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I remember an incident when I was in grade school where a group of girls ganged up on another, vulnerable and unpopular girl, humiliated her and ultimately blacked her eye. This long-ago event came to my mind today when I read about a letter that Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, House Speaker Steve Tilley, and Senate President Pro Tem Rob Mayer have written to Attorney General Chris Koster, trying to beat him down on the subject of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). There never seems to be a shortage of bullies, whether in the schoolyard or the statehouse.

Emboldened by the ruling against the ACA by a Florida Judge, Roger Vinson, the Missouri triad ostensibly wants the weight of Koster’s office behind their efforts to push the state into a questionable and potentially expensive suit against the ACA. Their letter asks Koster about the status of the ACA in Missouri:

Is the act — now declared unconstitutional — lawful and enforceable in our state, or isn’t it?” the letter states. “Must state officials follow its unconstitutional dictates, or should we ignore them as we see the top officials of other states now doing?

Get that – “its unconstitutional dictates”? Isn’t that what you call a loaded question? They use such language because their real goal isn’t to tap Koster’s expertise, but to push him into a corner.

I’m sure Messrs. Tilley et al. are banking on keeping a considerable number of Missourians worked up about the distorted image of the ACA that the right wing has labored to create. From that perspective, pressuring Koster is a big-time win-win. If Koster caves, they get to strut around the Tea Parties with this particular scalp in their collective belts while bragging about how they had to force him onto the straight and narrow. If he stands firm, they have the same potent, if somewhat lighter, ACA weapon to use against him.

Nor has it escaped the attention of some observers of these maneuvers, that the Gang of Three would probably just love to have a pet attorney general of the same GOP species – perhaps someone like state Senator Jack Goodman, who is already playing for the team. Goodman has introduced SJR3, which would require “the Attorney General to seek appropriate relief against actions of the federal government when directed by the Governor, General Assembly, or a petition of the voters.” Nothing like trying to undermine the independence of the AG’s office to make it clear what a valuable role one might play as its occupant, eh?

Of course, it isn’t actually as if the Vinson ruling is a slam-dunk victory for those who want to savage the ACA; the law has been found to meet constitutional muster by two other judges, while many legal authorities consider the Vinson decision seriously flawed. And since Vinson did not issue a stay, it’s not a stretch to treat the ACA as the law of the land unless the Supreme Court rules otherwise when they take it up sometime down the line.

However, the Vinson ruling, coming as it does on the heels of last fall’s nullification victory for Proposition C, as well as recent resolutions passed in both the state House and the state Senate calling for Koster to get on the ACA litigation bandwagon, does put Koster between a rock and a hard place. Collectively, these events constitute a big GOP club now aimed squarely at Koster who also has to deal with a roused Democratic base trying to block his retreat.

We can only hope that Koster, who is actively bobbing and weaving to avoid the full impact of the blow, will put the welfare of Missourians first and act to preserve the very real benefits of the ACA. It is unfortunate that support for the ACA on the part of Koster, a putative Democrat, is not a forgone conclusion. Surely the well-being of the state is more important than political gamesmanship?