FORT SMITH — State Rep. Bruce Westerman and Republican primary opponent Tommy Moll both point to Westerman’s voting record in the Arkansas General Assembly in seeking the 4th Congressional District GOP nomination.
Both candidates also cite repeal of the Affordable Care Act as a top priority, and a determination to reduce government in an effort to stimulate economic growth.
The winner of the GOP primary will face Democratic challenger James Lee Witt in the November general election. Incumbent District 4 Rep. Tom Cotton, R-Dardanelle, opted to challenge Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., instead of seeking re-election to the House.
Westerman, 46, an engineer and forester at Mid-South Engineering in Hot Springs for 22 years, has served in the Arkansas House of Representatives since 2011. He was House majority leader in 2013, after the GOP took control of the House in the 2012 election.
Moll, 31, a Fort Smith native, is a businessman investing in the energy sector who lives in Hot Springs.
Westerman said a significant difference between he and Moll is that he has a record of making “conservative” votes in the General Assembly, while Moll was living in “Greenwich Village (a neighborhood on the west side of Manhattan in New York City)” or somewhere else.
The representative points to his 100 percent rating with the American Conservative Union in 2013, and recognition from the Advance Arkansas Institute, which gave him the highest score among all members in the House in 2013.
Moll was still critical of Westerman regarding his sponsorship of two bills implementing the Affordable Care Act in Arkansas and his vote on an education bill Moll claims implemented the Common Core national education standard in Arkansas.
“I’ve always been opposed to Obamacare (the Affordable Care Act), and my opponent sponsored not one, but two bills to implement Obamacare in the state of Arkansas,” Moll said.
Westerman was a co-sponsor of the “private option” bill, which the Arkansas General Assembly adopted Gov. Mike Beebe signed into law in 2013, but he withdrew as a sponsor a week later.
Westerman said he was part of a working group in the Legislature tasked with finding ways to reform Medicaid, and House Bill 1143, known as the private option, resulted from that work.
But as he learned more from an actuarial analysis that showed the proposal could be more expensive than expansion of traditional Medicaid and would add 250,000 Arkansans to the Medicaid rolls and information issued by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Westerman said he withdrew as a sponsor and was the leading opponent of the private option from that time forward.
The Moll campaign argues the actuarial analysis and HHS information were issued before HB1143 was introduced, so Westerman’s claim falls flat.
“It was a process of evaluating something,” Westerman said, adding the issue was more complicated than Moll understands and that Moll’s criticism shows a lack of understanding of the legislative process.
Moll also takes issue with HB 1165, of which Westerman was the sole sponsor and which was never debated in committee.
Moll characterized the proposal as implementing the Affordable Care Act, while Westerman called it a “conservative” proposal to reform Medicaid that required recipients to have “skin in the game” and set time limits on how long able-bodied people could participate in the program.
While both men have stated their opposition to the Common Core national education standards, Moll said Westerman voted to implement Common Core in Arkansas in 2011.
Westerman countered that the Arkansas State Board of Education adopted Common Core standards in July 2010, before he was a member of the Legislature, and the bill Moll to which referred was disingenuously presented to the Legislature as one simply cleaning up legislative language.
Westerman said after testimony was taken March 29, 2011, with no mention of Common Core, a vote was scheduled the following day, preventing it from being properly vetted, and resulted in unanimous votes in both the Senate and House approving the legislation.
Once the GOP captured a majority in the General Assembly in 2012, a rule was implemented that requires a two-day minimum between when testimony is presented on proposed legislation and when it’s scheduled for a vote, to allow more time for vetting, Westerman said.
The primary election is scheduled for May 20, although early voting is underway.