‘It’s just politics’: Democrats target Chris Jones

Published 10:29 pm Tuesday, May 20, 2014

If a man’s greatness can be measured by his enemies, a political attack against Chris Jones is a clear sign of how much power the former Suffolk mayor now wields in state politics.

Jones was one of four House Republicans singled out this month in a mass email by the Democratic Party of Virginia.

The owner of Bennett’s Creek Pharmacy and chairman of the powerful House Appropriations Committee was “profiled” by the Democrats alongside Speaker Bill Howell, Majority Leader Kirk Cox, and Tag Greason, a Northern Virginia GOP delegate.

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The Democrats claimed they launched “Meet your GOP Legislator” — their tongue-in-cheek name for the series — “as part of our ongoing efforts to shed light on some of Virginia’s most partisan politicians who are putting extreme Tea Party ideology ahead of the health of their constituents.”

“I guess they are campaigning a year and a half out, for next November,” Jones said, referring to the next state election.

Jones was accused of caring more about “spending additional taxpayer dollars to raise co-pays on mail order drugs,” in an alleged effort to benefit his pharmacy, than acting on the Senate budget to expand Medicaid in Virginia under the Affordable Care Act.

More than 10,000 uninsured Virginians in his district would gain coverage under an expanded Medicaid, Democrats claim.

Jones said the mail-order prescriptions provision was an amendment added to the House budget in subcommittee. It was procedural for his committee to send it the House floor, he said, where he abstained from the vote on the amendment.

“I was writing a letter — I wasn’t interested in writing a book,” David Midkiff, treasurer of the Democratic Party of Virginia’s committee for the 4th Congressional district and author of the Jones attack, replied when asked why he airbrushed this fuller picture.

“It’s just politics.”

Jones knew the bill would pass in the House without his vote, Midkiff added.

Explaining why his committee hasn’t reported out the Senate’s budget bill, Jones said they “have always been left in the full committee.”

“The budget bill has always come from the people’s house, which is the House of Delegates,” he said.

“That has been our practice and custom … and it has never been an issue, it appears, until this year, with the Democrats in the Senate.”

The budget, according to Jones, has always been put into conference, “to do the people’s business,” after each chamber amends the other chamber’s proposal.

“I guess they are trying to change the rules in the middle of the game,” he said.

Midkiff, an insurance agent who also serves on Chesapeake’s electoral board, said he wrote the letter, because Virginia needs the Medicaid expansion and Jones is an influential House Republican who doesn’t support it.

“I’m in the insurance business and have done a lot in recent months with customers trying to acquire insurance,” Midkiff said. “That’s pretty hard — to look someone in the face and say, ‘I’m sorry, there is nothing we can do for you.’”

Jones said that commonwealth spending on health care should be reined in before taking up federal dollars to expand Medicaid.

“Reforms first,” he said. “It’s not an easy decision, but if you can’t control the cost of a current program, then it doesn’t make any sense to expand a program growing at twice the rate of revenues. It’s not free money, as some would opine.”

But if Virginia doesn’t take the money — money that has been collected from Virginians — it will go to other states, Midkiff said.

“We are giving up free money that the state desperately needs,” he said.