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I’d never asked in advance for permission to speak on the phone with a press secretary for an Arkansas politician, much less been turned down.

But these are different days and there’s a first time for everything. The home-state press, like the home state overall, matters less now that politics is all about polarized allegiance to party and nationalized issues.

That little sign David Pryor kept on his Senate desk saying “Arkansas comes first” is as shattered as a Ten Commandments monument.

U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton’s office never responds to me. But until lately I’d maintained the cordiality nearly everyone feels with U.S. Sen. John Boozman and his people.

What’s different lately is that Boozman, timid and low-visibility by nature, got caught in a vortex on repealing and replacing Obamacare.

He wants to repeal and replace because … well, that’s what conservatives want to do. But both bills to accomplish repeal and replace that were thrust on Boozman by his puppeteer, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, presumed to cut Medicaid expansion funding in a way that drew opposition — to that provision, not Obamacare repeal and replace altogether — from Boozman’s friend back home, Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson.

Boozman found himself torn between the general essence of repeal-and-replace conservatism and attending to the needs of his state as framed by a governor he has always liked and admired. And he was torn in the context of McConnell’s needing 50 votes to pass Obamacare repeal with Vice President Mike Pence’s tie-breaking vote, and having already lost, for sure, two of the 52 Republican senators: Susan Collins of Maine among moderates and Rand Paul of Kentucky among the zanier right-wingers.

Never one for stepping out boldly or otherwise on policy, Boozman hid from a columnist who wanted to ask him how he felt in his own mind and by his own initiative about this bill and the issue of Medicaid expansion in his home state.

And then, on Monday night, two more Republican senators — Jerry Moran of Kansas and Mike Lee of Utah — revealed their opposition, forcing McConnell to pull down his bill and lifting Boozman unharmed from the vortex.

Boozman’s cowering was rewarded. He — and Cotton — were spared choosing between repealing and replacing and gutting their state.

Now we’ll never know, which probably was their tactic all along. Other senators overtly represented their states in the field of play. Our guys sat in the press box and watched the scoreboard.

Earlier Monday, before the fatal blow, I’d sent an email to Boozman’s press secretary, Patrick Creamer, asking if he would accept my phone call to his office for a live voice-to-voice conversation on the health-care bill.

The staffer replied no.

To be precise: He said the office had put out a statement last week and that he had no updates beyond that.

In other words, he’d be washing his hair when I called.

I replied that, back in the day, a columnist might actually engage a politician or his press aide in live human interaction and take a shot at fresh inquiries on an issue that could inform constituents, voters, readers, people like that who once factored into such equations.

I didn’t get any response on that. After all, it wasn’t a question, but an old geezer’s rambling lamentation about yesteryear.

But here’s the deal: Boozman — and Cotton, too — weren’t simply stonewalling me. They were stonewalling you. They were stonewalling Arkansas. They were stonewalling their governor. They were stonewalling the Arkansas Hospital Association, Arkansas Children’s Hospital, UAMS, home-state medical providers generally and home-state poor folks especially.

Here was Boozman’s last-operative statement before Monday night’s collapse: He was encouraged that everybody in the Republican caucus was “trying to get to 50.”

Got that? He professed to be emphasizing getting to a place to pass the bill. He did not profess to give a hoot about trying to change the Medicaid funding for the good of his state before he votes for it, though he may actually have been trying that, even as he was afraid to say so.

On this most important issue to their state and nation, our U.S. senators behaved timidly when the opportunity was ripe for them to behave boldly.

If McConnell had to get 50 votes, meaning he couldn’t spare either Boozman or Cotton, then both were in a position to stand up for their state, its governor, its hospitals and its abundance of working poor people.

They, not Moran and Lee, could have been the ones to pull the plug.

But Boozman doesn’t pull plugs. He just sits in the dark when someone else does.

Boozman’s stated priority was to “get to 50,” not to make “50” come to him and his state.

Cotton’s priority is clearer. It’s to keep this health care inconvenience from getting in the way of a high profile elsewhere in service to his Clintonesque ambition for the presidency.

While he was declining to take a public position on his state’s health care situation, his office was sending a half-dozen news releases a day about his speaking to national groups on defense issues. And he was going on the radio with conservative admirer Hugh Hewitt, who didn’t care any more about Arkansas than Cotton does.

With six electoral votes Cotton can take for granted when the time comes, Arkansas shouldn’t count on a lot of championing from him.

Will Boozman and Cotton now vote for or against McConnell’s tactic of a bill to repeal Obamacare at a future sunsetted date and get it replaced somehow by something by then? At this point, who knows? And who much cares?

They’re not factors in this debate. Senators from other states doing real work in behalf of those states — they’ll decide that.

John Brummett, whose column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, was inducted into the Arkansas Writers’ Hall of Fame in 2014. Email him at jbrummett@arkansasonline.com. Read his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.

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Archived Comments

  • TimberTopper
    July 19, 2017 at 5:13 a.m.

    One thing is for sure about our Senators from Arkansas, "they got no guts". The important thing is "the party" not "the people". Maybe replacement is in order, even with other Republicans. Just a couple with guts that look at their job as being people over party. Surely there's two of them out there somewhere in Arkansas.

  • Jfish
    July 19, 2017 at 7:02 a.m.

    They are probably gun shy after watching Lincoln and Pryor being sent home at least in part for their vote on Obamacare.

  • mozarky2
    July 19, 2017 at 7:15 a.m.

    You're dreaming, TT.
    Both Cotton and Boozman won election by overwhelming majorities.
    No Republican will dare primary them, and I'd be surprised if the dems even dare to field candidates against them.
    Need I remind you that in the 2016 election there were three times as many Libertarian candidates for Arkansas' congressional seats as there were democrats?
    One thing is sure about democrats from Arkansas, "they got no candidates".

  • TimberTopper
    July 19, 2017 at 8:01 a.m.

    moz, Bozeman had some competition from an unknown, that did pretty well. Be careful reading your crystal ball as it might be a bit foggy, regarding what the future holds.

  • hah406
    July 19, 2017 at 8:13 a.m.

    Boozman is a spineless coward, although a fine gentleman. He simply does what McConnell says, the people of Arkansas be damned. Cotton is bought and paid for by the Koch brothers. He gets his marching orders from them, and he wants so badly to be President that he will likely never represent what is best for Arkansans.

  • 3WorldState1
    July 19, 2017 at 8:42 a.m.

    Haha put it correctly.
    This country boy didnt get fooled by some stupid city slicker. I feel sorry for my brethren that did. And they did. They arent the sharpest tools in the shed but they are good people. I can only assume they have been brainwashed and just weren't prepared for the new computer age and what it has brought to them. They were ill prepared, intellectually, to compete in such a new world.
    The biggest cuts for the rich are promised by this admin.
    More Goldman Sachs in the WH then ever.
    And my, literally poor, people fight for the rich to get more and become more powerful. I call that brain washed.
    Christians for Trump. Think about that.

  • mozarky2
    July 19, 2017 at 8:53 a.m.

    Yep, TT 59.8% to 36.2% sounds about right for what you dems are calling doing pretty well these days!
    LOLOL!!!

  • Morebeer
    July 19, 2017 at 10:33 a.m.

    Well, Arkansas didn't vote for Obama, who instituted the Medicaid expansion that covers about 350,000 of them in some form (not to mention the hundreds of thousands more on traditional Medicaid). So why should Cotton or Boozman be any more cautious about killing the expansion than our 4 congressmen, who all voted to do away with it with no apparent repercussions from grass roots Arkansans. If Arkansans prefer less subsidized health care and more tax cuts for the rich and corporations, and they strongly vote that way, isn't that what their elected representatives should deliver? Mark Pryor voted to expand Medicaid, and it apparently was not appreciated at home.

  • tenpoint
    July 19, 2017 at 11:58 a.m.

    we need the people that was wanting the Obama care junk replaced to stand up and be counted like MEN . THE SO CALLED INSURANCE should be voted out. don't listen to the Clinton liberals. NO ONE SHOULD HAVE TO PAY FOR ANOTHER PERSON'S MATURNITY . pay for their own children.

  • hurricane46
    July 19, 2017 at 1:44 p.m.

    Bozo and especially cotton don't give a rats a&# about this state, and anyone who supports them doesn't either.

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