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Republicans crisscross Missouri to attack health care ballot summary

Republicans crisscross Missouri to attack health care ballot summary

UPDATED AT 3:30 P.M. TO INCLUDE DETAILS FROM LT. GOV. PETER KINDER'S LAWSUIT.

JEFFERSON CITY • Republicans turned up the heat today on Secretary of State Robin Carnahan's wording of an anti-Obamacare measure on Missouri's Nov. 6 ballot.

Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder filed a lawsuit in Cole County Circuit Court, alleging that the ballot summary was "blatantly false, deceptive and intended to mislead the people about what the ballot proposal would do, and would not do."

Joining Kinder in the suit were the Legislature's top leaders: Senate President Pro Tem Rob Mayer, Majority Leader Tom Dempsey, House Speaker Steve Tilley and Majority Leader Tim Jones.

Kinder and two other Republican statewide candidates planned to hold eight news conferences around the state today to tout the lawsuit and blast Carnahan for writing the ballot summary and Attorney General Chris Koster for approving it. Carnahan and Koster are Democrats.

The measure, placed on the ballot by the Missouri Legislature, would bar Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon from setting up a health insurance exchange without approval from the state Legislature or state voters.

An exchange is an online market where consumers could compare health plans. The federal health care act known as Obamacare requires each state to create an exchange by 2014 or have one operated by the federal government.

Carnahan's summary reads: "Shall Missouri law be amended to deny individuals, families, and small businesses the ability to access affordable health care plans through a state-based health benefit exchange unless authorized by statute, initiative or referendum or through an exchange operated by the federal government as required  by the federal health care act."

Kinder's suit, filed by St. Louis attorney Jay Kanzler and Farmington attorney Tom Burcham, contends that the ballot wording is "plainly argumentative...rather than informative."

Rather than denying people health care, the proposal "grants to the people of Missouri the right to choose whether Missouri will adopt state-based health insurance exchange," the suit contends.

The suit suggests four alternatives to Carnahan's wording. For example, the ballot could say:

"Shall Missouri law be amended to prohibit the governor and/or any unelected state bureaucrat from implementing provisions of the federal health care law unless authorized by a vote of the people or by the legislature?"

Given the negative connotation of the term "unelected bureaucrat," the second version seems tamer:

"Shall Missouri law be amended to prohibit the governor or any state agency from establishing or operating state-based health insurance exchanges unless authorized by a vote of the people or by the legislature?"

Carnahan's spokesman, Ryan Hobart, defended the proposal issued by the secretary of state.

"Obviously, some candidates see this as good political theatre during an election year, but we maintain that this is a fair and sufficient summary of the ballot measure," he said. "Ultimately, we feel confident that it will hold up in court."

Meanwhile, Republicans Shane Schoeller, a candidate for secretary of state, and Ed Martin, an attorney general hopeful, called for an interim House committee to study election law and find a way to make ballot wording fairer.

"We want to make sure that you take all the politics out of it," Schoeller said.

Schoeller advocates a constitutional amendment that would set up a bipartisan legislative committee to approve all ballot wording. That would avoid costly court battles, he said.

Hobart, Carnahan's spokesman, said Schoeller's plan wouldn't accomplish anything.

"People would still file lawsuits and legal challenges because that's become such a big part of the process over the years," he said.

The Legislature could have written its own ballot summary for the health care measure.  Asked why that didn't happen, Schoeller said: "I was not the bill handler. Regardless...you should be able to depend on the secretary of state."

Martin blamed Koster, saying the attorney general should have "refused to accept Carnahan's dishonest ballot language."

Koster's office declined to comment.

Schoeller and Martin kicked off their joint campaign swing in Jefferson City this morning, with stops in Springfield and Fenton to follow.

Kinder's flyaround started in his hometown of Cape Girardeau before proceeding to Springfield, Joplin, Jefferson City and St. Louis.

One pro-Obamacare group weighed in with a different concern.

The Missouri Health Advocacy Alliance noted that the ballot measure would allow people to sue the state or local governments for implementing the federal health care law.

Carnahan's summary should have reflected the legal bills that taxpayers would have to pay to defend against such suits, the group's executive director, Andrea Routh, said.

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Virginia Young is the Jefferson City bureau chief for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Related to this story

Cole County Judge rules that Secretary of State Robin Carnahan’s summary of a health care proposal "is not fair and sufficient" and should not appear on the November ballot.

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