Tulsa Republican Glen Mulready walked straight into a crossfire during his first term in the Oklahoma House of Representatives.
A former Blue Cross Blue Shield executive, Mulready became a central figure in the state's attempt to come to grips with a major provision of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.
Specifically, Mulready carried legislation related to health insurance exchanges. Billed as a means of connecting the uninsured with private insurers, the exchanges were soon targeted by tea party activists and others against any part of what they derisively called "Obamacare."
And that means they targeted Mulready, too.
One of those critics, Jenks insurance broker Darren Gantz, is now challenging Mulready in the June 26 GOP primary.
Because no Democrat or independent filed for the seat, the primary will decide House District 68. The newly redrawn district, which formerly included part of Sand Springs, now runs from Berryhill south to the Okmulgee County line, taking in west Tulsa and the western fringes of Jenks and Glenpool.
"I actually tried to find people ... that would run against him," said Gantz, 39. "Then, when I was redistricted into that district, I decided maybe the option was me that had to take him on."
Mulready, 51, says his position on health-care reform and the health exchanges has been misrepresented.
"Most Oklahomans oppose this federal health-care law, as do I," Mulready said. "I think my efforts on behalf of our state have been misconstrued. I don't have an issue with someone who may disagree with the approach I've been pushing ... but I think it's a crazy stretch or disingenuous to say I'm trying to implement Obamacare."
Mulready said the state should have a "Plan C" in the event the health exchanges are not overturned by the courts or by Congress.
Gantz says Oklahoma should continue to do nothing.
Enacting anything remotely similar to a health exchange, Gantz said, implicitly gives the federal government authority over the exchange.
Refusing to enact an exchange, he said, prevents the federal government from intervening.
Mulready said that is a misreading of the law.
"The federal law goes away two ways: the Supreme Court or the November election and a new administration goes through with repeal. That's the only two ways," Mulready said.
"What I've been advocating for is ... if those two don't go the way I want them to go, what's our plan? And we don't have a plan. Our plan is that if we do nothing, the federal government comes in.
"I think (Gantz's) argument ultimately is that we would secede from the union to avoid the federal health-care law."
Gantz didn't go that far, but he did say the state should continue to fight the federal law even if it is upheld - all or in part - by the Supreme Court.
"We have to think how we want to move forward as a state," he said. "How are we going to pay for it?
"The state of Oklahoma ... really needs to sit down and examine facts, and then decide what procedure they'll take to the next level, to the Supreme Court, to fight the next round."
Just how much of an issue all this is to the Republican voters of HD 68 remains to be seen.
"I think it's a pretty big issue ... but my constituents are also very concerned about roads and bridges and about funding education," Mulready said.
Mulready said he has been somewhat surprised to hear from Republican voters that they'd forego income tax cuts to spend more on infrastructure and schools.
Gantz said he also wants more money to go to schools but thinks the state can do that and cut taxes.
Republicans, he said, "have a clear majority in both the House and the Senate, the Governor's Office, (and) ... we couldn't cut taxes at all? At all? I feel like the Republican Party has failed on our core principles."
Randy Krehbiel 918-581-8365
Original Print Headline: Health care at center of primary
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