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Arkansas PoliticsEthics/Government TransparencyRead

Why Bryan King Was Legislator of the Year in 2017

Part 1 of a series on past winners

When Conduit for Commerce selected Bryan King as the State Legislator of the Year- 2017 it was about his conservatism. Using our Economic Freedom Filter he ranked at the top. But there was another reason he was recognized at the top. It was his fearless determination to do what was right, despite uphill battles and despite likely repercussions for going against business per usual in the legislature with some legislators having sweetheart deals with big businesses. We are referring to King’s Senate Bill 175 of 2017, which Conduit for Commerce chose as the Best Legislation of 2017.

Bryan King’s SB175 was aimed at rampant Medicaid corruption including corruption by public officials. It would have required Medicaid providers to disclose whether they have business relationships with public officials. (Medicaid providers means businesses and professionals who receive part of their compensation from Medicaid. Examples of Medicaid providers include hospitals, medical clinics, and nursing homes.)

Why target the financial relationships between Medicaid providers and public officials? Because Medicaid is a huge cash-cow financed by state and federal taxpayers and Medicaid corruption was continually in the news.

When Bryan King filed SB175 there were already rumors that Senator Jeremy Hutchinson was on the take from a Medicaid Provider. Later Hutchinson was convicted of his bribery scheme which tried to disguise bribes as a retainer for legal services. King wanted to stop the shenanigans by letting people know whether a legislator or other public official had a business relationship with a Medicaid provider. After all, it is taxpayer money that is being spent.

A few years earlier, when the Arkansas legislature passed Obamacare Medicaid Expansion some Arkansas legislators made claims there had been bribery attempts and threats made to get the program passed. (Obamacare Medicaid Expansion primarily covers able bodied working age adults who choose not to work.) So much money was to be made from the program that suddenly hospitals had money to expand their facilities, buy up clinics, and buy out the private practices of doctors. Like we said – Medicaid is a huge cash cow.

Legislators must file ethics disclosures but in most instances it merely shows the legislator received income from his business or corporation but does not show whether the corporation is receiving income from a Medicaid provider. (For example, a lawyer such as Senator Jeremey Hutchinson could report he received money from his law firm but it did not reflect that the law firm was receiving a retainer from a Medicaid provider.)

With hard work King managed to get the ethics bill passed in the Senate. It went to the House of Representatives but never made it to the House floor for a vote. The bill didn’t get enough votes in the House Judiciary Committee where his current opponent was chair.  Senator Bob Ballinger was then in the House of Representatives and was chair of the Judiciary Committee. Although it is common for a committee chair to vote on bills, Ballinger did not cast a vote on the bill, which works the same as a “No” vote because to pass a bill out of a House committee requires 11 of the 20 members to vote for the bill.

Taking on corruption made enemies and contributed to King losing the 2018 election to Bob Ballinger. Since then no one has dared to propose the ethics legislation again. But taking on the shady relationships between Medicaid providers and public officials was the right thing to do.

Bryan King was already on the bad side of Medicaid Providers and career politicians because as the Senate chair of the Joint Legislative Auditing Committee he oversaw an audit of Arkansas’ Obamacare Medicaid Expansion. His audit showed large cost overruns in the program at a time when politicians were trying to say the program was low cost or a cost saver.  Senators made sure King could not embarrass them again by making sure he was not chair of the audit committee for 2017.  Again, King did the right thing despite it costing him personally.

King knew real tax relief cannot happen without cutting wasteful spending. That too put him at odds with those who want to pretend at tax relief while grabbing more taxpayer money for their cronies.

Will Bryan King get the chance to return to the Senate? That remains to be seen because there is a runoff election between Bryan King and incumbent Senator Bob Ballinger in Senate District 28. In the primary, King led the ticket in a field of five Republican candidates. Bryan King had 4,854 votes, 31.8%. Bob Ballinger, the incumbent, also made the runoff with 4,459 votes, 29.2%. In the runoff anything can happen.

The runoff between Bryan King and Senator Bob Ballinger is Tuesday June 21st. Early voting begins seven days before the elections (Tuesday June 14th).

The winner will face a Democrat in November.

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