CONWAY -- Three candidates for lieutenant governor sparred Thursday over Gov. Asa Hutchinson's work requirement for many of the state's Medicaid-expansion participants and over requiring voters to present photo IDs in order to cast their ballots.
Democrat Anthony Bland of Little Rock, Libertarian Frank Gilbert of Tull and Republican incumbent Tim Griffin faced off in an hourlong debate that was taped Thursday afternoon at the Arkansas Educational Television Network in Conway and was to air Thursday night.
Griffin is seeking his second four-year term as lieutenant governor in the Nov. 6 general election. The lieutenant governor presides over the Senate and is the state's second-ranking constitutional officer behind the governor. The job pays $43,584 a year.
Bland said he opposes the work requirement that the Hutchinson administration implemented this summer. It will eventually apply to most of the estimated 260,000 low-income people on the state's version of Medicaid expansion, which provides private health insurance for those participants.
"Not every county has Internet access" to allow these people to report that they worked, attended school or job training, or volunteered 80 hours each month to comply with the work requirement, and "not every person in our state has the ability to go out and meet these work requirements," Bland said.
"Why are we making it more difficult to have a livable life in our state?"
Gilbert and Griffin said they support the work requirement.
Gilbert, who ran for governor in 2014, said the state "has not done a good job in identifying who is in dire need and who is a lazy bum."
Griffin said Hutchinson's work requirement "is imminently reasonable when you are spending my dollars and your hardworking taxpayer dollars.
"Now, there are exceptions to it, and those exceptions are being utilized, invoked by many people," he said. "There has been some back and forth, fine-tuning it, making sure that some people who may not have Internet access have a way of understanding the rules of the work requirement," he said.
"Like us, the governor cares for people who are in need, and he's demonstrated that. To suggest otherwise is ridiculous," Griffin said. "I think it is responsible and reasonable for us [to find] ways to make this more affordable because of the fiscal pressures that are inherently involved in the expansion of Medicaid."
The state is paying 6 percent of the cost of the program this year, and its share will increase to 7 percent next year and to 10 percent in 2020 under the current federal law. The state's share of the program's cost is projected to be about $135 million in fiscal 2019, which started July 1, and the federal government's share is projected to be $1.95 billion.
On Thursday, the Arkansas Supreme Court declared the state's voter-identification law constitutional, upholding the law's requirement that voters present certain forms of photo identification when they appear at the polls in just a few weeks.
Gilbert and Griffin said they support the ID requirement.
Gilbert said "there are unscrupulous people who will do anything they can to turn an election in favor of themselves or their candidate."
Griffin said "this is not a big hurdle for exercising a precious constitutional right, it seems to me, and now in the environment we live in there are so many avenues for people to get IDs," he said.
Bland said "there is an element that is going to suppress the voters' ability to voice their opinion [and] voice who should represent them in office," and the photo-ID requirement "does not need to be in place."
"However, I will always be an advocate to enforce the law, so if the voters vote that we must have this in place, by all means I will support the law. But I do not personally support anything that will suppress the voices of the citizens of Arkansas," Bland said.
Gilbert said "some of us have been charged with and may have been guilty of caging voters in Florida to keep a certain type of voter, Democrat ... minorities probably from being able to vote, and in the process of doing that they scooped up not only the Democrats they were looking for but also some American heroes who were serving in Iraq and Iran at the time, and I would hate to see that continue as well."
Afterward, Gilbert said he was referring to Griffin.
In response, Griffin said in a written statement that "my record serving the President [George W. Bush], 22 years in the military, as a federal prosecutor and numerous security clearances speak for themselves."
During Thursday's debate, Griffin, who served as the state's 2nd District congressman from 2011-15, said he pledged during his 2014 campaign to work hard as lieutenant governor to help the state to compete and grow, and "that meant we needed to make changes in government."
"Every day I get up looking for ways that Arkansas can better compete, compete against not only neighboring states, [but] states all over this country and against other countries," he said.
Gilbert said "I am not for sale.
"It's important to make that last distinction because frankly 2018 is the election of corruption," he said. "That corruption comes in a sense of entitlement. Politicians in this state for too long have not been held accountable by their parties or by anyone else for their conduct. Now, it is up to the federal courts to hold them accountable."
Gilbert said "there is nothing you can do Nov. 6 that will be more transformative, that will send a bigger, bolder message to the entrenched politicians that have run Arkansas for far too long than vote for Frank Gilbert for lieutenant governor."
Griffin said he's a former federal prosecutor and "these gentlemen don't walk up to me and say, 'Hey I just want you to know you can't see in my checking account, but I am stealing from people.' They don't tell me that because they know I would go to straight to FBI."
But, he said, "when people get wind of the stuff, it shouldn't stay within to the Capitol. They should report it to the federal law enforcement and state law enforcement."
Bland said "our state needs representation rather than someone that has hidden agendas, and at this point it is a time for a new generation of leadership in our government office."
A Section on 10/12/2018
Print Headline: Medicaid work rule, voter ID fodder for debate