Advocates in Maine are suing their governor for refusing to act on a successful Medicaid expansion ballot initiative, a legal battle that could be closely watched by other anti-expansion governors.
Maine Equal Justice Partners, along with several other groups, filed suit (PDF) on April 30 against Republican Gov. Paul LePage for standing in the way of a Medicaid expansion measure supported by almost 60% of Maine voters in a ballot initiative last November.
The governor's office was required to submit an application to ensure about half a billion dollars in annual federal funding for expansion by April 3, but LePage, who has vetoed previous expansion attempts, has refused to move the application forward.
Under state law, a successful ballot initiative can't be vetoed by the governor, which has led to the current standoff. The New England state's legal drama is the first of its kind, and it could catch the attention of officials and candidates in other states grappling with similar dynamics.
Advocates in several other reliably red states, like Idaho, are trying to move forward with Medicaid expansion initiatives this year, but its future governor will have a stronger political advantage than LePage.
Reclaim Idaho, a group that supports Medicaid expansion in the state, announced on April 30 that it turned in about 60,000 signatures to get the issue on the ballot this November, 7% more than required. And polling late last year showed public support at about 60% in Utah.
However, unlike Maine, Idaho's governor wouldn't be legally required to follow through with the ballot initiative, which has the same weight as a law passed in the state legislature.
Idaho Gov. Butch Otter is not seeking reelection to a fourth term this November, and the Republican nomination—and general election favorite—is likely between U.S. Representative Raúl Labrador and Lieutenant Governor Brad Little, who Otter has endorsed.
In a recent televised debate, Little, who has long opposed expansion, said he would "adhere to the will of the voters," likely signaling he would implement expansion if the ballot initiative is successful. Labrador, on the other hand, was more vague, and appeared to say he'd be open to overturning the initiative. A third candidate, businessman and retired physician Tommy Ahlquist, also gave an ambiguous response about the ballot's future.
While none of the candidates offered a hardline stance, Idaho's next governor might wait and see what happens in Maine before deciding whether or not to overturn the will of the people.