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Hitting ‘send’


Gazette staff April 5th, 2013

It took nearly five months, scads of editorials and a fair amount of prodding from journalists (and if you’ve ever been prodded by a journalist, you know how painful that can be), but on March 29, Gov. Mary Fallin's office finally released those pesky emails involving her April 2011 about-face decision to forgo a $54 million federal grant for an Oklahoma health insurance exchange.

gov mary fallin 27mh_1Mary Fallin

OK, so she didn’t release all of ’em. The governor’s counsel maintains that some 100 pages of missives are protected by “executive privilege,” a contention likely to be challenged in court.

So, what have eagle-eyed reporters spied from the 51,000-plus pages of emails dumped by the gov’s office on Good Friday? What does the material reveal about why Fallin went from initially accepting the grant money to rejecting it?

Not much, truth be told. The emails confirm what appeared to be obvious to most folks at the time: The governor was lobbied hard by a crush of conservatives ranging from outraged Tea Partiers and constituent phone calls to Republican state legislators, the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs (OCPA) and many others.

Pressure on the governor increased soon after the GOP-led state House barely approved House Bill 2130, a Fallin-backed measure to establish a state-run health care exchange.

Senate Republicans weren’t enthusiastic about voting on it. Tensions evidently reached a crescendo by late March. “We are apparently hemorraging (sic) in the Senate already,” Katie Altshuler, Fallin’s policy director, emailed a healthcare advocate on March 24. “Sen. [Bill] Brown and many others have serious concerns. The sooner they here (sic) from folks the better!” Or, as Denise Northrup, the governor’s chief of staff, emailed Altshuler that day: “One of the busiest, shittiest days ever ...”

A week later, Senate President Pro Tempore Brian Bingman, R-Sapulpa, announced HB 2130 would not be heard. Northrup’s email reaction to office colleagues: “Dammit.”

But that didn’t end the arm-twisting on Fallin to return the $54 million to — cue the ominous music — the Obama administration.

Fairly indicative of the pressure was an April 6 email to Northrup from retired Gen. Lee Baxter, a Lawton businessman prominent in Republican politics. He cautioned that the governor would be seen as “abandoning the anti Obamacare position” unless she rejected the federal funds.

“I have NEVER seen pushback like OCPA is getting from it's (sic) members and large donors like they are getting on this issue and they are insistent in their positions. House and Senate repubs are pushing daily for the OCPA position,” he wrote. “I believe the Governor must withdraw from the $54m and do so soon in favor of other ways to fund the exchange initiative.”

Eight days later, Fallin did just that.

Chicken-Fried News’ favorite part of the emails, however, are Northrup’s no-frills reactions to the clamor of voices publicly urging the gov to reject any federal dollars tied to the Affordable Care Act. That group included state Sen. Patrick Anderson, R-Enid (“what a piece of work!”); Republican freshmen in the House (“Hope they don't need help w/re-elections”) and U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Muskogee (“Oh how kind”).

Still, we admire Northrup’s comparative restraint. CFN has been known to lob a few F-bombs if the DVR doesn’t record Duck Dynasty.


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• Commentary: A secretive government

 
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