Ripped From the Headlines (Gwen Moritz Editor's Note)

by Gwen Moritz  on Monday, May. 19, 2014 12:00 am  

Jim Hendren

• Benjamin Hardy, blogging at the Arkansas Times’ ArkansasBlog.com, described it as irony: Rep. Jim Hendren, R-Gravette, chairs a legislative task force that last week recommended moving part-time public school employees off the state’s health insurance plan so that they would be eligible for federally subsidized insurance under Obamacare — which Hendren has opposed tooth and nail.

Someone else might describe it as hypocrisy, but not me. I’m the lottery opponent whose sons have benefited from the Arkansas Scholarship Lottery to the tune of $24,000 so far. Like Hendren (and undoubtedly other members of his task force), I’ve just tried to make the best use of what I consider a bad policy.

Well, there might be this difference: When the lottery became legal by a supermajority vote and Arkansans began to depend on it to pay for college, I ceased trying to stop it from doing what it was designed to do. I still think it is bad public policy to encourage those Arkansans least able to afford long-odds gambling to subsidize the college educations of primarily middle-class kids, like the Moritz boys, who would be going to college even without the lottery scholarship. But my side lost by a landslide.

It would be fairly hypocritical, or maybe just heartless, if Hendren and other legislators continued trying to discontinue the “private option” insurance program for the working poor after recommending that more of the working poor lose their existing health insurance benefits because that’s the cheapest, easiest way to solve a problem for middle-class teachers.

The private option has been approved by supermajority votes in both houses of the Arkansas General Assembly, twice. So I’m encouraged that Hendren is now rising above ideology and looking for ways to make some good come out of a result that wasn’t what he favored.

I long ago abandoned ideology on the topic of health insurance. If the free market had worked to keep costs in check and everyone covered, we wouldn’t need Obamacare or health care exchanges or the private option, and the public school employees’ health insurance plan wouldn’t be in a death spiral. But it didn’t work, and the politicians — like the rest of us — are just trying to do the best they can with the hand they were dealt.

• “The main reason I hate politics is that the political goal of misleading the masses into uninformed votes is completely incompatible with my professional goal of informing the public.” I wrote those words in this space in 2002, when I had no idea how much bigger and more despicable the industry of misleading voters could become.

The most egregious in Arkansas of late has been an ad by something called, reassuringly enough, the Law Enforcement Alliance of America, that suggested state Supreme Court candidate Tim Cullen is somehow soft on child pornography.

Who the Law Enforcement Alliance of America is, where its money comes from and why it is willing to smear Cullen in this way are mysteries to me. I like to think that voters would follow their mother’s advice to “consider the source” and give no weight at all to anything that comes from a group that is cloaked in secrecy.

A lot of money is being bet on the idea that voters will believe anything they are told often enough, and outrage seems to be selling particularly well these days. The folks who believe corporations are people and money is speech are obviously winning, and there’s big money to be made in crafting messages that accomplish political goals if you don’t mind being an agent of disinformation. Personally, I’d rather be able to look at myself in the mirror.

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. has teamed up with AutoInsurance.com to give consumers a new way to compare prices on auto insurance policies. I have mixed feelings about this.

On one hand, Wal-Mart is already the biggest company on the planet, and the idea that it needs to encroach on more areas of consumer life feels a little icky. On the other hand, I have a 20-year-old son to insure, and that’s an expensive proposition.

So am I going to price auto insurance through Wal-Mart? You bet I am. I do believe in the free market when it works.

Gwen Moritz is editor of Arkansas Business. Email her at GMoritz@ABPG.com.

 

 

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