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.