Yes? No? Maybe?
With state Rep. Jon Hardister of Whitsett, it’s not so easy to tell.
Hardister, the majority whip in the House, was a key supporter of a Republican Medicaid expansion bill in the General Assembly. Until he wasn’t.
Upon further review, Hardister said the bill isn’t such a good idea after all because it likely will be challenged in court if it becomes law.
“I’m a ‘No’ at this point given the current composition of the bill,” Hardister told the News & Record’s Taft Wireback two weeks ago.
House Bill 655 is an attempt to compromise on Medicaid expansion and end the ongoing standoff on the state budget. Unlike what most Democrats want, HB 655 includes a work requirement and small premiums.
Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper vetoed the budget in June primarily because it made no provisions for Medicaid expansion of any kind. So here we are. As Halloween approaches, Republicans and Democrats have yet to come to terms on a new budget and they may still be in Raleigh on Christmas Eve for all we know.
Hardister had seemed to be a firm supporter of the compromise Medicaid bill. Then ... poof. He suddenly wasn’t.
Hardister explained that three states that passed laws similar to HB 655 are now tangled in litigation.
“While this bill has work requirements and premium requirements for able-bodied adults,” he explained, “I fear that these requirements would get struck down in court.”
To be fair, everyone should have the right to change his or her mind, even politicians. They learn new information. They hear other points of view.
But with Hardister, it’s hard not to be skeptical. The fact that a work requirement for Medicaid expansion would probably result in legal challenges has been well-known for some time now. Further, North Carolina Republicans have rarely backed off other legislation for fear of court challenges.
Yet, even if you buy Hardister’s reasoning, why would he walk away from Medicaid expansion completely? Why not support a “clean” Medicaid expansion bill that involves no work requirement or premiums?
Hardister mumbled something vague about instead being for better mental health and drug addiction treatment programs in North Carolina (which Medicaid expansion would, in fact, address). He also cited cost overruns in some states that have expanded Medicaid.
But most studies have found more positives than negatives. In Guilford County Medicaid expansion would make health coverage available to more than 35,000 people, according to the Milken Institute at George Washington University. The same study projects that Medicaid expansion would create 2,700 jobs in the county within three years, generate about $683 million for the local economy and grow county tax revenue by $7.6 million from 2020 to 2022.
So, the closer you look, Hardister’s sudden pirouette on HB 655 seems curiouser and curiouser. And it evokes memories of the last time he reversed himself not once, but twice, on a critical piece of legislation. That was in 2015, when he bounced back and forth on an infamous bill that attempted to force major changes to the Greensboro City Council.
First, Hardister opposed the bill. Then he supported it. Then opposed it again.
Hardister probably is tired of hearing about 2015 and I’m tired of having to bring it up. But, frankly, this doesn’t help.
Hardister fancies himself as a voice of reason and moderation. He has led a bipartisan push for nonpartisan redistricting. Democrats say they like working with him. But when the going gets tough, he tends to get going — in the other direction.
Maybe Hardister has high ambitions and doesn’t want supporting Medicaid expansion to come back to bite him in a future GOP primary. But you can’t be partially woke or half-pregnant. At some point you have to commit to something.
If only he’d give me a sign that I’m wrong about him. I’d welcome it. But I’m still waiting. And I’m still wondering: Who is this guy? And what does he really stand for? As Hardister knows well, North Carolina’s motto is “Esse quam videri”— “To be, rather than to seem.”
I’m starting to suspect that he has it the other way around.