Just what is the world coming to?
First, coastal lawsuit mastermind John Barry teamed up with my proudly conservative colleague Quin Hillyer, a harsh critic of Barry’s attempt to force oil and gas companies to compensate his former agency, the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority- East, for environmental damage caused by their operations. The two recently penned a joint op-ed piece on this very page proposing a levy on oil and gas processed in and transported through the region’s endangered marshlands.
Then Thursday, a pair of letters to the editor scrambled the usual alliances once more.
First, former state Department of Health and Hospitals Secretary David Hood openly endorsed one of Gov. Bobby Jindal’s favorite rhetorical targets, President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act. The law has become an all-purpose scapegoat for rising premium rates, Hood wrote, but rates had risen annually, often by double-digit percentages, before the ACA took effect. The ACA now regulates increases and mandates that 80 percent of premium dollars be spent on health care, not overhead, he pointed out.
“Consumers are better off because of those provisions, though some states like Louisiana have not allowed the law’s full benefits to be implemented,” he wrote.
Hood, of course, isn’t just any former DHH secretary. He was Jindal’s deputy when the governor held the post under Mike Foster and then replaced him in the top job. His public support for the ACA isn’t new, but in the past, he’s focused much of his attention on lobbying the Legislature and the Jindal administration to accept the law’s Medicaid expansion, which would insure about 240,000 mostly working poor Louisianans.
His letter went further. Hood called for a complete re-examination of the law. Yes, some premiums have risen because of the ACA, he wrote, but that’s because it “sets standards for the new exchanges aimed at protecting consumers and covering basic care, rather than being merely profit-driven.” (The Obama administration did a poor job explaining this in the first place and, instead, acted on the clearly faulty assumption that everyone wanted and understood the new standards.)
Hood also pointed to a troubling side effect of all the vitriol.
“In Louisiana, as across the country, greater numbers of people enrolled in the health insurance exchange than had been expected. But many of the uninsured did not, no doubt because of negative media coverage and the lack of support by state officials,” Hood wrote. “Given that Louisiana has the third-highest rate of uninsured people in the nation, and that we rate 49th in poor health outcomes, we should support ‘Obamacare,’ not fight it.”
If Hood’s an unlikely adversary for the governor, Jindal can take comfort in having found an equally unexpected, albeit situational, ally. Hood’s letter was accompanied by another submission lauding the governor for standing up for free speech for teachers. It came from none other than Marjorie Esman, executive director of the ACLU, an organization that has sharply criticized Jindal for supporting policies limiting access to abortion and even sued him for signing a bill prohibiting sex offenders from using social media sites.
But the ACLU is all for Jindal’s endorsement of the right to criticize the Common Core state education standards, an issue that arose after teachers at a school in Rapides Parish were reportedly told not to voice their concerns on social media.
“The right to engage in public comment on matters of public concern is fundamental to a free democracy,” Esman wrote. “Facebook and other forms of social media are simply modern vehicles for expressing opinions. They are, in a sense, the contemporary version of billboards and leaflets.”
The person who’s remained entirely predictable through all this, of course, is Jindal. Like his over-the-top efforts to stop the oil and gas lawsuit — including his refusal to reappoint Barry to the flood authority — the governor’s rejection of the Medicaid expansion plays right to what he sees as his political base. So does his newfound hatred of Common Core, a program he once supported.
In fact, Jindal’s executive order supporting anti-Common Core teachers comes off as just one part of his ongoing crusade to publicize opposition, not part of some grand constitutional crusade. Because, let’s face it — when Jindal invokes the First Amendment, it’s generally in the service of some other political agenda, like when he defended the right of “Duck Dynasty” patriarch Phil Robertson to make hateful remarks about gay people.
The fact is that there’s nothing like an opinion from a surprising source to make you rethink your ideas. It would actually be nice if Jindal surprised us every now and then.