Friday, June 02, 2006

An Educational Experience

By Lisa Johnson
Democratic Candidate for House District 51

I view my candidacy for the Utah State Legislature as a family project. One of the reasons I decided to make this run at this time is so that my children could get a first-hand look at how our government works and how we, as citizens, can make a difference in our communities.

Following this idea, I took my two older children (8 years old and 11 years old) to Capitol Hill last Wednesday to view the special legislative session. I found many opportunities to teach them about our government. The arrival of Mexican President Vicente Fox and the associated protests gave me my first opportunity of the day to discuss an important issue and how lawmakers are dealing with it. We talked about why people feel so strongly about immigration issues, and about what the US Senate and US House of Representative have proposed to rectify a problem. I wanted my children to hear many different points of view—conservative and progressive, extreme and moderate, and simple and complex. I have a very important reason for this approach. I’m not just trying to teach my children what I think; I’m also trying to teach them how to think. They need to know how to view an issue with all the complexities that are absent from the 10-second sound bites. They also need to know what makes an effective, responsible representative—someone who will look at all sides of an issue and make the decision that is best for the people of the state or the country.

This is a process that I have followed for a long time with my children. When I talk to them about an issue that is important to me, I try to explain at least two perspectives and why I support the side I support.

On Wednesday of this week, this system failed me.

As my children and I were headed home around dinner time, my 11-year-old son asked me why the Republican majority didn’t want to appropriate $2 million dollars to provide emergency dental coverage for Medicaid patients who were elderly, disabled, and blind. He had a pretty good understanding of the bill at this point, since we’d discussed the details and attended caucuses—those that were open to the public—before the session had convened. He had one simple question. What was so bad about providing these people with the emergency dental care that they needed?

It was a good question, and I had no answer for him.

I went through the “pro’s” again in my mind—all the reasons to pass this bill:
  • It’s $2M. A very small amount of money—in Republican Representative Mascaro’s words, “pocket change.”
  • The $2M in state funds would have automatically been matched by $4.8M in federal funds. That’s a pretty good deal.
  • No new funding was required. The necessary funds were sitting, unspent, in the Medicaid coffers. It only required legislative approval.
  • From a purely financial perspective, the state is much better off paying for a tooth extraction early on (and I would even argue for basic dental care to avoid the extraction in the first place) than paying for the emergency room bills when the dental problem and infection have led to serious health problems down the road.
  • We wouldn’t be doing something outrageous and unheard of with this legislation. We would be preventing some of the current coverage from lapsing. According to the Salt Lake Tribune, an estimated 45 states currently provide some kind of dental care to Medicaid recipients.
  • Finally, people are suffering needlessly. It’s just the right thing to do.

Then I turned to the “con’s”—all the reasons for voting against the bill (or preventing debate on the bill):
  • Ummm….
  • Well there’s… uh…
  • Hmmm…
  • Well, they’re kind of mad at the governor…..?

While I puzzled over the problem, my son came to his own conclusion: Maybe they just don’t like poor people. Boy. From the mouths of babes…

During the elapsed week I’ve read the accounts of the special session and the lack of action on the Medicaid bill. I’ve read all of the statements by majority leadership rationalizing their actions. Thus informed, I’m ready for the next time someone asks why the Medicaid bill didn’t deserve debate. I’ll give pretty much the same answer they gave:

Well, they’re kind of mad at the governor.

Lisa Johnson
Democratic Candidate
Utah House of Representatives
District 51

1 comment:

John marlor said...

This is one of the best posts yet. Teaching children about how government works, or doesn't, should be a requirement. No kidding ...out of the mouths of babes..If a child can figure it out that must make a lot of "adults" feel really lame and they should hang their head in shame that they couldn't figure it out. Looking forward posts from this candidate but it will be hard to beat this one. Good luck in the election and watch out for scare tactics!