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On public service, mental health challenges, and knowing when to STFU

By now, we who pay attention to Texas politics have all heard the story.

An elected official mysteriously disappears for weeks. Rumors abound. When the official re-surfaces, there are acknowledgements of terrible bouts with depression, attempts at treatment, and working to get better and return to the job.

And yet, nobody gets in the newspaper calling for that official’s resignation.

Wait – did you think I was talking about the situation surrounding Republican Dallas County District Attorney Susan Hawk?

Nope. I was talking about Democratic State Representative Garnet Coleman of Houston. Mr. Coleman suffered from his own debilitating condition, disappeared from view for a time, fought his way back, and has since for years been an absolutely essential voice in so many policy discussions that I’ve lost track. He is deeply-respected by members of both political parties.

I’m not spilling any state secrets here – he has been very open about his situation in his years-long efforts to advocate for progress on mental health issues.

By my memory, no high officials in the Texas Republican Party called for Representative Coleman to resign. Maybe they did and I just missed it. But if they had, and if he’d heeded those calls, the state of Texas would have missed out on Coleman’s hefty accomplishments, which include increasing access to health care for more than 600,000 children on Medicaid, securing an increase of more than $161 million dollars for at-risk child care services, and co-authoring the legislation that brought the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) to Texas. Those are just the top-lines to Coleman’s public service. You can read more about Mr. Coleman and his accomplishments here.

On the issue of Dallas County D.A. Hawk, however, immediately following her disappearance from public view, and subsequent disclosure that she’s in treatment for her own mental health issues, Dallas County Democratic Chairwoman Carol Donovan wasted no time in calling for Hawk’s resignation. It was a classless move, and Donovan should be ashamed of herself.

Donovan couched her statement in terms of being concerned for Hawk’s well-being:

In view of the facts that have just recently been revealed, Susan owes it to herself, not to mention her nearly 500 employees and the taxpayers, to resign and to concentrate on getting well.

Donovan might  be practicing psychiatry without a license. Alternatively, she might be committing political malpractice with her own acute political tone-deafness condition. And, incidentally, unless Donovan can point us to where she was quoted calling on Representative Coleman to resign when he was in the midst of his own difficulties, she’s also being hypocritical. In any event, she seems to have accomplished nothing other than to increase the already-existing stigma associated with mental health issues.

For all I know, Susan Hawk might be the worst District Attorney in the history of the office. But it will be the State Bar of Texas which rightfully determines whether she is fit for the practice of law, and it is for Ms. Hawk and the medical professionals of her choice to determine the best course for her treatment.

Meanwhile, please let this be a reminder to politicos that, sometimes, the very best thing to say is nothing, and the best way to react is with kindness, not shrill political hackery clumsily worded to mimic concern.

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Perry’s health care policy: “Screw you. No.”

The folks busy parsing every little detail of health care reform utterances in Texas are closely studying every single tree, while the forest burns down unnoticed.

A duly-elected United States Congress passed the health care reform bill. A duly-elected President of the United States signed it into law. A Constitutionally appointed United States Supreme Court has now said the measure is constitutional. Haven’t we all heard Governor Perry touting various parts of the Constitution as being his guiding light? Yeah, apparently that crap ain’t in this week’s talking points.

But now Perry says he’ll drag up on every aspect of health care reform he still has some measure of control over. Ignoring for a moment that it’s not Perry’s decision to make, but the state legislature’s, he says he won’t authorize the health exchange (leaving it to the Federal Government he claims to so detest – except, what happened to that “Texans can run Texas better” message?), and he won’t expand Medicaid to account for the countless Texans who will fall through the health care hole if he doesn’t.

I’m tempted to break with my fellow Democrats on Perry’s position on the exchange, but that’s mainly because a health care exchange Perry’s in charge of is liable to end up being a cluster-eff. I’m not sure the Feds will do much better, but they’d certainly do better than somebody who hates the program he’s implementing.

But on Medicaid expansion, it’s pure politics, driven by Perry’s irrational level of hatred of the President. If Texas fails to expand Medicaid, the taxes Texans already paid will go to another state’s health care needs. If Texas fails to expand Medicaid, hospitals will (correctly) scream bloody murder, since Perry will in effect be signing their financial death warrants. And if Texas fails to expand Medicaid, countless Texans will continue to not have affordable health care. To hear Perry talk, Medicaid expansion will bust the state budget. Could somebody please make the man settle down long enough to inform him that for the first few years of expansion, the Feds are paying for ALL of it, and after that, the Feds are paying 90 cents on the dollar of it?

Oh yeah, and remember the point of all this – people having access to health care, so that when they’re sick, they can get the care they need without either dying or going bankrupt? Somehow that’s been lost in the debate. It is, after all, about people. Non-corporation people, which is probably why Rick Perry forgot about ’em. And Texas is, after all, the state with the highest percentage of people without health insurance coverage in the nation. And a new study says the quality of the care people get is the worst in the nation.

So, just to review: Texans not only have the least health care, they also have the worst health care, and Governor Perry’s health care plan is to just say no. That might score him political points with the lunatic fringe overwhelming Republican primary elections these days, but it doesn’t do anything to keep people alive, keep people healthy, and keep those peoples’ families from going bankrupt because Uncle Bubba got a cyst.

But Rick Perry hasn’t mentioned much about keeping people alive and healthy, has he?

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Political reaction to the Supreme Court’s health care decision – buzz from the TV show

On this week’s special one-hour episode of YNN’s Capital Tonight, the show focused entirely on reaction to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision upholding the constitutionality of the Affordable Health Care Act.

Here’s part of the discussion between YNN’s Karina Kling, Republican strategist Ted Delisi, and me.

This week’s episode also features an extended interview with Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, as well as analysis from my longtime friend Sherri Greenberg of UT’s LBJ School, take-aways from the headlines from Harvey Kronberg, plus an interview with the New York Times’ Gail Collins. You can watch the entire show this Sunday at 11 am on YNN Austin, or watch it any time on the interwebz.

And as always, please feel welcome to leave a comment with your own thoughts!

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Republican health care fight a spectacular failure [updated]

After today’s Supreme Court decision affirming the Constitutionality of the Affordable Health Care Act, Republicans are the proud owners of every inch of obstructing affordable health care, from opposing the original legislation, to fighting it all the way to the Supreme Court. Every step of the way, they lost, and every American who could not previously afford quality health care should take note.

Here’s the extent to which they opposed your affordable health care:

The so-called “individual mandate” most in legal question was originally a Republican plan in the first place. In fact, the concept was so Republican that it was the mechanism then-Governor Mitt Romney utilized in Massachusetts. He called it the “personal responsibility mandate” in 2006, which is mighty good spin. Here’s a newly-uncovered video that proves it, despite his assurances to Republican primary voters all year that his plan is somehow magically different:

Perhaps over-simplified a bit, the individual mandate is essentially the funding mechanism for the benefits of the health care plan. Without the funding mechanism, health plan premiums would have gone up for everybody else, and fewer people would have health insurance. The Congressional Budget Office quantified it: they estimate that without the individual mandate, 16 million fewer Americans will have insurance, and the insurance premiums for the rest will quickly rise 15 percent.

That, my friends, is the net effect of what Republican partisans were trying to accomplish with their Supreme Court case: 16 million fewer Americans would have have health care insurance, and costs for everybody else would have been 15 percent higher. 

The lawsuit’s result this morning started in the first place when the Republican Attorneys General from 14 states (including Texas A.G. Greg Abbott), sued immediately after President Obama signed the act into law, in an attempt to overturn the law.

So to review: the Supreme Court concluded that health care reform is constitutional, including the individual mandate (although SCOTUS apparently characterized it as a tax). The Republicans will try to spin the hell out of the “tax” part, even though it’s only a tax for those Americans who fail to do what is required under Mitt Romney’s health care plan.

The individual mandate only exists because it was the mechanism Republicans said they liked, and the mechanism their own Presidential nominee said is essential. Then the Republicans immediately decided that their own plan was terrible, evil, and unconstitutional, because it happens to be signature legislation of a President they hate, and Republicans sued to have it overturned.

So remind me again – what aspect of affordable health care to Americans can Republicans take credit for? Zero. Less than zero. They even fought like hell against their own funding mechanism to ensure its failure. Fortunately, they have apparently failed.

Those 14 original Republican Attorneys General who sued to overturn the plan? They’ll spend the rest of the day complaining, and rename “Obamacare” to “the Obamacare Tax,” all without presenting a new idea of how they would have made health care affordable.

Because we know how they would have done it, because it was their idea in the first place – they would have created the same individual mandate that Obama signed into law, and which the Supreme Court ruled constitutional today.

Even to the extent that they would fight against their own ideas, they gambled away your health care for the sake of politics, and they lost.

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