Donahue Weighs In On The JBE-Medicaid Contracts Mess

We had a couple of posts Monday about the growing controversy over Gov. John Bel Edwards’ unilateral and probably illegal decision to approve a number of third-party contracts to Medicaid service providers which were supposed to require a sign-off by state legislators. That’s a controversy which isn’t going to go away and ought to be understood by the public – something you can bet the state’s media will take no pains to assist in.

But the author of a letter last week to Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry asking for the latter’s involvement in the controversy, state senator Jack Donahue, sent out a press release which is quite good in explaining what’s at stake with respect to the Medicaid contracts issue and why Edwards has put himself in a pickle that might well set a historical precedent for future governors.

Here’s Donahue’s press release, with a little commentary from us to follow…

State Sen. Jack Donahue (R-11) last week sent a letter to state Attorney General Jeff Landry seeking the A.G.’s guidance on whether Gov. John Bel Edwards can circumvent the Legislature by unilaterally renewing contracts to administer state Medicaid funds.  On Friday, Landry responded to Donahue’s letter, sent on behalf of himself and 15 other state Senators, and said, in a word, “no.”

“The Senate okayed the renewal of these contracts, but the House did not,” Donahue said.  “I voted for the renewal, so for me this is not about these specific instruments.  It’s about process.  No matter who sits in the Governor’s Office, now or 10 years from now, he or she should not be able to skirt the legislative process that is established in our Constitution.”

Donahue said a burning question the Edwards Administration seems unable to satisfactorily answer is why the state didn’t seek new bids for these services instead of renewing contracts enacted under the previous governor, who Edwards and others are fond of criticizing.

“I asked Department of Health Secretary Rebekah Gee that question and her answer was, ‘We haven’t had time,” Donahue said.  “Respectfully, Gov. Edwards has been in office for almost two years.  They’ve had ample opportunity; they just didn’t do it.  So now that it’s crunch time and the $15 billion contracts have to be in place in January, the governor is simply ignoring the Legislature and, thus, the rule of law.

“I’m sure that if he is thwarted in his effort to take matters into his own hands he will say that Republicans are trying to cut off healthcare for the poor,” Donahue said.  “Actually, that’s the last thing I want.  But whether the issue at hand is Medicaid, bridge repair or maintenance on state museums, it’s required that the Administration – any Administration – work with the Legislature to make things happen.  When we stop respecting that process, we’re going to find ourselves with even worse problems.”

Donahue is right when he notes that what’s at stake here is the process by which Louisiana is governed. This state has, structurally, one of the most powerful governors of any in the country, and historically the governor is a whole lot stronger than even what’s prescribed in the constitution because he’s had a legislature willing to give him whatever he wants thanks to the tradition of the governor picking the leadership in the House and Senate. Well, Edwards had an opportunity to do that, but he decided – stupidly – to go for broke and demand a Democrat House Speaker of a Republican House in Walt Leger, and by doing that he broke the dam and created at least one house of an independent legislature.

This puts Louisiana in a rather new position, historically speaking. We’ve not really had an independent legislature. And so while previous governors wouldn’t have been in a position to make “unilateral” judgments on things like those Medicaid contracts, they would have had enough influence to insure their wishes were followed within the construct of the state’s governing rules.

What’s likely going to happen here is the leges and Landry will take Edwards to court over those contracts, and they’ll win. And that will set a precedent for a weaker Louisiana governor.

Which, as Donahue notes, is a far more interesting and consequential reality than the usual tropes about how Republicans are denying medicine to The Poors.

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