McCollum Lawsuit to Block Federal Health Care Reform Politically Unpredictable

Tallahassee, FL – Attorney General Bill McCollum, the front-runner in the GOP primary for governor, has said all along that his lawsuit to block the new federal health-care-reform measure isn't driven by politics. But as Margie Menzel reports, the suit is reaping political repercussions nonetheless.

Health care advocacy groups delivered a 60-foot-long petition to the Attorney General's office Tuesday, calling on McCollum to drop his efforts to block new federal health care legislation. That sweeping measure was signed into law by President Obama a month ago, whereupon McCollum led twelve other state attorneys general in a lawsuit declaring it unconstitutional. Greg Mellowe, policy director for Florida CHAIN, which helped gather signatures representing half a million Floridians opposing McCollum's move:

"The attorney general has it wrong on the basic facts, wrong on the basic law, and wrong on the basic motivation, which puts politics ahead of the basic needs of Floridians," Mellowe said.

The petition organizers were heartened by a poll released Monday by Quinnipiac University, showing that voters by a 54-to-40-percent margin say it's a "bad idea" for McCollum to challenge the federal health care overhaul. Voters also said - by a 38-to-28 percent margin - that it makes them less likely to support his gubernatorial bid, independent voters by 41 to 27 percent. But the polls are too volatile to count on, said Susan McManus, a political science professor at the University of South Florida - and the lawsuit draws a varied response.

"I think it certainly has contributed to the tightening of the polls, but there's also another poll that shows that 54 percent of Floridians think the lawsuit was a good thing to do," McManus said, "so it's very mixed right now, which is, again, very exemplary of Florida politics - very competitive and almost evenly divided in public opinion on key issues."

McCollum campaign spokeswoman Kristy Campbell said her candidate is happy with the support he's getting from Floridians. "As it relates to the health care lawsuit," she wrote in an email, "he has taken an oath to uphold the Constitution and he will continue to do so by fighting for the rights of Floridians and the sovereignty of our state." The campaign also referred reporters to the Florida Medical Association, which supports McCollum's stance. FMA general counsel Jeff Scott said his 20,000-member organization opposed the federal law all along.

"Whether it had any political connotation to it or not, that's certainly not where we're coming from," said Scott. "We oppose the bill, and we think that mandating individuals to purchase certain types of health insurance policies or face substantial penalties is not what America should be doing."

McCollum holds a narrowing 40 to 36 percent lead over Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink, the presumptive Democratic nominee, in the Quinnipiac gubernatorial poll. Sink, a self-described "math nerd," said the trade-off for Floridians on the federal health care law is justified by the fact that one in four is uninsured.

"It's going to be a good cost-benefit analysis when it comes right down to it," Sink said. "The system we have now is about to bankrupt us. And we need to let this health reform that passed in Washington work, and work itself out. And as the years go on, I'm sure there will be plenty of fixes to it."

Meanwhile, the advocates who dropped off the petitions Tuesday said the signatures were gathered quickly and more are incoming. Susan McManus said the good news is that electoral volatility generates greater voter participation.

"People are becoming much more engaged in discussing issues and letting their elected officials know exactly how they feel," she said. "And they're seemingly having some success, which is, of course, making them get more engaged. And that's not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, that's a good thing in a democracy."

A spokeswoman for the Attorney General's Office says that in addition to the 13 original plaintiffs in the federal lawsuit, 6 more have pledged to join Florida when it files an amended complaint.