Mike Pence, the current Indiana Governor, reminds me of a certain teacher - let's call him Mr. Smith - who I had at Park Tudor School in Indianapolis, back in the early 1980s. I'm thinking of his appearance and demeanor, but also of his politics. Mr. Smith (not his real name) was the one who told my geography class that Apartheid South Africa - a system of quasi-slavery like Jim Crow in the American South - was the envy of the African continent. He went on to say that majority rule in South Africa would lead to economic calamity if not slaughter of the white population. (I can't help but wonder what Mr. Smith thinks of Nelson Mandela.)
Mr. Smith also claimed, while lecturing about the evils of marijuana use, that the Beatles were responsible for starting a wave of drug abuse in America.
It helps, of course, to put this all into perspective (the recent hubbub about Park Tudor serving collard greens and fried chicken during Black History Month notwithstanding). When I was in middle-school, it was during the height of the Cold War. So I suspect that Mr. Smith was liable to see both mop tops and black South African agitators as communists.
We can assume that Reagan was an icon to Mr. Smith, as he is apparently to Governor Pence. And in the spirit of Reagan, Pence's essential argument - and M.O. for governance - is that federal government is the problem, and has always been the problem, especially when it tries to help the poor.
Consider his refusal to accept Medicaid expansion in the state of Indiana under the Affordable Care Act, (Obamacare) which would make Medicaid accessible to all adults earning up to 138 percent of the federal poverty limit. Instead, Pence wants to use the Healthy Indiana Plan - an existing health care plan for uninsured adult Hoosiers - as a way to expand Medicaid. The governor, in negotiations with Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, is attempting to make Medicaid expansion more like a Healthy Indianaesque combination of health savings accounts and high deductible heath care plans. It would force those under the poverty line to contribute to the first $1,100 of their care.
Despite the fact that the federal government would foot the lion's share of the bill - $17.3 billion over ten years for Medicaid expansion - Pence is taking a State Sovereignty Commission approach to Obamacare. Never mind the fact that, according to Maureen Groppe, from the Gannett Washington Bureau, the state would only have to modestly increase its Medicaid spending by 1.3 percent over those ten years. Pence doesn't want Hoosier taxpayers to pay for any of it.
Under the Affordable Care Act, Indiana can't qualify for the full federal reimbursement of Medicaid expansion if Pence's plan requires that the poorest Hoosiers pay part of their care. So, for now, the Feds and Indiana are in a state of deadlock. In the meantime, those whom Obamacare is supposed to help - single moms who make less than $15,000 a year but more than the roughly $4,687 limit for a working mother of two in traditional Medicaid, for example - languish without affordable medical insurance. So the 400,000 Hoosiers who could potentially benefit from Medicaid expansion - among them people I care about deeply - are stuck in the mud. This is just fine for Pence and his Tea Party allies, who have no interest in seeing Obamacare gain any traction.
There are real world consequences to all of this. People will die if they can't afford the preventative care to diagnosis diseases before they become life-threatening. This will happen because Pence wants government out of the insurance marketplace. But when it comes to your own living room, it's another matter entirely for Pence & Co.
Let's say that you have cancer and you choose to treat yourself for nausea by smoking two joints a day. Let's say that you're unable to afford insurance under the Healthy Indiana Plan but you are able to afford weed. Consuming cannabis is an option available to you if you live in a more politically enlightened state like Illinois or Colorado, but in the Hoosier State you might go to jail for a year on a misdemeanor charge. Last year, Pence was trying to make marijuana possession (over 1/3 of an ounce) a felony rather than a misdemeanor. That proposition failed to make it into law. However, another provision did: Pence recently signed House Bill 1006 which made it mandatory that Hoosier felons serve out 75 percent of their prison sentences rather than 50 percent under the old law. Is it a coincidence, then, that Pence accepted donations, $12,500 for his 2012 gubernatorial campaign, from the private prison company GEO Group - a company that is guaranteed a 90 percent occupancy rate in its facility in New Castle by the state? Perhaps not, especially if you consider that longer prison terms inevitably lead to higher occupancy rates.
So if you're a self-medicating marijuana user, don't worry. You have a place - if you get busted - in Pence's Indiana, a state that works. It works out well for GEO, a company like other private prison companies that sees weed offenders like you as valuable commodities - compliant, docile, and a ready source of legalized slave labor. And it works out well for Pence (possibly considering a presidential run) and his allies who get political contributions from the private prison companies to fund their political aspirations.
Just like in the former Apartheid South Africa, everyone has a place in Pence's economic regime - if you view certain groups of people as commodities and/or indigent deadbeats rather than men and women endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights. I can't help wondering what Mr. Smith would say if he knew that pot smokers could be such an integral part of the 21st century Hoosier economy.