Election 2002 – Minnesota’s Candidates for Senate Speak

Printed below, just as submitted, is each candidate’s response to this prompt:  “We’d like you to pretend you are giving […]

Printed below, just as submitted, is each candidate’s response to this prompt:  “We’d like you to pretend you are giving a speech to voters with disabilities metropolitan and outstate, advocate and Average Joe alike.  In your ‘speech,’ please tell these voters what you want them to know about your work on their behalf past, present, and future.”

Norm Coleman, Republican

First of all, thank you for the opportunity to address the issue of accessibility, which I’ve been involved with for nearly 30 years.  My passion for creating fairness for disabled Americans is rooted in my college days.  As a student working with the University of Iowa school administration, I helped write the plan to make classrooms and labs accessible for disabled students and faculty.

I continued my work on behalf of the disabled in the Human Rights office of the Minnesota Attorney General.  There, as a prosecutor, I fought discrimination on behalf of disabled Minnesotans.  Fairness is my guiding principle on the issue of accessibility.  As Mayor I worked closely with my Advisory Committee for People with Disabilities.  We vigorously pursued improvements in the city, for example, we provided complete access throughout St. Paul’s skyway system improving all access points.  I’ll take this same dedication and passion for creating a fair environment for disabled Americans to the United States Senate.  

Today, there are more than 54 million Americans with disabilities.  While the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), has done much to improve the lives of many Americans, significant barriers still exist to individuals with disabilities who try to fully participate in American society.

I have listened to the concerns raised by Minnesotans with disabilities.  I agree with them that they should have the same access to home ownership and rental opportunities as others.  I agree with them that they should be afforded the opportunity to share in the recreational activities that others enjoy.  I agree with them that they should have full access to parks and trails, with the security of knowing that the trails, rest facilities and visitor centers will be accessible.

This is why, I support the objectives of the President’s “New Freedom Initiative” to help individuals with disabilities by increasing access to assistive technologies, expanding educational opportunities, increasing the ability of individuals with disabilities to integrate into the work force, and promoting increased access in the community.

Some major areas of interest are:

Expanding Employment Opportunities by promoting financial incentives for companies that hire people with disabilities and by providing tax credits for small businesses that make their facilities ADA compliant and by expanding telecommuting options, to provide low-interest loans to help people with disabilities purchase equipment to telecommute from home.

Encouraging Homeownership for People With Disabilities by allowing disabled recipients of Section 8 vouchers to use up to a year’s worth of assistance in a lump-sum payment to finance the down payment on a home which could also include reforming federal rental assistance to give individual renters who qualify, the opportunity to purchase a home.

Promoting Public Sector/Private Sector Cooperation by helping ADA-exempt organizations that have limited resources, including private clubs and religiously affiliated service providers, make their facilities accessible to the disabled.

Promoting Accessibility to Public Recreation Facilities by providing technical assistance to help parks and community centers to comply with the ADA.

Improving Accessibility to Voting for Americans with Disabilities by working with Congress to eliminate all barriers to voting for Americans with disabilities.

Equally important, I want every Minnesotan with a disability to know that my door will always be open to address their concerns, to present their concerns before Congress.  While I’ve spent my adult life knocking down doors, fighting discrimination, and supporting accessibility in America, I can always learn more from those who deal with accessibility issues every day.  A Senator’s job is to listen to his constituents and present their interests before Congress.  That’s my pledge to you.

Ed McGaa, Green Party

Thank you for this opportunity to write you.  I do not intend to talk about various programs and how much money I would promise for each program that aids the handicapped because I would rather focus on the root cause of all the recent curtailments of many government subsidized programs.  It is problematic to see the current incumbent Senator rave on what bills he introduced or co-sponsored on behalf of the handicapped, only then to then to go onto promise yet more bills which will never pass.  This confusingly deflects the thoughts of the affected and attempts to diffuse responsibility.  It pains me to see this.

I am a Sioux Indian and we have that habit of pointing out the real reasons for problems, like why so many programs for the handicapped and related medical bills just are not getting passed, such as the recent drug bill that has been introduced yet still sits collecting dust.  This rich country could easily take care of its citizens especially the aged and the disabled.  I come from a people who have a prominent saying, Respect for The Earth, Respect for the Aged, Respect for your Offspring and Respect for Those in Need.  The latter would include a respect and concern for those who have been impaired in some degree.  We were a sharing and generous people and still keep those traits today.

I have a sister whom I talk to at least weekly.  This has been going on for decades and I see her often.  She was physically handicapped from age six and went from braces to crutches and now a motorized wheel chair.  I never think of her as handicapped and neither does her husband.  In her earlier days she used to walk out to their barn to gather eggs and a huge Brahma Bull used to stay in a snug winter stall in that barn as Brahma’s do not take Dakota cold as well as other.  He would see her coming on her crutches and would tromp out to greet her then turn and walk with her and her large farm dog to the barn.  It was a beautiful and touching sight.  Passerbys on the highway could not believe what they were seeing.  Brahmas are quite congenial, honestly, once you get to know them and treat them courteously.

When you are raised with a handicapped person , I think you have a bit more understanding.  I myself am hard of hearing from flying those big jets in combat for our country and am somewhat handicapped myself.  I saw many immediately handicapped young men in Vietnam and then later in the Service hospitals recuperating.  It was part of your life after you returned from combat.

I am glad to have a woman named Louise Bouta on my campaign team.  She is working with me to bring me up to speed on our current mental health system.  It saddens me to see humans treated like machines, over medicating and saying that we do not have the time nor the money to do anything otherwise.  A society that genuinely values all of its citizens must not function in this manner.  My culture teaches that we approach a problem with a wholistic mindset, taking into account all aspects of being, mental, physical, spiritual.  I would endeavor to promote programs for the disabled that treated the whole person as opposed to one fragment.

We now have 40 million Americans without health insurance and yet $40 million dollars a day goes over seas each day, primarily to Military Foreign Aid to Israel, Egypt, Turkey and Saudi Arabia, include Colombia as well.  We would have an enormous amount of funds to aid the many handicapped programs and even subsidize the Braille store in St Paul which is shutting down.  As a Senator, I would not cast one vote for Military Foreign Aid as a priority item over the needs of our American citizens.  I will not be a Carte Blanche Senator for any foreign government.  Never!  That is the one big promise and a much more effective one for your needs and which your nation owes to you.  My Sioux tribe took care of every one in their rich and generous past.  Their past is part of my values and I will think and act no differently.

Jim Moore, Independent Party

It is always difficult to address a group such as the readers of Access Press without coming across in a placating manner.  While those of us without disabilities are very sympathetic to the trials of the disabled, we can never truly comprehend what you face.  There is no substitute for experiencing life with a disability.  Those who have disabilities come across obstacles on a daily basis that most citizens take for granted such as access to public areas, access to adequate transportation, and most of all, medical assistance to make independent living easier.  Personally, I have seen how both non-profit groups as well as government programs have made day to day life significantly easier for my niece, my cousin and the daughter of my good friends.

I enter politics from the private sector where I served the last 14 years as a commercial banker for small and mid-sized businesses.  During this time, I witnessed strong opposition to public policy supporting the disabled, particularly ADA.  The good news is that solid public policy always proves its worth in the long run.  Those that once lamented construction mandates for compliance with ADA now embrace them (even the market values are higher for ADA compliant buildings), those that once feared stringent and costly work accommodations now recognize the quality workforce they tap into with relatively little effort.  While politicians claim it took courage to pass ADA, the simple fact is that t0ok visionary foresight and leadership.  As Minnesota’s next Senator, I intend to carry on this tradition.

I will work to ensure that the strides made with ADA are not cut back.

I will work to ensure that adequate transportation options are available to all citizens.

I will work to bring joint public/private sector solutions to affordable and accessible housing.

I will work to ensure that devices enabling more independent living for the disabled are adequately covered by government medical programs.

I entered this race to represent the vast majority of Minnesotans who do not have the time or money to organize in a manner that gets their voice heard in politics.  We have gone from a one voice, one vote democracy to a one dollar, one vote reality with public policy going to the highest bidder.  I want to end the leverage of moneyed special interests and bring creativity into our political process the moves society forward for all citizens.  The readers of Access Press can take comfort that as Minnesota’s next Senator, I will represent all Minnesotans with no special interest strings attached.

Paul Wellstone, Democrat (Incumbent)

I welcome this opportunity to address Minnesotans on the issues that face the disability community.  First, I join each of you in celebrating the 12th anniversary of the historic Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).  The ADA has helped create a society where curb cuts, ramps, lifts on buses, and other access designs are increasingly common.  We have come a long way in attaining equal rights and accessibility, but we still have a lot of work ahead of us.

Chief among the challenges for the disability community today is the shortage of affordable, accessible housing.  Whether it be housing subsidized by government or market rate housing, people are hard pressed to find wheelchair accessible housing for rent or for sale.  We need more housing that includes universal design requirements housing built with at least one accessible or easily made accessible entry and bathroom.  Together we have had some victories on housing, advocating for HUD buildings where people with disabilities have found an affordable home.

We must also continue to press for persons with disabilities to live in the least restrictive setting possible.  I know we can make huge strides in this area because of some of the successes I’ve seen.  I worked with David Sheets to help him stay in his own home after his home care provider tried to pressure him into accepting hospitalization because of the difficulty finding home care nurses to fill all the hours of care he needed each week.  Federal and state regulations are still biased in favor of nursing homes and institutional care providers over personal care attendant home services, which forces many people to live in nursing homes instead of at home, where it’s easier to obtain employment.

I am very pleased with the Medicare program’s recent action that provides reassurance to persons with disabilities living at home, that they can continue to receive home health care even if they leave their homes for special non-medical purposes.  In some past instances, home health agencies and Medicare payment contractors have terminated home health benefits after a beneficiary attended a special event such as a family reunion, graduation, or funeral, even though the beneficiary otherwise continued to qualify as eligible for Medicare’s homebound criteria, recent actions ensure that these Americans continue to receive life sustaining home health services even if they leave their homes to enjoy family and community activities.

Transportation is another important issue for the disability community.  Our transit options, whether light rail or bus, have to be designed keeping persons with disabilities in mind.  This isn’t just an urban and suburban issue either rural transportation also needs to be accessible so that people can break out of the isolation they sometimes experience.

Jobs are also a key issue.  The American’s with Disabilities Act (ADA) has recently been diluted in our courts.  It is still a struggle for many to gain access to reasonable accommodations in their work place.  There must be more public awareness of the ADA rules and regulations to gain accommodations for those with the most severe disabilities.

In addition, there are members of the population who must deal with the added challenge of mental illness or drug addiction.  In some ADA court cases, people with mental illnesses are treated differently, and are not afforded the same protections as those with other disabilities.  This is outrageously unfair.  We cannot minimize mental illness and drug addition when we provide benefits or when we interpret the ADA protections.

This understanding is reflected in the growing number of disability advocacy groups who are part of the 235 organizations supporting the Mental Health Equitable Treatment Act, which I coauthored with Sen. Domenici.

This bill requires that parity be provided in coverage for mental illnesses, equal to that of other medical illnesses in private health care plans.  We believe that this bill will pass this year.

In the future, I hope that the tremendous loss of Justin Dart, the “father of the ADA,” a leader for the disability community will only inspire us to carry on his work.  Justin would want us to redouble our efforts to ensure the rights of persons with disabilities, and as your United States Senator that’s exactly what I intend to do.

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