You’re a conservative voter eyeing the Fifth Congressional District’s special election and don’t know who to vote for? A desperate statement gives you a good answer to that question that will need resolution this Saturday.
Last month, in the general election for this seat triggered by its early surrender by current Louisiana Department of Veterans’ Affairs Secretary Rodney Alexander, the majority of voters, mirroring the district’s demographics, chose candidates that held themselves out as conservatives on all issues. However, the majority of them split between the leading vote-getter, state Sen. Neil Riser, who despite having served only six years in the Legislature as his sole elective office was seen as the most establishmentarian candidate, and the one behind him but ahead of all others Vance McAllister, who many saw as the most outside of politics with no elective experience at all. Fueling these perceptions were the vast number of endorsements from other elected officials and influential organizations that Riser received, while McAllister drew support from populist, politically inexperienced sources such as area reality television stars.
As both had run as conservatives, differing impercetibly on issues, this crude “insider/outsider” cleavage served as the only real distinction to a large swath of the electorate. And given that, the numbers from that initial contest, no doubt supplemented by polling done by both Riser, who has pulled in large funding from across state and country, and McAllister, who almost exclusively funded his own campaign to match Riser dollar for dollar, showed that Riser had the advantage, and that a lot of things would have to go wrong for him and/or right for McAllister for Riser not to win the runoff – if that dynamic held.
So McAllister had to change the dynamic. The nature of his campaigning up to that point had been to try to present himself labelled as “conservative” yet as enough of an empty vessel to cater to non-conservatives by promulgating select issue preferences that violated conservatism. Thus, the idea was to make him appear as all things to all people – to the typical voter who only minimally informed himself, who given the numbers would be conservative, to appear as a conservative but to attentive liberals to give them a way to prefer him over the consistently conservative Riser.
Riser’s campaign seemed to figure out this fundamental inconsistency and sought to guide voters to its implication, an intellectual dishonesty in McAllister, and to make him appear as wobbly and unprincipled as any career politician can be, completely turning around on him the “outsider” strategy that sanctifies nonpoliticians as not being corrupt on adhering to principle. That this appeared to have an impact on McAllister’s campaign became evident when in a televised debate last week he went all in on deviation from conservatism and made a naked grab for the small but potentially significant leftist portion of the district’s electorate.
On a question dealing with one of the derivatives of the Patient Protection and (Un?)Affordable Care Act, that states may expand Medicaid coverage, Riser said he agreed with Gov. Bobby Jindal that the state should not engage in that, but McAllister championed expansion articulated earlier that day, and yet again, by Pres. Barack Obama. This, despite the fact it had nothing to do with the job for which the pair vies and so McAllister’s deliberate disagreement shows willingness to put the information out there for a political purpose.
The facts are that, unless one is wedded to the prejudice of big government running health care, expansion is demonstrably bad for both taxpayers and clients. The most reliable study of the matter, by the state’s Department of Health and Hospital, shows that, even under the most optimistic scenario, by 2023 the state will be paying an additional $93 million a year extra, by then growing at 15 percent per year, above what refusing expansion would cost. Worse, as a recent New England Journal of Medicine study noted, people who receive care through Medicaid actually have worse outcomes than those not covered by any insurance – such as those bypassed by not expanding Medicaid who choose not to pay for their own insurance who instead utilize their legally entitled uncompensated care at health care facilities. It’s a no-brainer to understand on multiple levels the bad deal that Medicaid expansion is for Louisiana.
Yet McAllister, who weeks earlier had hinted at this, went whole hog on this, and then further criticized the state’s plan to privatize operations of almost all of its public hospitals (including the two in the district), which was another issue that this office has nothing to do with. This despite the fact privatizing operations will save the state on average well over $100 million a year and likely increase the quality of care (as well as reduce the state’s massive unfunded accrued liability in pensions). But Riser was for this as a state senator, so this was time for another desperation heave by McAllister in pandering to the left to oppose it.
So if you are a conservative casting about for a candidate in this contest, be aware that if McAllister is not a liberal wolf in conservative sheep’s clothing, at the very least he is willing to go whichever way the wind blows and to sacrifice principles, if he has them, in saying anything to get elected. So such a voter’s choice is to go with a politician you can’t trust or who’s maybe a liberal, or one that has been a solid conservative.
In trying to corral the left in the district, McAllister may have sabotaged himself relative to the right. Trying to avoid the latter makes this a major gamble by McAllister, but he may have no choice. We’ll know if a few days whether this desperate tactic pays off.