OLYMPIA – In a world of emails and tweets, it’s usually nice to get a real letter. Except, maybe, if it’s a letter telling you to do something that you’ve already said you aren’t gonna do, or not do something you’ve said you will.
This is the case with the letter that U.S. Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Idaho, and a cohort of Republican senators and congresspersons sent to Gov. Chris Gregoire, urging her and her 49 fellow governors to “join us in resisting a centralized government approach to health care reform.”
Specifically, the letter says, don’t set up a state health care exchange “mandated under the President’s discredited health care law.”
That law, which supporters call the Affordable Care Act and detractors Obamacare, has been in the news a bit recently, what with the U.S. Supreme Court weighing in on its constitutionality and all. A health care exchange, for those whose eyes glaze over at the mention of the law’s details, is something that would help individuals and businesses shop for a good health insurance plan on the Internet, much the way they shop for a plane ticket on Expedia or Orbitz.
There is probably no law that better proves Washington and Idaho are two very different states with a common border than the Affordable Care Act. Idaho said essentially “Hell, no!” to setting up an exchange during this year’s session; Washington said “Youbetcha!” then held out its hand for the money the feds promised to those who got in line early. The state got $128 million, which even by congressional standards is not chump change.
Idaho Republicans are still hard on the trail of repealing the act. In Washington, the Republican who would very much like to be Gregoire’s replacement, Attorney General Rob McKenna, says it’s time to stop talking about wholesale repeal and make adjustments to things that don’t work. This from a guy who was among the first in on one of the lawsuits that went to the Supremes.
Also telling: While Washington has four Republicans in the U.S. House, none apparently was interested in signing on to the letter authored by Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina and Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota. Even Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, who a few months ago told GOP compatriots in the Legislature to hold off on the health exchange, didn’t add her Joan Hancock.
Gregoire, who’s in the United Kingdom on a trade mission, hadn’t seen the letter on Friday, but she couldn’t have been more dismissive if she’d made a raspberry into the phone receiver. The senders don’t seem to have an alternative, she said during a telephone press conference on other topics, and “doing nothing is not a solution.” Going back to the way things were before the Affordable Care Act is not an option for Washington, she added:
“We’re going full speed ahead.”
It would be tempting to say Labrador et al. could have saved a stamp, but the U.S. Postal Service probably can use the money.
This is grass-roots democracy?
Friday’s deadline for turning in initiatives demonstrated clearly that putting legislation before the voters might still be an exercise of government of the people, but getting it on the ballot is all about money.
Of some 55 proposals that were filed this year and a half-dozen or so that made some level of effort to gather signatures, only two reached the deadline with enough names to make the ballot. Both relied heavily on large infusions of cash from businesses or wealthy donors to pay people to collect those names.
Initiative 1240 collected some 350,000 signatures in about three weeks, which rivals last year’s “get the state out of the booze biz” initiative. And they didn’t even have the built-in advantage of I-1183’s main supporter Costco, which could tap a ready stream of potential signers by tapping the hordes of shoppers streaming through its doors.
Supporters wouldn’t say Friday how much they paid for signatures, or to whom, insisting it will all be revealed later this week, as required by law. They seemed so unaware of the purveyor of names that one had to wonder if they wrote a series of six-figure checks to a signature firm and left the “Pay to the Order of” line blank, telling some anonymous company rep “Oh, just fill it in with your company stamp back at the office.”
Tim Eyman & Co. also relied at least partly on paid signature gatherers. I-1185 was the first initiative filed in January and had several months to work its way though Eyman’s established network. But his campaign shelled out at least $200,000 to a sig-snagging firm, and business groups who like the idea bypassed Eyman’s campaign apparatus and gave another $285,000 directly to the company. So it, too, is a mixture of grass-roots activism and AstroTurf.
Voter registration deadline is Monday for the August primary, if you want to register online or by mail. Click here, and follow the instructions.