Health Care Lawsuit Draws Criticism From Parnell Opponents

By Dave Donaldson

Candidates who want to take Sean Parnell’s seat in the governor’s office are reacting to this week’s announcement that he’s making a Constitutional challenge to the Federal health care legislation that passed Congress earlier this year.  Many of them see the litigation as a distraction from what the Governor needs to be talking about.  

The announcement came as no surprise that Governor Parnell had decided to join nineteen other states in a lawsuit claiming that the Federal government had overstepped its constitutional authority by requiring individuals to purchase health care insurance or face a tax penalty.   He had said before it became law that he was opposed to the idea.

However,  Ralph Samuels and Bill Walker,  running in the August Republican primary election against the governor say the lawsuit was discussed at the state G-O-P convention the week before.   Samuels says there was no opposition among party members to what the governor did,  But they wanted to hear about the future – gaslines and oil production and the economy.   He points to the timing of the announcement – only two days after the legislature passed two of the highest budgets in the state’s history.

Immediately, you stage this lawsuit against the feds.  You save this for when you want to deflect. And lo and behold, you know there’s the spin on the capital budget and the operating budget and now the story will be health care, I’m sure.  And the timing – you know, I chuckled, there’s not much more I can do about it.  But, you know, we’ve been calling for this lawsuit since day one, since the first couple of states filed.

He said it’s easier to direct the conversation to subjects where there is agreement.  He says the announcement shows that Parnell doesn’t want to talk about gaslines, or high state spending  He says pushing back against the federal government reflects the will of the majority of Alaskans – including the other candidates.  Samuels says he wants to talk about the issues where there are stark differences  — like what the state’s economy will look like ten years from now.

Bill Walker also sees the cost of providing health care as an important subject,  But he says the state’s economy is heading for a financial cliff.   And his public opinion polls show that the economy is the top issue for ninety five percent of Alaskans.  And he doesn’t understand not talking about an oil pipeline that operates at a third of its capacity.

I think he wants to talk about something else, because he doesn’t seem to engage much in that discussion.   Given the opportunity at the various speaking opportunities he’s had there’s been very little discussion of that.  So I think he’s uncomfortable with the position he finds himself in and seems to be comfortable staying in that position.

Democrats in the race may see the lawsuit as a distraction to Republican candidates and voters,  but they prefer to focus on the health care litigation itself.  Hollis French questions court action when Parnell never criticized the Republicans’ attempt to get Congress to act on mandatory insurance back in the nineties.  And Ethan Berkowitz questions the results of a lawsuit without working on an alternative.

If they win the suit, they haven’t advanced a single idea on how to solve the health care issue that Alaskans confront.  And if they lose the suit, they still haven’t advanced an idea.  So to me this is a big distraction.  It doesn’t advance the cause of health care. It doesn’t help the Alaska people very much – aside from providing some pretty good political theater.

And Democrat Bob Poe sees the suit as an appeal to the more conservative Republicans – those who still see the appeal of the legacy he inherited when he took office  — the current gas line plans and fighting the federal government.

What the governor is doing is trying to shore up his conservative credentials while at the same time endangering things that I think are much more important for the state of Alaska like long-term oil and gas development to keep revenue coming to the state.

Governor Parnell did not reply to a request for comment,  however,  immediately following the adjournment of this year’s legislative session Monday morning,  he pointed to success on a wide variety of issues that he addressed during his first year as governor.

We’ve made great progress on a lot of fronts, from our economic agenda when it comes to cruise ship tax reduction, oil tax credits, when it comes to the deferred maintenance plan, when it comes to new infrastructure, when it comes to merit scholarships,  you know providing that opportunity for our young people.  I’m just very thankful for where we are today.

And Parnell made some of the same observations as his opponents – he has to cut state spending approved by the legislature.


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