If any state was justified in describing itself as a major Obamacare success story, it was Kentucky; that is, before Republican Matt Bevin was sworn in as governor. Kentucky, under Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear, was the home of Kynect, a state-operated Obamacare exchange that resulted in 500,000 Kentucky residents gaining health insurance, including many poor people with preexisting conditions. But Bevin, a rabid Tea Party ideologue who defeated Democrat Jack Conway in Kentucky’s gubernatorial race in 2015, campaigned on dismantling Kynect, and he has been making good on his promise, causing considerable misery to people like Louisville mother Emily Pickett (who, on February 29, found out Medicaid coverage for her two small children had been cut off).
Bevin, according to Cara Stewart, a legal aid attorney with the Kentucky Equal Justice Center, has brought about a “dramatic reduction in accessibility” to health care in his state. But the suffering of America’s poor is not a concern to Bevin any more than it is to Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner or Florida Gov. Rick Scott.
Bevin, Rauner and Scott epitomize a toxic breed of far-right Republican ideologues: greedy, enamored of corporate power and only too happy to attack the poor at every turn while their considerable fortunes continue to grow. Scott, Rauner and Bevin were all worth millions when they took office. But being ultra-rich was not enough for them; like true oligarchs, they craved more money and more power. And while Rauner and Scott’s states have suffered, their own bottom lines certainly haven’t.
1. Florida Gov. Rick Scott
Scott’s net worth, according to the Tampa Bay Times, went from $84 million in 2012 to $132 million in 2013 to $147 million by the summer of 2015. Despite being reelected by a narrow margin in 2014, Scott remains unpopular in Florida; in most polls, his approval ratings have generally been in the low 40s.
Scott, a persistent opponent of health care reform, has a long history of profiting from the U.S.’ troubled health care system. Back in 1987, Scott co-founded the Columbia Hospital Corporation, which merged with the Hospital Corporation of America a few years later. In 1997, during a major fraud investigation and scandal over the company’s billing practices, Columbia/HCA’s board of directors forced Scott to resign from his position as chairman and CEO. He walked away with a settlement of almost $10 million and over $300 million worth of stock.
While Scott was making a fortune at Columbia/HCA, countless Americans were suffering medical bankruptcies. But the fact that medical bankruptcies have been so common in the U.S. hasn’t stopped him from opposing any type of health insurance reform, even the Affordable Care Act of 2010, aka Obamacare. The elements of the ACA were greatly influenced by the Heritage Foundation, President Richard Nixon, Sen. Bob Dole, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and other Republicans who, in the past, advocated universal health care via the private sector. In fact, one of the people President Barack Obama consulted in 2009 was Stuart Altman, who had advised Nixon on health care reform in the early 1970s. What Nixon had in mind was similar to the ACA, only with more generous provisions. But you won’t hear that from Scott, who continues to claim that Obamacare is socialized medicine.
In 2009, the year before Scott was elected governor, he feared health insurance reform would endanger corporate profits and formed the anti-Obamacare pressure group Conservatives for Patients Rights. When two British women, Katie Brickell and Kate Spall, were featured in a CPR ad attacking the U.K.’s National Health Service, the women were outraged and asserted that the ad misrepresented their views and took their statements out of context. Linking the ACA to the U.K.’s public single-payer health care system was totally disingenuous on Scott’s part because a single-payer system was never even on the table for Democrats in Congress in 2009 or 2010.
Scott has never missed an opportunity to kick Floridians who are struggling. In 2011, he signed into law a bill requiring welfare recipients to submit to drug testing (courts have found the law to be unconstitutional). And in March, he signed into law a bill that defunds Planned Parenthood while stating that abortions can only be performed by doctors with local hospital admitting privileges—a thinly veiled ploy to make it impossible for clinics offering abortions in Florida to continue to operate. By defunding Planned Parenthood, Scott is making it harder for Florida women to obtain contraception, which would decrease the need for abortions.
2. Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin
Because of his association with the Tea Party and the animosity between him and Sen. Mitch McConnell, Bevin was able to sell himself as an “outsider” when he ran for governor of Kentucky in 2015—and it worked. But Bevin is as corporatist as it gets, and he is bitterly opposed to any policies that help Kentucky’s working class. In addition to attacking Kynect, Bevin is an anti-union supporter of “right to work” laws and he has pushed for cuts to public education and state universities.
Bevin, who is estimated to be worth $12 million, is also a Wall Street apologist who believes all of the anger directed at Wall Street since the September 2008 meltdown is misplaced. And he believes new government hires in Kentucky should be placed on 401(k) plans rather than having defined-benefit pensions.
3. Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner
Before being elected governor of Illinois in 2014, Rauner made a fortune in private equity and pension management. That included the pensions of public workers. But as governor of Illinois, Rauner has insisted the state cannot afford defined-benefit pensions and he has fought hard to move government workers to 401(k)-type plans, which have failed private-sector workers miserably when it comes to retirement security. Banksters couldn’t ask for a better friend.
As governor, Rauner has also shown his contempt for working-class residents of Illinois by calling for deep cuts to Medicaid and higher education, and has slashed funding for programs that helped homeless youths and victims of domestic violence. Rauner, a multi-millionaire, has proposed reducing Illinois’ minimum wage from $8.25 to $7.25 an hour, and he believes that unions for government workers should not be allowed to require dues.
The New Normal
Bevin, Scott and Rauner do not represent a lunatic fringe in the 2016 GOP; they are the party’s new normal. They have no problem with growing inequality in their states or the fact that economically, the U.S. is looking more and more like a classic banana republic where a wealthy minority gets richer and richer while big chunks of the population barely survive.
If Bevin, Scott and Rauner had any real understanding of economics, they would realize that banana republics and oligarchies are ultimately unsustainable because when working class people are broke, they cannot afford to buy products and help keep companies afloat. Henry Ford realized that, and even multi-billionaire Warren Buffett has acknowledged that growing inequality is problematic for capitalism and has at least been endorsing centrist Democrats like Obama and Hillary Clinton.
The good news for Florida is that because of gubernatorial term limits, Scott’s second term will be his last, and there is the chance that Bevin and Rauner will be voted out of office should they seek reelection. The bad news is that they can do a lot more damage while they’re still in office.