As the Grand Junction Sentinel's Charles Ashby reports:
The GOP legislator who helped establish Colorado’s part of Obamacare defended the state’s health care exchange Tuesday.
Rep. Amy Stephens told fellow Colorado Springs Republican Rep. Janak Joshi that his bill to repeal the law that created the Connect for Health Colorado health care exchange is the wrong approach unless he can propose some workable alternative…
“To come here and say repeal without any other kind of strategy for this state, any other health care ideas, just in my mind is indefensible,” she said. “I say that to you and I say it to the rest of my colleagues, you come to this committee, you want to repeal something, you better have an idea in place because the market demands it.” [Pols emphasis]
Now that she's been unceremoniously Bigfooted out of the U.S. Senate primary by Rep. Cory Gardner, our sympathy for Rep. Amy Stephens grows as she continues to stoutly defend what may go down as the signature achievement of her legislative career–the 2011 legislation establishing Colorado's health insurance marketplace, a key component of the federal Affordable Care Act a.k.a. "Obamacare."
Even though the insurance exchange bill enjoyed bipartisan and business community support, the far right increasingly in control of the GOP primary process labeled Stephens a traitor for making any kind of accommodation of President Barack Obama's dogmatically reviled health reform. There's no question that "Amycare" is a central reason why, despite early insider backing and lots of buzz, Stephens' Senate campaign fell completely flat, forcing Republican kingmakers to find someone else.
All of that is ancient history now, of course. Now it's just term-limited Rep. Stephens and her legacy.
[Joshi] said the Legislature may not have been told exactly what the exchange was or how it would operate, saying some of the testimony that helped get the law enacted was “not told truthfully.”
That raised the ire of Stephens, who said the state’s exchange has passed several audits about how it is operating.
“The public and our Legislature was told absolutely everything up front about this (exchange law),” she said. “We’ve had legislative oversight review of this going on steadily from the moment the bill was passed. If anyone wants to insinuate that anything less than honest, or anything less than transparent, has been going on here, I really take offense to it and the record won’t support that.” [Pols emphasis]
Since the passage of Senate Bill 11-200, Stephens' formerly staunch conservative image has become indelibly linked to the biggest liberal policy initiative of the Obama presidency. Stephens surely didn't predict the pushback she got from the right for helping make the Colorado insurance exchange a bipartisan creation, and beginning with her surprise primary against fellow incumbent Marsha Looper, she has been forced to make a precarious argument that defends her work while attacking the federal law her work directly extends from. It worked against Looper, but as the polls showed clearly, the broader Colorado GOP primary electorate wasn't buying it.
All told, Amy Stephens' story exposes a much deeper problem for Republicans, who have built their success in recent years on radicalizing their base against anything that even peripherally involves "the government"–even as action on a host of issues becomes plainly necessary. For all the advice we dispense in this space, we don't know how Republicans can solve this problem. And Stephens' experience, unfortunately, will not encourage the next Republican in her position to similarly do the right thing.