Sens. Hill, Winder beat down Ada GOP chairman’s claim of ‘vote buying’

Ada County Republican Chairman Greg Ferch said Friday that the 2013 Legislature approved Gov. Butch Otter’s state-run health insurance exchange because of “vote buying” by corporations. He was immediately rebutted by Senate President Pro Tem Brent Hill and Assistant Senate Majority Leader Chuck Winder.

“Anyone that wasn’t a corporate interest was opposed to the state exchange,” Ferch said, listing individuals, the Idaho Freedom Foundation, John Birch Society and Heritage Foundation among the opponents. “Are we balancing the consuming public’s interest with the corporate lobbyists’ what appears to be vote buying interest?”

“Back off on the ‘vote buying’ and I’ll answer your question, OK?” replied Hill. “We don’t sell votes in Idaho, OK?”

Countered Ferch: “They wield a lot of power with those campaign contributions.”

“To some people, maybe,” said Hill, a Rexburg Republican who supported the state exchange.

Winder, who voted against Otter’s bill, then stepped in.

“I was opposed to it, but I don’t think anybody over there that I serve with votes one way or another for a $500 contribution,” said Winder, a Boise Republican. “It’s degrading to the people that serve over there.”

Hill added that Ferch misread the politics that led to 45 of the 85 Republicans in the Legislature voting for a state-operated exchange.

“It wasn’t big corporate interests only,” Hill said. “Every chamber of commerce came out in favor of a state exchange. These are little businesses. I don’t want to really argue the pros and cons of a state exchange; that train has left the station and unless there are some changes at the federal level it’s probably not coming back.”

Winder added that many small business owners supported the state exchange because they thought it would help their employees obtain health insurance.

The dialogue came during a meeting at the Idaho Republican Party’s “First Friday” coffee at GOP headquarters a block from the Capitol.

Winder and Hill were both critical of President Obama, including his use of executive orders to delay various mandates in administering the problem-plagued mandate.

“He needs to be sued,” Hill said.

“It’s really blown up in their faces,” Winder said.

Before Ferch’s allegation, Hill answered a question from Bonner County Republican Chairwoman Mary Joe Ambrosiani about why Otter’s bill passed.

Hill explained that all 50 states have a health insurance exchange, either federally or state operated. Hill said he backed Otter because Idaho provides the service at a lower cost to consumers and allows the state to hire, train and do background checks on employees.

“We do have some control,” he said. “With the federal exchange we have no control at all.”

Ambrosiani said she would share his explanation with Republicans in Sandpoint. “I would almost love to have you come up and explain it because you did a really good job.”

Replied Hill, laughing, “Well, I would almost like you to invite me.”

Dan Popkey came to Idaho in 1984 to work as a police reporter. Since 1987, he has covered politics and has reported on 25 sessions of the Legislature. Dan has a bachelor's in political science from Santa Clara University and a master's in journalism from Columbia University. He was a Congressional Fellow of the American Political Science Association and a Journalism Fellow at the University of Michigan. A former page in the U.S. House of Representatives, he graduated Capitol Page High School in 1976. In 2007, he led the Statesman’s coverage of the Sen. Larry Craig sex scandal, which was one of three Pulitzer Prize finalists in breaking news. In 2003, he won the Ted M. Natt First Amendment award from the Pacific Northwest Newspaper Association for coverage of University Place, the University of Idaho’s troubled real estate development in Boise. Dan helped start the community reading project "Big Read." He has two children in college and lives on the Boise Bench with an old gray cat.

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