Health Care Lawsuits Splitting Govs And AGs Nationwide

March 30, 2010 10:32 a.m.

Lawsuits challenging health care reform have popped up in several states and are drawn nearly entirely on partisan lines, in some cases fracturing top state government officials where the governor is a Democrat and attorney general is a Republican who joined the legal challenge. In Missouri, Lt. Gov Peter Kinder (R) so badly wanted to be part of the lawsuit that he bucked his Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon and the attorney general to say he’ll be joining the other attorneys general on his own.

There are a handful of other splits across the country — Michigan, Washington state, Pennsylvania and Colorado — which create a tough political climate for anyone attempting to get something done at the state level. Louisiana is the one bipartisan example, with Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) and Attorney General Buddy Caldwell (D) agreeing to join the lawsuit.

The legal challenge has been the latest trend among Republicans, with GOPers trying to one-up each other on the question of whether health care should be repealed, deemed unconstitutional, or left alone. It’s become a litmus test for conservatives.But with Democratic chief executives at the top, Republican attorneys general seem to be, in many cases, freelancing due to political ambition.

In Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm (D) took the harshest stance after Attorney General Mike Cox (R) joined the lawsuit, saying last week that “no one in the executive branch has authorized him to take this position.”

Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell (D) wrote a letter to Attorney General Tom Corbett (R) asking he drop the lawsuit. Rendell said the law “will have an enormous positive impact on the lives of every single Pennsylvanian.”

In Colorado, Gov. Bill Ritter (D) said in a statement Attorney General John Suthers (R) suing isn’t the right thing to do. He said the measure would help Colorado and is “constitutionally sound.”

Washington Gov. Christine Gregorie (D) has been critical of Attorney General Rob McKenna (R). She said after he joined the suit, “I don’t know who he represents. He doesn’t represent me.”

On the flip side, Georgia legislators are attempting to impeach Attorney General Thurbert Baker (D) for refusing to file a lawsuit. He’s also running for governor. Gov. Sonny Perdue (R) wants to go ahead with his own lawsuit via a “special” attorney general.

In Missouri, Kinder last week held a solo press conference on the Capitol steps to announce that even though Nixon and the attorney general don’t agree, he wanted to join the other states.

“This healthcare directive will pose a huge financial burden for our state,” Kinder said, according to remarks on his Web site. “The true cost to Missouri taxpayers remains to be seen.” Kinder said he’s repeatedly asked Nixon to call the new law unconstitutional but his requests “went unanswered.”

He said that “by my standing as a constitutional officer of the State of Missouri and by my statutory authority as Missouri’s Official Senior Advocate, I intend to join with officials of 13 other states to challenge the legality of this federal healthcare bill and any unconstitutional provision in which may be contained.” Nanci Gonder, a spokeswoman for Attorney General Chris Koster, told me today that Koster “continues to evaluate the various legal issues and is monitoring the situation.”

“Lt. Gov. Kinder may seek to join the case on his own personal behalf,” she added.

As TPMmuckraker has reported, a number of the attorneys general bringing the lawsuit — including Florida’s Bill McCollum, South Carolina’s Henry McMaster, Michigan’s Mike Cox, and Pennsylvania’s Tom Corbett — are running for governor of their states.

The states with lawsuits are:

South Carolina
South Dakota
Indiana (joined Monday)

Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli (R) has gone to court with the state’s own lawsuit, supported by Gov. Bob McDonnell (R).

The White House says the lawsuits “are completely without merit.” A senior administration official said in a briefing with reporters that there are “a lot of politics at play here,” adding, “this is a pretty good way to get on TV.”

Ed. note: This post has been edited from the original.

Additional reporting by Lucy Madison.

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