Cuccinelli

Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli followed through with his vow to sue as soon as President Barack Obama’s signature was dry on the health care bill approved by the U.S. House of Representatives on Sunday. The lawsuit was filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Richmond.  Thirteen other attorneys general filed a similar lawsuit in Pensacola, Florida.

Meanwhile, a Florida House committee approved an amendment for the November ballot that would prohibit Floridians from being forced to buy health insurance. The Tennessee House is expected to vote this week on a Senate-passed Health Freedom Act. At least four similar bills have been introduced in the Alabama House.  Virginia already has passed such a law.

The South certainly is not the only part of the country where the health care legislation is being protested, but its politicians seem most excited by the nastiness of the fight.  A Republican candidate for Congress in Arkansas, appropriately named Gunner DeLay, has called for “civil disobedience” against the health care overhaul.  Republican Rep. Randy Neugebauer, a Texas birther, took credit for shouting “baby killer” on the floor of the U.S. House during Sunday’s debate.

Just back from dodging a federal grand jury indictment, Alabama District Attorney Troy King joined 13 other Republican attorneys general in suing the feds.  Helping lead the effort was Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum, who called the health care bill “a tax on being alive.” Also in was South Carolina Attorney General Henry McMaster, who started the movement to sue the feds around the time he started running for governor.  He called the health care legislation “off-the-scale unconstitutional.”  Like Cuccinelli, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott wanted to sue at the moment the bill is signed on Tuesday to “defend our state from further infringement by the federal government.”

By mid-day Tuesday, the number of litigants had grown to 14.  McCollum, who is running for governor, filed for his state and 12 others at the federal courthouse in Pensacola.  Included were Florida, South Carolina, Texas, Alabama, Louisiana, Nebraska,  Michigan, Utah, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Idaho, Washington and Colorado.

Mississippi’s Republican governor and lieutenant governor urged that state’s Democratic Attorney General Jim Hood to sue, and Gov. Haley Barbour said he will file a lawsuit himself if the attorney general doesn’t. Republican  Louisiana Gov. Bob Jindal had pushed his Democratic Attorney General Buddy Caldwell to sue but indicated he still might take the special $300 million earmark for Medicaid that Democratic Sen. Mary Landieu added to the Senate bill.  Caldwell was the only Democrat to join the 13 Republicans.

Tennessee’s Republican Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, who is running for governor, wants a piece of the health care litigation, too.  He has two obstacles:  Attorney General Robert Cooper and Gov. Phil Bredesen are both Democrats.  Cooper said he intends to “avoid engagement in ongoing political debates.”  Bredesen sent Obama congratulations on a “significant accomplishment.”  Tennessee was not among those suing.

Skewing the politics a bit, Georgia’s Republican-controlled House failed, even as tea baggers chanted outside, to muster the two-thirds vote needed for a constitutional amendment that would have allowed Georgians to opt out of the federal health mandates. Republican Gov. Sonny Perdue called the legislation passed by Congress a “colossal unfunded mandate.”  Perdue, like Mississippi’s Barbour, said he was exploring his own legal options in the matter.  Georgia’s Attorney General Thurbert Baker is a Democrat and running for governor.

Southern Democrats didn’t give Obama much help on the health care bill. FacingSouth.com, the online magazine of the Institute for Southern Studies, cited these numbers.

  • Of the 34 Democrats who voted against reform, 53% (18) came from Southern states.
  • Blue-trending North Carolina had the highest number of Democratic “no” votes in the country (3).

The Institute noted that two Southern states — Alabama and Louisiana — had zero “yes” votes; Arkansas, Kentucky and Mississippi each had only one representative voting with the majority.

One of the Democrats voting “no” was Alabama Rep. Artur Davis of Birmingham, an Obama ally who helped get an early version of health care reform out of a House committee last year.  He’s running to become Alabama’s first African-American governor and may have been hedging his bets.  “Going forward, I hope for the good of our country that this legislation ends up working and that my reservations are proved wrong,” Davis told the Birmingham News.

Among those not surprised by the enthusiastic opposition in the South was Virginia NAACP executive director King Salim Khalfani.  At a news conference, he declared,  “I am expecting more of a blacklash because it’s affecting African people first and foremost.”

The health care reform law is not without some pretty tough defenders among Southern politicians.  Former Virginia Gov. Timothy M. Kaine, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, dismissed Cuccinelli’s promise to sue thusly:  “I thought Ken had his hands full discriminating against people and raising wacky questions about President Obama’s birth certificate.”

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Ron Taylor

Ron Taylor

Ron Taylor was born and raised in Georgia and worked more than 40 years at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution as a reporter and editor and as an online producer for ajc.com and AccessAtlanta. He served for a time as the newspaper's regional editor, overseeing coverage of the South. He is co-author, with Dr. Leonard Ray Teel, of Into the Newsroom:  An Introduction to Journalism and has conducted workshops in the Middle East on feature writing.