New ad emphasizes Tillis' work on autism despite bill's failure

Posted September 23, 2014
Updated September 24, 2014

This is a still image from an ad by Carolina Rising praising state House Speaker Thom Tillis' work on autism during the 2014 election.

— An independent spending group is on the air Tuesday with a new television commercial that praises state House Speaker Thom Tillis' work on autism legislation, despite the Republican's inability to win final passage of the bill. 

This is the third ad boosting Tillis in recent weeks from Carolina Rising, a nonprofit group that cannot coordinate its spending with candidates but can air campaign-style ads. Dallas Woodhouse, the group's president, said the group will spend $2 million to air two versions of the spot – a minute-long piece and a 30-second version – in all six of North Carolina's media markets over the next ten days. A 60-second version of the ad was posted on YouTube Tuesday morning. 

Tillis, a Republican, is running against U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan, a Democratic incumbent. 

In the ad, a young couple talks about having a son with autism and the struggle they encountered when insurance companies would not cover a specific kind of therapy for their child.

"Thom Tillis understood those challenges and was a huge advocate for us," says Kyle Robinson, the father in the ad. Robinson is director of basketball operations at ECU.

One thing that's not mentioned amid the images of a cute and happy child, soaring music and b-roll cribbed from Tillis' campaign website: The bill in question never passed.

Early on, Tillis made autism coverage a signature issue in his U.S. Senate campaign, wearing an Autism Speaks pin in some of his early campaign ads. In particular, he pushed a measure that would require insurance companies to cover certain behavioral therapies.

That measure cleared the state House 105-7 in 2013, but it never gained traction in the state Senate. House lawmakers tried to attach the measure to a broader regulatory reform measure in 2014, but senators rebuffed that effort as well. 

Senators said they feared that adding new coverage mandates would raise the cost of insurance for everyone.

Politically, the measure became a bargaining chip. It is not uncommon for leaders of either the state House or the state Senate to take a signature bill associated with top leaders of the other chamber "hostage" in order to win last-minute concessions. In this case, Tillis and other House leaders never had something senators wanted in exchange for the autism bill, so it simply withered on the legislative vine. 

Carolina Rising describes its mission as spreading a positive message about Republican efforts in the state, and he sees the autism bill as a good news story despite its ultimate failure.

"It's worth reminding people what Speaker Tillis was fighting for," he said.

Woodhouse said he believed lawmakers would return to session after the election and take up the autism bill then. Neither Gov. Pat McCrory nor top legislative leaders have said lawmakers would be returning before the end of the year.

"Samuel is sweet, bubbly. I never would have thought that he would be where he is right now," says the mother, Bobbie Robinson, in the commercial.

While parents certainly have every right to brag on their children, it's unclear what Tillis might have done legislatively to help this particular family. 

The Carolina Rising ad urges viewers to call and thank Tillis for his work on the issue.

UPDATE: After this post first ran, Tillis' campaign reached out to point out the State Health Plan now covers the same kind of autism-related illnesses that the Carolina Rising ad is speaking about. However, that change to the state health plan came about through an administrative action when the plan's board voted to included the coverage, not through legislative action. Jordan Shaw, a Tillis spokesman, argued that the health plan took action after Tillis raised the profile of the issue. "While he can’t take sole credit for SHP adding it, his efforts were very much a catalyst for that decision being made," Shaw said.


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  • Imma Annoid Sep 26, 2014
    user avatar

    Buying votes, at our expense.

  • Kathleen Newberg Sep 25, 2014
    user avatar

    I've noticed a lot of his recent ads have been aimed at his base. I guess the campaign is worried about losing votes to the Libertarian candidate.

  • bmac813 Sep 25, 2014

    View quoted thread

    Do you think Kay Hagan isn't lying. She talks about what She did for the VA. It was Proven a Lie, She didn't do anything.
    Just Like she Lies about Obama Care.

  • tracmister Sep 25, 2014

    If Tillis really pushed hard, it would have passed. This is a case of using someone for political credit. This isn't to say that others don't do the same thing, but this is really sinking to a new low even by his low standards.

  • Joel Kilgore Sep 24, 2014
    user avatar

    Just like Tillis. Taking credit for something that never happened. Much like where he claimed to go to college, yet didn't.

    Why are taxpayers paying a liar to "represent" us?

  • miseem Sep 24, 2014

    Jordan Shaw, a Tillis spokesman, argued that the health plan took action after Tillis raised the profile of the issue. "While he can’t take sole credit for SHP adding it, his efforts were very much a catalyst for that decision being made," Shaw said.

    Let's see a fact check on this statement, WRAL.

  • Atheistinafoxhole Sep 24, 2014

    What is flimsy? His party controls all 3 branches of the State government, and the with State Congress holding a veto proof majority - these are facts. He is Speaker of the State House of Representatives - fact. If Tillis cannot get a bill passed in this environment - how will he be able to do it as a junior US Senator?

    You suggest he shows leadership, but this displays exactly the inability of Tillis to lead on this issue due to his apparent lack of persuasiveness within his own party.

    While you may dislike the facts, they are not in dispute.

    The rest is typical misdirection, stick to the topic.

  • mikemtnbike Sep 24, 2014

    View quoted thread

    Trying to help expand treatment coverage for autism is always good, but I agree that this dichotomy is pretty ironic.

    Also, what kind of treatment? Is it simply expanding coverage for Applied Behavior Analysis(ABA), as in many other states? If so, I'd just like to point out two things: 1) ABA works for some people, but not everyone. It also, generally, stops after a child reaches a maximum age, so would not help people with autism who adolescents or older, and 2) ABA, while effective for some and evidence-based, is also a money-making powerhouse with (gasp!) a powerful lobby- like a pharma company. So, is Tillis doing this out of the stance of helping children only or are there ulterior motives influenced by lobbyists?

    Just asking...

  • Atheistinafoxhole Sep 24, 2014

    View quoted thread

    So you are saying exactly what I pointed out - Tillis was unable to successfully negotiate the intricacies of internecine GOP politics in order to win passage of this bill.

    Do you really think it will be EASIER to do in DC if he can't do it at the state level with a supermajority?

  • juliomercado Sep 24, 2014

    As is so often the case too many people are making blanket statements about things they really know nothing about. Tillis DID indeed work very hard this last legislative session to get the autism bill to pass. He was also behind legislation to regulate puppy mills and make them more humane. Both efforts were stifled in the NC Senate. If you want the cold hard truth, when Tillis appeared in the garden of the Executive Mansion with the governor and they essentially 'called out' the senate for stalling teacher pay raises, Senator Pro Tem Phil Berger decided to get 'even' by killing both proposals on the senate floor. Of course Tillis was doing the photo op with McCrory for political purposes but if you want to blame someone for killing the autism and puppy mill bills, do NOT blame Tillis. Senator Berger was playing hard ball because he felt pushed into a corner by Tillis and McCrory. If you ever decide to actually follow politics, its more violent than the NFL most days. Facts folks!