Even before the scandal of Lane Grigsby’s attempt to fix the Senate District 16 runoff, “Governor Grigsby” was an ironic phrase among politicos, if a trifle disparaging to his friend Eddie Rispone, the nominal Republican candidate for governor.
The attempt to fix the Senate runoff in south Baton Rouge blew up in Grigsby’s face. Rispone handled it as best he could, declaring that Grigsby had made a mistake. And he forthrightly added that his political mentor is still his friend.
It’s reminiscent of Earl K. Long: If you’re with me in the primary, you’re my friend. If you’re with me in the runoff, you get good government.
But “good government” in the Grigsby administration was almost immediately unveiled as a policy departure that is at variance with Rispone’s campaign theme of himself as a self-made man who grew up, not in a log cabin, but close, in a modest house in north Baton Rouge.
Neither Rispone nor third-place finisher, Republican Ralph Abraham, could take on directly one of Gov. John Bel Edwards’ signature achievements, expansion of Medicaid insurance for the working poor. But Rispone clumsily said he would “freeze” enrollment in the entitlement program.
Expansion supporters at the Louisiana Budget Project slammed the notion, very thoroughly.
“Although Rispone has provided no details about his plan, the experience of other states shows that an enrollment freeze would reverse the dramatic gains in health coverage that Louisiana has seen since Medicaid was expanded in 2016,” LBP director Jan Moller wrote. “An enrollment freeze also would face legal roadblocks and potentially drive up the state’s health care costs by hundreds of millions of dollars.”
There are examples from statehouses across the country: “When Arizona froze its Medicaid program earlier this decade, enrollment dropped by 70% and the state soon had to reverse course. When a similar scheme was proposed in Ohio recently, it was vetoed by that state’s Republican governor on the grounds that 500,000 people could lose coverage,” Moller wrote.
And at the same time, Rispone’s lack of specifics — after all, a tactic not unknown among politicians — was amplified by his unwillingness to do more than one runoff debate with Edwards. The challenger also skipped a forum before the Baton Rouge Area Chamber.
A Republican who skips out on his hometown chamber of commerce is carrying dodging and weaving to Alvin Kamara levels.
One problem with opposition to Medicaid expansion: Edwards' decision is popular with the business community, or at least that part of it running hospitals and physicians’ offices. Abraham, to his credit, is a small-town doctor who treats Medicaid patients when away from his day job in the U.S. Congress.
Medicaid payments are low, so many recipients have trouble finding doctors in the cities, but in the country it’s a lifesaver.
Edwards pointed out again that not one rural hospital has folded in Louisiana, when that is now common elsewhere in the South, with devastating effects for patients and local economies.
In theory, a Republican does not have to worry overmuch about voters who are working in low-wage jobs, as the Medicaid expansion population does. That’s because those folks vote in such low numbers that “voters” is a bit of a misnomer.
But Rispone's campaign stressed his humble beginnings. It suggests he remembers where he came from, that he is not just another tycoon starting at the top with personal wealth without paying his dues — in office, or in policy.
That’s why Governor Grigsby is a real negative. His using Senate candidates as pawns on a chessboard underlines that candidate Rispone is part of a club of rich men, kingmakers indeed, that left their roots far behind.
The problem with Governor Grigsby is not that the phrase is insulting to Rispone. The problem is that it carries with it the whiff of hypocrisy, of the wealthy who don’t know, and probably don’t much care, about the struggles of real people.
As best anyone can tell, given Rispone’s vast silences, the goal of a Medicaid “freeze” is to use complex enrollment and re-enrollment procedures to kick off health insurance the folks he used to live with in north Baton Rouge, who cooked food and cleaned floors and labored to build things.
As a policy, that is not just counterproductive for health care in Louisiana. It’s morally repugnant, and completely at odds with the message of Rispone’s bio spot.
Email Lanny Keller at email@example.com.