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Obamacare Scandals, Oregon Edition

Oregon is one of a number of states (Minnesota is another) where state officials tried to set up their own Obamacare program and web site, called Cover Oregon. In Oregon, as elsewhere, the effort has been a disaster, as not a single person has been able to sign up on the state’s web site. The fiasco has become a political liability for Governor John Kitzhaber, who is running for re-election this year. There is also a bit of scandal brewing:

[Carolyn] Lawson was responsible for the technical development of the Cover Oregon website, a state-run online marketplace where Oregonians could find and purchase health insurance. She resigned for “personal reasons” in November. Rocky King, the exchange’s executive director, submitted his resignation last week. …

[A]n email sent in December 2012 from state Rep. Patrick Sheehan (R) to the governor’s legislative director, warned of problems with Lawson. Sheehan, a member of the legislative oversight committee for Cover Oregon, accused Lawson in the email of presenting fraudulent testimony in a legislative hearing and speculated about her ties to the company building the website. Kitzhaber denied having seen the email, even though his legislative director responded to it, and claimed he didn’t know of problems with Lawson until late last year.

On Thursday, a local television station scored an interview with Governor Kitzhaber, but the governor walked out when he was asked about the Sheehan email:

Governor Kitzhaber was a college friend of mine. He is a few years older, and was a charismatic guy even then. He became a doctor, and I was astonished when he was elected Governor in 1994; when I knew him in college, he had little interest in politics and was anything but a liberal. Kitzhaber has been wildly popular in Oregon. He was term-limited after eight years in office, ran again and was re-elected in 2010. But he is obviously feeling the heat over Obamacare.

We can draw several lessons:

1) Democratic governors, as well as senators, who are up for re-election this year are running scared where they have tried to implement a local version of the disastrous law.

2) While the real problems with Obamacare have barely begun to emerge, web site problems alone are enough to create serious blowback. Something similar is going on here in Minnesota.

3) It isn’t entirely fair to compare Kitzhaber’s situation with that of Chris Christie, but there are some obvious parallels–most notably, a smoking gun email which the governor says he never saw (even though, in Kitzhaber’s case, it was directed to the mailbox that is used by legislators to communicate with the governor). That Kitzhaber’s problems haven’t become an all-consuming national news story reflects, among other things, the advantages of being 1) a long way from New York City, and 2) a Democrat.

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