Columns 2015

The politics of spite

In case you are wondering, what you’ve been observing on a national level the past six years is the politics of spite. Republicans announced at the beginning of Obama’s first term that their sole objective was to make his presidency a failure and they have worked to accomplish just that while failing to actually contribute to our country’s welfare. Now it seems as though our Republican legislature has decided to emulate their national brethren. With the announcement of the lawsuit against Governor Walker for expanding Medicaid, I fear we have heard the opening salvo of four years of spite politics in Alaska.

Walker committed the mortal sin of choosing what he believed was best for Alaska over party politics. His fairly decisive election victory would seem to indicate that most Alaskans agreed with him. Apparently he must now pay for that even if, in paying for it, Republicans hurt Alaska.

There is a lot of discussion in the legislature about how Medicaid is broken and will cost us too much. I don’t think anyone is actually arguing that Medicaid is perfect. But it is the only program available to thousands of people in this state who have no other access to medical care. So whether it needs tweaking or not, it needs to be available to those whose health care will otherwise involve Saturday night visits to the ER at great cost to those of us who have insurance.  Because in case you missed the memo, the reason that box of tissues in your hospital room cost $145 is that you are also paying for the tissues used by people with no health insurance.

So Medicaid expansion, complete with federal dollars to cover most of the expansion, is not only a fiscally responsible position, but also a morally responsible position. Apparently our Republican legislature is so intent on playing spite politics with Walker that they will violate the basic morality inherent in caring for those in our society who are less fortunate. And please let me again emphasize, we will pay for the health care of those with no coverage one way or another. Either we do it upfront by helping them obtain health insurance on some level or we will do it on the back end when our costs rise to cover the health care system’s unpaid bills.

Almost every poll taken in the state shows that the majority of Alaskans support this expansion. But that doesn’t seem to matter to the Republican majority who are definitely marching to the beat of a drummer the rest of us aren’t hearing. For instance, recent polling shows Alaskans would rather pay something to keep state services at their current level, whether it be through an income tax, a sales tax or some other revenue generating mechanism. Given that the price of oil fell last week even further than it had been when our legislature was holding it’s never ending sessions last spring, you’d think the leadership would start paying attention. But no. They have for so long marched to the cadence of the chant, “No new taxes”, that they apparently can’t hear their constituents saying that they understand that sometimes that’s the only answer.

What Republicans in our state legislature can’t seem to accept is that not everyone in this state views government as the enemy all the time. Many of us are actually capable of carrying nuanced views of the issues we are wrestling with in light of falling oil prices. We are able to simultaneously accept that some of government is a pain in the butt but much of it is actually useful and helpful. Ergo the poll that shows that Alaskans are willing to pay for these services.

Our Republican majority is busy playing the politics of spite with the governor no matter what gets destroyed in the process.  They can’t see that the future lies in Alaskans once again being responsible for the services they receive. They march to a tune that says no to everything the governor says yes to. And we have four years of this fun to look forward to. Unless, as an electorate, we do something at the next election to put in legislators that actually represent what Alaskans want and need.

The legislature should have put that extra half million dollars towards Medicaid expansion, not a lawyer’s second home.