Well, the Democratic Party had its little bipartisan rally to show support for Gov. Mike Beebe's 56-cent-a-pack tobacco tax to pay for a variety of health programs.
Two Republicans joined the effort, but neither is a current Republican officeholder. One was former Republican Rep. Mary Beth Green of Van Buren and Richard Bearden, former executive director of the Republican Party of Arkansas and now a lobbyist whose clients include a Memphis hospital that would participate in the trauma system that would be financed by the tax.
Another blogger had speculated Green's husband, Rep. Rick Green of Van Buren, might join the effort. Close.
Tobacco industry shill Dick Armey will be in town tomorrow and tax proponents have some counter-demonstrating planned, including a debate challenge from Arkansas Surgeon General Joe Thompson.
In the Arkansas State Capitol Rotunda Monday, a group of Democratic and Republican leaders urged legislators to stand up to pressure from big tobacco when they vote on a landmark health care package for Arkansas funded by a 56-cent increase in cigarette taxes and a reform of the smokeless tobacco tax.
Mariah Hatta, executive director of the Democratic Party of Arkansas, read a letter to the legislature she signed with former State Representative Mary Beth Green (R-Van Buren), and Richard Bearden, former executive director of the Republican Party of Arkansas. The health care initiative funded by a tobacco tax increase includes a statewide trauma center and meets other critical health care needs in the state.
"Washington lobbyists and representatives of the tobacco industry have already begun putting pressure on our State's leaders to ignore the health care needs of our people. Big tobacco will doubtlessly try to wedge partisanship into the debate over whether or not our State should continue to lag behind the rest of the country in the area of health care," the letter stated. "Please, know that we support you in the face of this pressure. Health care is not a partisan issue. It should not be a question of the will of big tobacco's lobbyists in Washington, either."
Former Congressman Dick Armey will campaign against the health care initiative and the increase in the tobacco tax at an event at the Capitol Tuesday, February, 3. Armey is co-chair of FreedomWorks, formerly Citizens for a Sound Economy, a Washington advocacy group that has taken millions of dollars from tobacco companies and fought against tobacco tax increases, health care reform and for other corporate interests. One FreedomWorks board member is an heir to the RJ Reynolds Tobacco fortune while another is a member of a firm that lobbies for UST, maker of smokeless tobacco products. Armey also works for a law firm, DLA Piper, which defended tobacco companies against lawsuits over health effects.
NEWS RELEASE FROM STEP UP COALITION
LITTLE ROCK – The Step Up Coalition, a broad based group of health care and community advocacy organizations, issued a challenge to Tobacco ally Dick Armey to debate the benefits of a proposal to increase Arkansas’ tobacco tax. Coalition Chairman Dr. Gary Wheeler said an invitation had been extended to both Armey and Arkansas Surgeon General Joe Thompson. Armey, a former Texas Congressman, is expected to arrive Tuesday to lobby Arkansas lawmakers on House Bill 1204.
House Bill 1204 which would fund essential health priorities throughout Arkansas through an increase of Arkansas’ tobacco tax was filed by Rep. Gregg Reep (D-Warren) on Monday. The plan, proposed by Governor Mike Beebe, has the support of House Speaker Robbie Wills and Senate President Pro Tem Bob Johnson along with 30 co-sponsors in the House and Senate.
“We wanted the people of Arkansas and our elected representatives to cut through all the rhetoric and hear the facts,” Coalition Chairman Wheeler said on behalf of the more than 20 member organizations. “While we feel that the facts show an increase in Arkansas’ tobacco tax would have a multitude of health and economic benefits to our state, the debate will be conducted in a fair manner, allowing both sides equal opportunity to answer questions,” Wheeler added.
The Step Up Coalition is an alliance of health care and patient advocacy groups representing members throughout the state of Arkansas united in improving the health of all Arkansans, decreasing health care costs by using evidence-based strategies to reduce tobacco consumption and funding better health care access for all Arkansans.
WHEN: Tuesday, February 3, 2009
10:30 am (immediately following Mr. Armey’s press conference)
WHERE: Arkansas State Capitol