This is an important legislative year for Minnesota voters. In addition to selecting candidates for state and federal offices, current activities at home and abroad are challenging many citizens to question the concept of “social contract.”
What is a social contract? How is it defined by the democratic principles reviewed, debated and outlined by the original framers of the Constitution of the U.S.A.? How and why did the Bill of Rights come into being? Equally important, what are the social rights and responsibilities of and between citizens and the branches of government?
Jean-Jacques Rousseau theorized, “The heart of the idea of the social contract may be stated simply: Each of us places his person and authority under the supreme direction of the general will, and the group receives each individual as an indivisible part of the whole…” http://en.wikipedia.org
Going further, John Locke “argued a government could only be legitimate if it received the consent of the governed and protected the natural rights of life, liberty, and estate. If such consent was not achieved, Locke argued in favour of a right of rebellion.” http://en.wikipedia.org
The contract is then renegotiated through methods such as elections and legislature. In the U.S.A. this process occurs throughout all levels of government—city charters, state constitutions, bills and legislature, federal bills, legislation and ultimately, the Constitution of the United States of America.
Upon signing the Constitution of the U.S.A. on July 4, 1776, the first three articles Congress (legislative), the presidency (executive) and the judiciary (judicial) defined the three branches of government www.constitutioncenter.org. These separate but interdependent branches of government were established to ensure a separation of powers and a system of checks and balances.
On March 4, 1789, the Bill of Rights was signed. The opening paragraph reads: “The Conventions of a number of States having, at the time of their adopting the Constitution, expressed a desire, in order to prevent misconstruction or abuse of its powers, that further declaratory and restrictive clauses should be added: And as extending the ground of public confidence in the Government, will best insure the beneficent ends of its institution…”
Once ratified, the Bill of Rights which included Articles 1-12, became part of the Constitution. At this point in history, voters may find the original documents helpful in determining their dialogue with current office holders as well as candidates for the pending 2006 election.
President Bush’s proposed $2.77 trillion budget proposal includes cuts in domestic programs that impact individuals with disabilities and their families. As the population ages, the percentage of people with disabilities will also increase. With the continuing war in Iraq, there is also an increase in the number of soldiers with Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and other disabilities.
Perhaps the biggest challenge before the disability community is the commitment to active involvement in the electoral process. Beginning with the precinct caucuses on March 7, the process will continue through the November election. For each right and liberty secured through the Americans with Disabilities Act, there is an equal responsibility to exercise and protect the same. Consider Chuck Campbell’s article, “Voting Devices Tested” in the January 10, 2006 issue of Access Press.
By becoming involved in the legislative debates, issues, candidate selection process, and other election activities, individuals with disabilities create a presence. This presence is a declaration of being viable voters and citizens who are actively utilizing and exercising accessibility to the legislative and electoral process. Furthermore, these individuals are fulfilling the obligations and responsibilities of the social contract.
In the January 2006 State of the Union Address www.whitehouse.gov/stateoftheunion/2006, President Bush said, “Keeping America competitive requires affordable health care. Our government has a responsibility to provide healthcare for the poor and the elderly, and we are meeting that responsibility.”
In the 2007 budget, Bush proposes additional cuts from Medicare and Medicaid over the next 10 years. Proposed health care cuts include the elimination of all funding for traumatic brain injury, rural and community access to emergency devices, universal newborn hearing screening, and emergency management services for children, to name a few www.gpoaccess.gov/index.html, “07 Budget Appendix, Health Resources and Services Administration”.
In 2003, the Defense and Veterans’ Head Injury Program (DVHIP) reported 62% of 155 injured soldiers screened upon return from Iraq were found to have a brain injury — report available at www.biausa.org. Yet, as indicated in the previous paragraph, the 2007 budget calls for the elimination of all funding for traumatic brain injury.
Consider this quote from the January State of the Union Address: “Our nation is grateful to the fallen, which live in the memory of our country. We’re grateful to all who volunteer to wear our nation’s uniform — and as we honor our brave troops, let us never forget the sacrifices of America’s military families.”
Now consider a report published by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), www.cbpp.org. Veterans’ programs would be cut $10.3 billion over the next 5 years. By 2011, the cuts will reach 13%. The primary purpose of these programs is to provide veterans with medical care.
Another CBPP report states, “More than four-fifths of the Medicaid savings proposals in the Administration’s new budget would reduce federal Medicaid expenditures by shifting costs directly from the federal government to the states. These cost shifts are consistent with a broader theme in the new budget of squeezing grants in aid to states. If implemented, the Administra-tion’s Medicaid proposals would leave states the option of cutting back their Medicaid programs (by reducing eligibility, benefits, or provider payments), cutting back other state programs, or increasing taxes to make up for the loss of federal funds. In states that opt to cut back on their Medicaid programs, low-income families, individuals with disabilities, and seniors would be at risk.”
The budget also calls for the termination of some grants to state and local governments. They include: the Commodity Supplemental Food Program which provides nutritional food packages for low-income elderly individuals; the Preventative Care Block Grant which funds preventative health services for underserved populations; and the Community Services Block Grant which provides funding for social services and other types of assistance for low-income families and individuals who are elderly and/or with disabilities.
In 2007 there is a proposed 50% cut in Section 811 housing for low-income people with disabilities. There is also a 79% cut in community policing services. From 2007 – 2011, there is a 17% reduction in education, training, employment, and social services. There is also a 14% reduction in transportation.
In light of these and other issues, there are several questions to consider. Within the context of a social contract—democratic government, if you prefer—what are the social, financial and moral responsibilities of the individual, family, community and the local, state and federal levels of government? What services do you consider essential to the social contract?
Review these in light of policy statements issued by candidates. For example, the following issues are highlighted by candidates in the Minnesota gubernatorial election: quality affordable healthcare; transportation services; educational opportunities at levels K-12 and above; agricultural development; vocational and rehabilitation services; crime prevention and public safety programs; environmental protection; job opportunities and a sound economy; and sustainable energy sources.
These are only a few of the many areas likely to be impacted in the coming years. Several areas directly impact individuals with disabilities. As constituents, individuals with (and without) disabilities have the right – some may say the responsibility – to communicate concerns, questions and calls for action to respective government officials and 2006 office candidates.
By researching the issues, attending legislative, political party and special issue meetings, voters with disabilities can help determine the outcome of the 2006 election and the outcome of the 2007 budget proposal.
In Minnesota the state offices include: Governor and Lieutenant Governor; Secretary of State; Attorney General; State Auditor; 67 State Senators; and 134 State Representatives. Federal offices include one U.S. Senator and eight U.S. Representatives. Additional information on offices and candidates is available at www.congress.org and www.uselections.com
See below for a searchable database on the upcoming election issues and candidates.