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Pro-PO Legislator Becomes Non-Lobbyist Lobbyist

Updated: Apr 13

According to Roby Brock at Talk Business, another outgoing pro-”private option” legislator has lined up a “policy consulting” gig in Little Rock. From Talk Business:

Term-limited State Rep. John Burris, R-Harrison, will join Little Rock-based Capitol Advisors Group – a government relations, public affairs and issue management firm headed by Bill Vickery and Mitchell Lowe. Burris will serve as a Senior Advisor to the firm beginning in January 2015 and will focus primarily on expanding the group’s health policy consulting practice, both in Arkansas and in Washington, D.C. “John’s deep command of policy and issues, specifically those related to health care, will have an immediate and significant benefit to our existing clients and will create extraordinary growth opportunities for our firm,” said Lowe. “John is admired and trusted on both sides of the political aisle. He knows how to get things done in the legislative and regulatory realms and has truly become a thought leader on issues that matter to our clients and the business community,” said Vickery. “We’re beyond excited that he’ll be joining our team.” In the 89th General Assembly, Burris served as Chairman of the House Committee on Public Health. He was also a principal architect of Arkansas’ Private Option, which utilized Medicaid dollars through the Affordable Care Act to subsidize private health insurance plans for lower income workers. He also pushed for other Medicaid reforms, such as an income verification system, payment delivery changes, and the establishment of private sector principles to make the program more efficient and deliver better outcomes. Burris served as House Minority Leader during the 2011 Regular Session and 2012 Fiscal Session. “I am thrilled that I will soon be a part of the Capitol Advisors Group team,” said Burris. “I look forward to bringing my knowledge and experience to the table on behalf of CAG’s clients and to the prospect of growing the firm’s health policy consulting practice.”

A few takeaways:

  1. One evident fact is that “public service” can lead to a nice paycheck. Those who start by doing good can end up doing well. Pro-”private option” state Senator Johnny Key got a six-figure “university relations” job created for him earlier this year at the University of Arkansas system.The University of Arkansas also scooped up long-time Pryor aide Randy Massanelli for a “government relations” apparatchik role earlier this year.

  2. “Cooling off” periods for former legislators to become lobbyists are largely meaningless. The rule in Arkansas until recently was that a legislator couldn’t become a registered lobbyist until a year after his/her term ended. That was bumped up to 2 years with the passage of Issue 3. Issue 3 architects like Warwick Sabin and Jon Woods have been beating their chests about how ethical the state legislature will become with Issue 3’s passage, but moves like Key’s and Burris’s show that all that’s needed to evade the “cooling off” period is to just give yourself a different title besides lobbyist while you explain to your lobbyist colleagues how best to lobby.

  3. After his primary loss to Scott Flippo, Burris spent much of time as a Tom Cotton campaign employee. A central tenet of Cotton’s campaign was (thankfully) repealing Obamacare. We doubt Burris will be spending much time attempting to “repeal Obamacare” with his new employer. His boss, Bill Vickery, thinks (distressingly) that the “private option” was “the most conservative direction possible with something that was being forced upon us.”

One of the most absurd arguments I heard after Obamacare’s passage was that it was dumb for the GOP to say it was hurting economic growth, because Obamacare was actually creating jobs in the legal field due to businesses having to hire more attorneys to interpret the legislation’s effects! Maybe the same will be said about the “private option” in the future: that it created a flourishing cottage industry of government relations, policy consultant, and lobbying jobs for former “private option” architects to fill.

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