Editor's Column - June 2009

Our friend Charlie Smith foundtim-aug031ed Access Press 19 years ago this month. He started the paper as a very positive entrepreneurial adventure that has evolved in many directions and has involved thousands of people. There was a need in the disability community to have a resource for news outside mainstream news and Charlie filled that huge gap, and we’re glad he did. It’s great every year to celebrate the anniversary of this newspaper, but especially as we close out our second decade. At a time when many newspapers are closing their doors, it’s a special privilege to light this year’s birthday candle. I have tried, over my tenure as Charlie’s successor, with the encouragement and support of many staff and all of you in the community, to keep Access Press a strong resource of disability news for us, and a stronger resource for others to better understand the disability community. I hope our paper long continues to promote disability rights, spread news and give a voice to people with disabilities that is heard loudly throughout the world.

Governor Pawlenty has decided not to run for a third term. Personally, I think he made a good decision for Minnesota. Pawlenty said, “We are a government of laws and ideas, not personalities. Time marches on, and now it’s time to give someone else a chance.” Does that mean our governor is going to march on to other political roles, with his position here as the stepping stone? And in giving someone else a chance, isn’t our governor passing a legislative hot potato to the next governor of Minnesota? Many have said that the governor is stepping into a bigger political arena, maybe the presidential arena. If that’s true, good for him and I wish him good luck. He may not get too many votes from the disability community.

But who will be the next governor? It seems as though there are plenty of folks lining up for the governor’s job, Republicans, Democrats, Independence and other party candidates. Who would want to be the next governor is a real question. Whoever it is will ultimately have to fix the damage that has been created by the lack of new state revenue for years. The governor has created a big hole in social services—not singlehandedly; there are others who can shoulder some of the blame. But there are many functions and services of state government that will need to be repaired.
And there’s no question that the next legislative session, where the governor will be a lame duck essentially unaccountable to Minnesotans, will be a session of trying to find revenue to undo some of the cuts and revenue shortfalls of this last session.

On that last Sunday afternoon in May when the House and Senate did not override the governor’s veto of the health and human services bill, an eerie silence came over the capitol like I’ve never witnessed or felt there before. There were few more devastated than Rep. Tom Huntley (DFL), who has represented Duluth at the state capitol for 17 years. After nearly two decades of campaigning for health care reform as the chair of the Health and Human Services finance division, Huntley understands the potential devastating effects these cuts will cause.

More than 30,000 citizens are now enrolled in General Assistance Medical Care (GAMC), one of the line items whose funding the governor completely cut from the Health and Human Services bill. GAMC was a state-funded safety net that protected the most vulnerable Minnesotans. For more than 30 years, GAMC has protected Minnesotans living far beneath the poverty line. To be eligible for the program, you must have earnings of less than $7,800 per year. Many of the recipients suffer from mental illness and live on the streets. Many of them end up getting their medical care at the last minute in an emergency room, not doctor’s offices, when their need for care is acute, and expensive. We need not only to restore GAMC but to find long-term health-preserving and cost-savings solutions that get these Minnesotans into clinics before they’re in a medical crisis.

Lots of good work was done at the capitol this year. We can all be thankful for the work of advocates and activists, and many good legislators who serve on our behalf every day. As just one example, we are all very proud of our friend, Mai Thor who was recognized by the Secretary of State’s office for her outstanding work on voters’ rights. Thanks to Mai and to all disability community advocates for your outstanding work, and for using all the tools in your toolbox. Thanks especially for exercising your strong will and for refusing to accept ‘no, we can’t do that,’ as an acceptable answer.

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