In his nine years as a state lawmaker, Traverse City’s Howard Walker has hardly been known as a firebrand. Or an orator.
So it was surprising — and pleasantly so, as it turns out — to hear Walker fire back at a conservative talk-radio host who accused him of being a “weak Republican” because of Walker’s state Senate vote to expand Medicaid coverage in Michigan.
“Screw you, as far as weak Republicans, dude,” Walker told Brian Sommerfield at a Republican Party luncheon in Petoskey on Monday. Walker then repeated his comment for those who missed it the first time.
“I said, ‘Screw you, as far as calling me a weak Republican,’” Walker said. “The heck with you. I stood by my campaign commitment and I think I did what was right.”
“It was a lot easier saying no than it was saying yes on that,” Walker said.
It was a revelatory moment in more ways than one. Not only did Walker show some rare emotion, but it was also a case of someone likely considered a mainstream Republican standing up to a tea party-type who seems to believe that adherence to the party line is more important than good public policy.
While a lot of tea party supporters framed the Medicaid vote in terms of opposition to Obamacare, no matter what, Walker had his own take.
“I felt like he was attacking my integrity, and that was after I explained this issue was part of my campaign platform,” Walker said. “I have a right to defend myself.”
Walker said part of his platform in 2010 was to make sure rural hospitals in his district were financially sound and residents had access to quality healthcare. He didn’t realize at the time it would require him to support Obamacare.
Walker said Medicaid expansion in Michigan will help reduce the problem of uncompensated care in hospitals and the shifting of those costs to business and people with health insurance.
“It’s been a contentious issue,” Walker said. “I felt I did the right thing.”
It was the right thing. Beyond supporting local hospitals, medicare expansion will also help nearly 500,000 Michigan residents who don’t have health care get essential coverage. That just makes sense.
It’s good public policy and Walker was right to support it. And to defend his vote.