by Max Brantley
The notice above (also here) announced the failure of the petition drive to repeal Arkansas's version of Obamacare. I haven't talked yet with organizer Glenn Gallas, but the secretary of state's office said it had been told that Gallas fell far short, perhaps by 20,000 of the 46,880 needed to refer the law to voters in 2014.
UPDATE: I got this Facebook message from Gallas to my inquiry about the number of signatures gathered and what comes next:
Over 30k in 52 days 73 of 75 counties. Chapter 2 being written as we speak
The legislature will meet again in February. Money must again be appropriated to support the expansion program. It will again require a 75 percent vote. Already, Republican candidates are using Obamacare as a primary 2014 election tool. Already, there are intraparty squabbles among Republicans who took different sides on the critical votes in 2013.
Background on today's announcement:
Tomorrow at 5 p.m. is the deadline for submitting petitions to call a statewide referendum on the 2013 Arkansas legislature's approval of the Obamacare-provided Medicaid expansion under a hybrid "private option" scheme. Petitions apparently are not going to be submitted for even preliminary review.
Gallas, a Hot Springs Tea Partyer, led the campaign and through the morning signaled on his Facebook page that the effort would be close to the 46,880 needed — including with 15 counties where signatures amounted to at least 3 percent of the vote in the last election for governor. He apparently exaggerated.
The secretary of state would have reviewed the signatures for sufficiency after they were turned in. The preliminary checking by Gallas' group today indicated that Gallas knew his margin likely was to be insufficient. He had indicated in the morning that he'd make an announcement this afternoon about progress, another hint that the effort was looking like a no-go.
Here's a legal wrinkle that added to the ball of confusion opponents have engendered about the law. A friend's research says (and the secretary of state website confirms) that, under the Arkansas initiative and referendum law, the law would not have been held in abeyance pending the 2014 election because the law was passed with an emergency clause, as was the appropriation bill. So it has taken effect and soon will begin covering tens of thousands of Arkansans with health insurance. If the repeal had been approved in November 2014, more than 10 months into the new program, and the results had been certified, then hundreds of thousands of Arkansans would have been rudely dumped from health coverage. Blowback had that happened? A factor in the election campaign? A wrinkle for sure.
LAWSUIT PLANNED ON INTIATIVE LAW
Here's one more legal wrinkle that remains. The secretary of state is now bound by a new initiative and referendum law that requires some preliminary checking of raw signatures — a proper notary on each petition page for example — that wasn't required previously under the law. The minute the number of raw signatures drops below the minimum required, the counting stops and a petition drive is disqualified. In the past, having the raw number of signatures, even some deficient on their face, was enough to give petitions a "cure" period to gather additional signatures.
The new law was hotly controversial. And it is to be challenged in court. A lawsuit is being prepared over the new initiative/referendum law. Cooperating, at least informally, is a group of strange bedfellows — the ACLU, the Arkansas Public Law Center, the Family Council and a lawyer who's worked on medical marijuana initiatives. Tighter referendum laws have been the aim of major corporate interests, particularly owners of the state's duopoly casinos at Oaklawn and Southland. which have fought off a series of measures to expand gambling options in the state.