public servant, but I’m disappointed that rather than engaging in a serious discussion he’s looking for an easy headline on a complicated issue. If he’s serious about how to expand coverage for 70,000 working poor and create 13,000 new jobs, he’d pick up the phone and ask the governor how he could help,” Bullock spokesman Kevin O’Brien said in a statement Wednesday.

      • First off, the Governor’s staff was misinformed on that point. Bohlinger did talk to the governor about this prior to joining Senator Kaufmann’s call for a special session. And since that quote Bohlinger has personally offered the Governor his support during the upcoming special session.

        Bohlinger seems to have more confidence in the Governor’s ability than the Governor.

        Bohlinger’s Wednesday press conference was timed to mark the 50th day since the start of the exchanges. And we believe that the threat of an initiative has changed the calculation and added leverage. But that didn’t happen today’s reboot of a ballot push, that leverage happened when a 2014 initiative was submitted by AARP, MNA, MEA-MFT, AFL-CIO and others….back in June.

        There has been leverage to expand Medicaid now since June. That leverage has only increased with the failure of the exchanges. But it’s existed since June.

        It’s been 16 weeks since the Chronicle called on Bullock to call a Special Session

        It’s been more than a month since Senator Kaufmann started organizing a petition drive to have a Medicaid Special Session this fall.

        A special session is overdue.

        • Since you’re speaking for Lt. Governor Bohlinger, let me ask directly, did he coordinate his plans with the coalition who announced their initiative today? Were his announcement and his announcement part of what you suggest was a coordinated strategy?

          If so, I’ll happily eat crow and retract the post. I simply don’t believe that to be the case, though.

          • Nope.

            Bohlinger’s call was based on his confidence in Governor Bullock’s ability to leverage the June initiative submitted by the *larger* coalition into expansion that benefits Montanans now and saves the GOP from having this on the ballot.

            The goal is to expand Medicaid. There are different groups of people who have been part of different ballot proposals and there are people concurrently pushing for a special session. There’s lots of overlap, like Sen Kaufmann who has lead on this from all fronts.

            Going to the ballot is Plan B because it is less desirable. There’s no guarantee the GOP will pass it in 2015 even if voters do in 2014 and the leverage over the GOP will no longer remain. That’s why the calls have been growing since the summer for a Special Session. It’s a moral obligation to at least try. And if it doesn’t pass, every day of the special session will have been a day of free press for the ballot campaign.

            It’s a good thing that the top of the ticket is filling the leadership vacuum on this. It’s overdue.

              • A second initiative being introduced in addition to the labor-backed initiative changed nothing about asking the guv to utilize the leverage he’s had since June.

                There have been months of increasing asks for Bullock to finally call a special session by those leading the push to expand medicaid. It is an unsustainable position for the governor to try to claim he’s in favor of expanding Medicaid, but not interested in the legislature voting on it until 2015.

                The Governor needs to try.

          • FWIW, Kim Abbott was the emcee at today’s press conference and is organizing this initiative.

            It has been two months since she sent a call of action for a special session.


            “Contact Governor Steve Bullock! Governor Bullock has been a passionate supporter of this issue, and has been clear that every option to expand Medicaid is on the table. We want to show Governor Bullock that he has our support in pursuing a special session! Take two minutes to send the Governor a message saying you support expanding Medicaid in a special session by calling his office at 406-444-3111 (Toll Free: 855-318-1330)”

            Why has the governor ignored the people behind today’s press conference for over two months?

            That’s what you should be writing about. That’s a good question. But this post, on the other hand, gets absolutely everything wrong about the dynamics around Medicaid. You’re better than this.

      • Bob Brigham Bought and paid for by whoever winks in his direction.

        I too have noticed a big push by Bob for Bolinger on twitter, right along with his fanatic and continuous Max Baucus bashing. Kinda like the “Aaron Flint” of the Libertarian party! Where everything is a conspricy.

        The Ballot issue is the only way and the fastest way to get the expanded medicaid services rolling. The extreme right of the legislature won’t let a special session happen. They have already shown they don’t care for anyone else in the state but their corporate donors and masters…..

        Kinda just like Bob

        • You wrote, “The extreme right of the legislature won’t let a special session happen.”

          It isn’t the GOP legislature that won’t let a special session happen, it is our Democratic Governor.

          The *only* thing preventing the legislature from a Special Session is Governor Bullock. He can make he announcement tomorrow and there is absolutely nothing the extreme right can do.

          The constitution gives Bullock the power to call a Special Session and the June labor-backed initiative gave him the leverage necessary to succeed. He can pull this off, he just needs to start trying.

          It’s troubling to see some people have so little confidence in the Governor.

          • Yeah I am waiting, for Bullock who is very good at speeches to take a large well spoken dump on your cunning dumb calculations.

            By the by Bob, someone has to submit a request to the governor for a special session if he doesn’t see a need. this is what you have been flip flopping on for months…. but it won’t be you or Bolinger will it? Since neither of you are in Government service. So you’re pushing for someone to carry your water to the Governor, or you advertising for someone to take the job?


  • My only complaint about Don’s post is that he beat me to it. Bohliner is old enough to know the difference between making headlines and making sense, so he’s old enough to know better than to call for a special session on an issue on which no legislative minds have changed. It wasn’t a smart thing to do.

    I know Bohlinger served in the legislature and as Lt. Governor, but now that he’s running for the U.S. Senate, he has a responsibility to concentrate on national issues and leave the decision to call a special session to Governor Bullock. It’s not a good sign that the old horse is fighting the wrong war.

  • I really hope you bickering democrats don’t fuck this up. there are actual people suffering while y’all politically posture for leverage.

  • Disunity of purpose in the Democratic Party? Seeming efforts to thwart progressive movements by means of subterfuge? A governor with the power to act who sits on his hands?

    Get outta here.

    • If you lived in Montana, you might know there’s no point in Bullock calling a special session. So a group of real progressives is using the ballot expand access to health care–and former Republican John Bohlinger is putting his interests ahead of that goal.

      It’s disappointing stuff.

        • The tigger word here is “Lived.” You haven’t lived here for almost a decade.

          Infact you don’t even own the home, you rent according to Parcel searches in Co. I mean hey you’ve plastered your address all over the web trying to get some business to your home.

          Mark all someone has to do is input your name in Google to get at the truth.

          You haven’t been a Montanan for years so give up the argument….. Really?

          • Idiot. We moved to Colorado in August of 2009, a little over four years ago. I was 59 years old at the time. And why the hell do you even care? It’s not like a person has to have feet on the ground there to understand events. It’s not changed a whit since I left, still a place in which politics is slug-infested and Democrats are the creepier of the two parties, not saying much.

    • Naw, not my style to change my name at every site in Montana, because I’ve never been banned, like some people here…. So I think you’re confused as to who is doing the stalking, Abe. Look in the mirror.

      I don’t take peoples word for who they are or where they have been. most people are honest, but bullpucky speakers like you and Mark, have proven themselves only as bull pucky experts.

      You wouldn’t buy a car or house from someone you didn’t know would you? I research all my buys and the people I do business with, don’t you???

      I dont know maybe you dont care, but I believe in looking up people who tell a story about themselves that can’t be backed up with evidence……

      Take you for an example, until you prove who you are (which you won’t because you’re already here as a known name) your just an anonymous troll. …..

      Some gas station clerk who fantasizes hes a CEO of a company…. Just saying!

      Anyone who can’t tell us who his real name is, like you did at Cowgirls. must be ashamed youll be found out? Doesn’t matter to me….Cuz I don’t do business with shysters. I just heckle their message.

    • You ready for this, Abe? She filed a complaint with the Jeffco sheriff about me – something about cyber harassment because she doesn’t like my comments. She says she did this – I never heard a word down here, as it is batshit crazy.

  • Amazing how in the same thread you out yourself as a stalker who looks up poster’s home addresses and implies threats against them….you also criticize those who you believe post anonymously. All without a hint of irony. Your track record of attempting to dig up and post personal information in an attempt to shame those that disagree with you speaks for itself. You yourself have no shame. As for me there is no mystery. I am the real Abe Froman. Some know me as the sausage king but you may simply refer to me as Abe.

    • Any Lawyer, Personal office, can find anyone on the internet who uses it Sausage King. It does take a little brains to look people up…. find somebody who can do a better job than you!

      Ya see thats what the internet is for!

  • I think the name Norma Duffy is an alias. Seems pretty fake to me. Plus when I Google her name all I get are links to internet rants with no real proof that Norma exists outside of the internet. Pretty shady.

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Don Pogreba

Don Pogreba is an eighteen-year teacher of English, former debate coach, and loyal, if often sad, fan of the San Diego Padres and Portland Timbers. He spends far too many hours of his life working at school and on his small business, Big Sky Debate.
His work has appeared in Politico and Rewire.
In the past few years, travel has become a priority, whether it's a road trip to some little town in Montana or a museum of culture in Ísafjörður, Iceland.

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