Big in all things, Texas leads the nation in failing to provide health insurance. About one in four Texans are uninsured, the highest percentage in any state. That’s some 6 million people, the total population of Missouri.
Yet Gov. Rick Perry, back from his stumbles in the 2012 GOP presidential race, has insisted that Texas will not accept the federal money provided by President Obama’s health care law to expand Medicaid coverage. As Republican governors from Arizona to New Jersey have joined the program, Perry has amplified his opposition. In a bristling speech to conservatives last week, he said governors who accepted the money had “folded in the face of federal bribery.”
Rejecting the federal money might not pose an immediate political threat to Texas Republicans, whose coalition revolves around white voters responsive to small-government arguments. But renouncing the money represents an enormous gamble for Republicans with the growing Hispanic community, which is expected to approach one-third of the state’s eligible voters in 2016. Hispanics would benefit most from expansion because they constitute 60 percent of the state’s uninsured. A jaw-dropping 3.6 million Texas Hispanics lack insurance.
Texas Democrats are too weak to much affect the Medicaid debate. But if state Republicans reject federal money that could insure 1 million or more Hispanics, they could provide Democrats with an unprecedented opportunity to energize those voters—the key to the party’s long-term revival. With rejection, says Democratic state Rep. Rafael Anchia of Dallas, Republicans “would dig themselves into an even deeper hole with the Hispanic community.”
Keep in mind that Perry’s been very cautious about not alienating Latino voters. After all, this was the man who was practically booed off the stage at a presidential debate for saying that the children of undocumented immigrants deserve higher education and that a border fence was not a realistic option. Perry was not only ready, but eager to toe the very fringiestwingnut notions to win the nomination — except when they might scare off Texas Latinos.
So the danger presented in this article is obviously very real. And Perry’s been able to walk a tightrope between what wingnuts want and what won’t engage Latino voters against himself or his party. But walking a tightrope is hard and sooner or later, you’re going to mess up — especially when people are tugging at you from both sides.
If this turns out not to be the trigger of the big Texas turnover, it could be a contributing factor. That turnover is coming. That rightwing extremists and Latino voters will cross paths is almost inevitable. And that day is the day when Republican dreams of the White House officially die.