Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Death Comes For NM House Speaker Ben Lujan, Plus:To Expand Or Not? Martinez Medicaid Decision One Of Her Biggest; GOP Not Warm To Expansion Here; Senior Insider Offers Her Some Advice 

Ben Lujan will be remembered for two things--as a down-the-line supporter of New Mexico's working class citizens and for the alliance he forged with Governor Bill Richardson that led to passage of much of the landmark legislation in early 21st century New Mexico.

The 77 year old Democratic leader died at a Santa Fe hospital late Tuesday, a victim of the the lung cancer that forced him to announce in early 2012 that the would give up his seat in the Legislature that he had held since 1975, as well as the powerful speakership to which he was first elected to in 2001.

He was one of the longest serving speakers in state history. His 37 year stint representing his Santa Fe County district was also one of the longest ever.

Lujan stunned the state when at the opening day of the 2012 Legislature this past January he announced he had late-stage lung cancer. The fact that he was able to keep his condition secret for so long was nearly as shocking as the sad news he delivered that day.

Speaker Lujan came form the humblest of beginnings. A native of Nambe, he was was the son of a sheepherder who became an iron worker at Los Alamos Labs.

That early life experience guided his political philosophy which was old-style Democratic liberal, although he did team with Richardson to cut personal income taxes on the well-off in an effort to spur economic development. He also pushed through the elimination of the food tax that helped low-income New Mexicans.

Here is a statement from NM Dem Party Chairman Javier Gonzales:

Speaker Ben Lujan was a giant in New Mexico politics, and a fighter for New Mexico's families.  He fought for the poor, elderly, and underprivileged.  He worked tirelessly for veterans, affordable healthcare, worker rights, high wage jobs for New Mexicans and so many more great endeavors. He will go down the in history books as one of New Mexico’s best Speakers.

Richardson's statement on Lujan's passing is here.

When Richardson took over as Governor in 2003 he forged a relationship with Lujan that saw passage of such projects as the Spaceport and Rail Runner, a constitutional amendment to raise teachers' salaries and much, much more. It was such a powerful executive-legislative tag team that it led to criticism that Lujan was giving too much to Richardson.

Lujan's political career started to sputter in 2010 when a young upstart--Carl Trujillo--nearly beat him in the June primary. Trujillo won the Lujan seat when the speaker did not run in 2012 and will succeed him in the House.

The Speaker also notched major accomplishments in his private life, including a 53 year marriage to Carmen and the raising of four children, including Ben Ray Lujan, who now serves as the congressman representing northern New Mexico.

US Senator Jeff Bingaman delivered this tribute to Lujan on the floor on the US Senate soon after Lujan announced he would retire.


Will She Embrace Medicaid?
Governor Martinez will soon announce her decision on accepting federal funding to expand the Medicaid program for low income New Mexicans. It is a huge decision. Already some 550,000 New Mexicans--over a quarter of the state--are enrolled in Medicaid and the expansion could add another 170,000. That would mean over a third of the state's residents would be be covered in underinsured New Mexico.

Susana's fellow Republican Hispanic Governor--Brian Sandoval of Nevada--did just that recently, becoming the first GOP Guv to embrace the Medicaid expansion. We have more on this aspect of the Medicaid issue, with some political advice mixed in. It comes from a Senior Alligator with long-involvement in state healthcare matters. He goes long and deep on this critical issue for a state that has one of the highest rates of uninsured citizens in the USA:

Joe: Here is some friendly advice for the Governor and food for thought for your readers.'/
 She is facing a really difficult decision that will impact everyone in the state...She is under pressure from other Republican governors who have thumbed their noses at the Affordable Heathcare Act (ACA) and Obama in spite of the fact that citizens in general and the economies of their states would benefit. That’s politics before people. To her credit, the Governor is being very deliberative in making this decision.

There is a critical decision point looming for the Governor relative to what she will decide to do with the ACA rollout in New Mexico. While it seems like a no brainer to blindly embrace this deal--The feds pick up 100% of the Medicaid expansion, there's half a billion in general fund savings and significant economic benefits--many Republican governors have balked, citing future state fiscal impacts and a distrust that the feds will live up to their end of the deal. 

Several months ago, speculation was that Governor Martinez would decide to go for it given the disproportionate advantages the program had for NM, considering our high uninsured rate, the Medicaid matching ratio and our level of poverty.  Then she and other governors sent a letter to the feds asking if the states could do less than the full expansion and basically slice and dice the package. The feds came back with a response that  basically said no deal. So, what will Susana do? Walk away from a half billion in state fund savings  and economic benefit or embrace the deal? 

 Here is a friendly suggestion based on another western adage. “Trust everyone but brand your calves!” The benefit to New Mexico is indisputable from an economic and health status perspective. The future fiscal impact when the matching Medicaid funds drops to 90% and the short term impact if the feds possibly renege on the deal are problematic. The suggestion: Accept the deal. Put the “savings” into a trust fund or “lock box” to be accumulated annually so that when the Feds matching ratio drops there will be funds available to cover the state’s portion, that way we have no Medicaid cliff and we reap the substantial benefits.

One of the other things the Governor should consider is using some of the “savings” to jump start a comprehensive program to enhance the medical workforce and infrastructure so folks will have access to care and thousands of New Mexicans can fill the jobs in the healthcare sector that will be needed to serve the additional covered population in Medicaid. And, if the feds do go back on the deal, which would be political suicide, but possible, there will be state funds to ease the fall. Engage the upcoming Legislature in this effort so there is buy-in and political cover. Be prudent and fiscally responsible with this opportunity but seize it. Trust, but keep the branding iron hot.    

Now that's the kind of advice a Governor can tuck in her folder and take home to the Mansion for a good going over. But there is another side, of course, and conservative analyst Merrill Matthews has it in his "Seven Reasons States Should Just Say No To Medicaid Expansion."

This is the home of New Mexico politics.

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