Frank Pignanelli & LaVarr Webb: What's to be done with a new AG and Medicaid expansion?
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
The deep freeze gripping Utah has certainly not iced up political discussions. Our thoughts on current issues:
As a replacement for John Swallow, should the Republican Central Committee and the governor appoint a “caretaker” who will clean up the place and not seek election in 2014, or someone who wants to serve long term?
Pignanelli: "A lot of history is just dirty politics cleaned up for the consumption of children and other innocents." — Richard Reeves
Political ghouls like me were absolutely intrigued, and entertained, with the Swallow controversy. But mentally well-adjusted Utahns are fatigued and deserve a reprieve.
An ambitious replacement with hopes for service beyond one year will begin his/her campaign within in 60 days. This will include outreach to delegates, a convention and possible primary strategy, followed by a general election stretch. Most of this time fundraising will be the main activity — which will interfere with the effort to rehabilitate the perception and reputation of this office.
But don't take the word of this miserable political hack. Universally respected Sen. John Valentine, R-Orem, when announcing his refusal of candidacy for appointment as replacement, recommended the interim attorney general should not run in the special election for the reasons mentioned above.
Utahns have a holiday wish that the Republican activists disregard partisan ideological litmus tests when selecting nominees. The interim attorney general must be above reproach in his/her dealings as an attorney and not wanting to settle scores. Further, the Central Committee should recommend that all candidates in the special election agree to voluntary limits on campaign contributions. This will help restore the dignity and respect of the state's chief law enforcement officer.
Webb: Getting the right person is more important than whether the person is a caretaker or plans to seek election. By our column deadline, a number of excellent and qualified candidates had filed for the job. The Central Committee should forward the best three candidates to the governor. The governor should simply choose the best person, someone with the stature to restore instant credibility to the office.
For example, former Utah Supreme Court Justice Michael Wilkins, who has said he won’t seek election in his own right, would be a terrific choice. But so would Sean Reyes, a respected attorney who ran previously for the job and would seek election next year. With the right person, either model can work.
A number of health care organizations and low-income advocacy groups have endorsed Medicaid expansion in Utah. At some point, the governor and Legislature must make a very difficult decision. What should they do?
Pignanelli: There is tremendous human need that is not covered by Medicaid, while much nonsense is paid. Almost 30 percent of Utah maternity deliveries are sponsored through Medicaid. A minority are undocumented workers, signifying affluent families are manipulating the system. But here lies an opportunity. In exchange for expansion, our officials should push for greater flexibility from the federal government to administer needed reforms, and establishing Utah as a model for efficiency (a worthy endeavor because the Obamacare safety net may collapse).
Webb: This issue goes right to the heart of the debate over the proper size, cost and role of government. We are a caring, compassionate people, so what’s not to like about expanding Medicaid to provide health care services to thousands more low-income people? Well, the federal government, which would pay all of the costs for the first few years and most of the costs long-term, is flat-out broke. Any realistic person who wants the country to survive long term understands that we must slow the growth of entitlement programs or we will destroy the economic prospects of our children and grandchildren. However compassionate expanding Medicaid would be, it gets us deeper into unfunded entitlement obligations, just when we should be reducing those obligations. Don’t expand.
In the dysfunction and unpopularity of the federal government, does an opportunity exist for states to assume more responsibility?
Pignanelli: States lost their primacy through abandonment of civil rights, environmental and consumer protection, reducing poverty, etc. and Americans looked to the feds for relief. But when states are willing to risk novel concepts, they usually succeed. Federal breakdowns offer opportunities for local government to provide efficient leadership, especially in health care, financial services, energy and technology. But the states have to do more than gripe about D.C., and offer practical alternatives. Our democracy may depend on it.
Webb: Improved governance is desperately needed at the federal level. So it is greatly disappointing that more attention is not being paid to an obvious solution: restore a proper balance in the federal/state system. One reason the federal government fails is that it is simply trying to do too much. It is impossible to effectively govern a country as big and diverse as America with most authority, money and decision-making centralized in Washington, D.C. In the private sector, any organization as big, bureaucratic, costly and ineffective as the federal government would have been disrupted long ago by smaller, more competent, more nimble entities. It is time for the states to disrupt the federal behemoth via devolution and decentralization. This is not about conservative ideology. It is about competent, effective governance.
Republican LaVarr Webb is a political consultant and lobbyist. Previously he was policy deputy to Gov. Mike Leavitt and Deseret News managing editor. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Democrat Frank Pignanelli is a Salt Lake attorney, lobbyist and political adviser. Pignanelli served 10 years in the Utah House of Representatives, six years as minority leader. His spouse, D’Arcy Dixon Pignanelli, is a state tax commissioner. Email: email@example.com.