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State Leaders Confirm New AG: Not Before Republicans Question The Decision to Hire Eric Holder

Attorney General Eric Holder

Attorney General Eric Holder

By Manny Otiko/California Black Media

Although Gov. Jerry Brown say’s that California is projected to face a $1.6 billion shortfall next summer, Democrats, who control the state legislature, have decided to hire former Attorney General Eric Holder on a $25,000 per month, three-month contract.

Holder was the first African-American attorney general. He was appointed by President Barack Obama and served from 2009 to 2015.

Democratic legislators said they hired Eric Holder in preparation for policies that they expect President-elect Donald Trump to enact. Trump made deporting all undocumented immigrants a central part of his platform, although he later backed off some areas of this. Some California cities have said they will not follow any deportation orders by becoming sanctuary cities. According to a statement released by the Trump campaign, he promised to “cancel all federal funding to sanctuary cities.”

“With the upcoming change in administrations, we expect that there will be extraordinary challenges for California in the uncertain times ahead,” said Senate President pro Tempore Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles) and Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon (D-Paramount) in a joint statement.  “This is a critical moment in the history of our nation.  We have an obligation to defend the people who elected us and the policies and diversity that make California an example of what truly makes our nation great.”

De Leon and Rendon also said they hired Holder’s Covington & Burling law firm to “resist any attempts to roll back the progress California has made.”

However, some Republicans feel this is a waste of both resources and manpower. They argued that California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, who was confirmed on Friday, should handle the state’s legal issues.  The state Attorney General’s office has 4,500 lawyers on staff.

State Sen. Ted Gaines (R-El Dorado,) said it was part of Becerra’s job duties to handle legal issues that concern the state.

“My real issue is we have a state attorney general,” said Gaines. “It is his job to protect the interests of California. That is his function.”

Gaines added that it wasn’t clear where the funds for Holder are going to come from. Gaines said that he has also heard from constituents who were upset at what they see as wasteful spending.

“They’re very frustrated,” Gaines said. “They thought it (hiring Holder) was not necessary.”

Sen. Jim Nielsen (R-Tehama) called the decision to hire Holder a “waste of money.”

“How can the state afford to pay for an out-of-state overpriced lawyer when we could be using those funds to help the poor and those in need?” said Nielsen in a press release. “This unnecessary action is provocative and premature given that this administration has not yet taken office nor its agenda been established.”

However, Assemblymember Reggie Jones-Sawyer (D-Los Angeles,) said California could be facing unique legal challenges that require the skills of Holder’s law firm.

“I have no doubt that the congressman (Becerra) understands the extraordinary gravity and importance of this position of attorney general, particularly in light of the times and given circumstances in Washington. That said, we are where we are. Donald Trump is president and he has threatened to eviscerate much of what we cherish in California,” said Jones-Sawyer.

The Fight Is On To Protect Health Care In California, Says Foundation Head

Robert K. Ross

Robert K. Ross

By Anna Gorman

As Republicans seek to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, advocacy organizations around the nation are strategizing on how best to respond. Do they defend the law at all costs? Do they take part in the repeal conversation so they can help design an alternative?

Already, numerous groups are mobilizing patients and health care advocates to raise awareness of the impact of a repeal. Families USA, for example, launched an initiative called “Protect Our Care” and is encouraging consumers to share their stories through social media. Opponents of repeal staged protests around the country last Sunday.

The California Endowment, a private health foundation in Los Angeles, was among the state’s biggest backers of the Affordable Care Act, spending tens of millions of dollars on outreach and awareness. Robert K. Ross, the foundation’s president and CEO, was one of the founding board members of the state’s health insurance exchange, Covered California.

The endowment last month announced it would invest $25 million in “Fight4All,” an initiative to help preserve health and safety programs throughout the state. We spoke to Ross about the potential impact of a repeal as well as about the organization’s plans for the future. The conversation has been edited for clarity and length.

Q: What are your biggest concerns about the new administration’s health care plans? 

When I was in the 6th grade, I got in a schoolyard fight. I thought we were having an argument and then I was in a fight. I have that same feeling right now. We have now shifted from a debate to a real fight. The stakes are exceedingly high.

The last three to four years of progress represent the closest we have ever come to a vision of universal health coverage. We have gone from 7 million uninsured pre-Obamacare in California to 3.5 million. The very thought of losing that progress is somewhere between nauseating and mind-blowing.

There are three things that we are worried about specifically. The first is the subsidies and the federal dollar support for that. The second is the support for Medicaid expansion. And the third is the very thoughtful, well-intended reform provisions — beyond coverage — that Obamacare represented: quality improvements, prevention investments and the shift from emphasis on volume of services to value of services.

The state of California has leveraged nearly $20 billion in federal support to expand health coverage, and so the thought of losing that is really quite painful. That’s a lot of money, which will be exceedingly difficult to backfill.

 

Q: What is the strategy moving forward?

We are fighting on two fronts. One is to fight to preserve as many provisions of Obamacare as we can. At the very same time, we want to slow down the process enough for a thoughtful “replace” part of “repeal and replace.”

We know that President-elect [Donald] Trump will have a much harder time than he ever considered or envisioned in the “replace” part of Obamacare. It is simply not that easy. Some of the most skilled politicians in the world have failed on health reform. If it is going to be attempted, it needs to be done carefully and thoughtfully.

The strategy is to support the many, many advocacy organizations we have supported over the years in extolling the real virtues and benefits of Obamacare and the success of the exchanges, particularly of the California exchange. California’s experience is a real model for the nation. We have been able to control premium increases better than other places.

We can lift up the successes of the California exchange and other exchanges through advocacy, through voices and through coming to the defense of Obamacare. We are supporting organizations, like Health Access, Families USA, Insure the Uninsured Project and other advocacy organizations and strengthening their capacity to bring the fight forward.

That is number one. Number two is how do we manage on a parallel track to help get the right kind of people and the right kind of voices and the right kind of ideas in the repeal and replace conversation and debate?

 

Q: What could California do to maintain the provisions of health reform even if the Republicans repeal the Affordable Care Act?

As you can imagine, a whirlwind of conversations [about options] is already unfolding. I will put them in three categories. The first category is let’s just preserve the progress we have made through Medicaid expansion and look to replace the anticipated loss of any federal dollars with state dollars or other revenue sources. Sources of those dollars could be the state general fund, a new tax, anything from soda taxes to marijuana taxes.

The second is that we are free to do something different. You still have the financing issues to deal with, but you are not really building on what Obamacare has done. You are basically tearing that down and starting with something completely different.

The third category is something in between those two. You preserve an aspect or two of Obamacare and build off of it. So that might be keeping the exchange and putting everything under it — Medicaid, Medicare and more of the individual market. In a sense, you are building from what Obamacare gave you and saying you can go even further.

Our mission is to expand coverage and improve health for all. We are ready to invest in those ideas and make sure there is a healthy marketplace of ideas of what to do next in California.

Q: In the short-term, if the federal government takes away the money, does the exchange shut down? Do people who gained coverage through the Medicaid expansion lose it?

If they just take away the money without a replacement scenario, then we are back to seven million uninsured in California and in relatively short order. That is absent the state of California coming to the rescue with some general fund dollars.

What we have in our favor against that is that you have midterm elections in two years and the GOP Congress would have to explain to their constituents how they gleefully eviscerated Obamacare and didn’t replace it with anything and now those constituents don’t have health coverage. I think the politics would mitigate against that worst case scenario.

 

Q: What is the goal of the Fight4All initiative?

Our board approved a reallocation of $25 million over three years for a fight fund. All of that is not just for health coverage. Some of it is for immigration response and support. We know that deportation and treating immigrants badly is bad for their health. Some of it is for other safety net programs that may be at risk.

While the results of the election were jolting and jarring for many of us, we have to rediscover tenacity and audacity. If that means putting forward ideas for an entirely new health care framework for the state of California, then fine. If it means building off of what we have, fine.

We just can’t afford to be in a position of shying away and being polite. A fight is always a wake up call. I don’t know that I can think of a better wake up call for advocates for health for all than what just happened in this election.

This story was produced by Kaiser Health News, an editorially independent program of the Kaiser Family Foundation.

agorman@kff.org | @AnnaGorman

‘Moonlight’ Makes History with 8 Oscar Nominations

Earlier this week, the 89th Oscars nominations were announced and A24’s Moonlight received the following 8 nods: Best Supporting Actor – Mahershala Ali, Cinematography – James Laxton, Best Original Score – Nicholas Britell, Best Adapted Screenplay – Barry Jenkins and Tarell McCraney, Best Supporting Actress – Naomie Harris, Film Editing – Joi McMillon & Nat Sanders, Best Directing – Barry Jenkins, and Best Picture – Moonlight.

These nominations make Moonlight co-editor Joi McMillon the first African-American woman to be recognized by the Academy for editing, and director Barry Jenkins as only the fourth black director to be nominated for a “Best Director” Oscar (John Singleton, Lee Daniels and Steve McQueen were prior nominees). This is McMillon’s first feature film editing credit and Jenkins’ second feature film.