That’s me in the top left picture (I’M GOING BALD?!), sitting down for a civil discussion with Representative Erik Paulsen. Later, I appeared in a tweet about his meetings with his constituents in a way that makes it look like I support him. In this picture, I’m telling him how his vote on health care was harmful to my family, and I’m telling him why I’ll be working hard for his opponent, Dean Phillips.
Let’s back up a bit. Our blog isn’t political in nature, but it is about Minnesota and this place we love. Please allow us this blip of vulnerability in hopes others will join us.
On Wednesday, August 23, I was on a mission to get fair tickets and a rotisserie chicken.
I walked into Cub Foods in Eden Prairie, and there was a guy sitting at a folding table. As I walked past, I saw the pop-up poster and recognized my Representative, Erik Paulsen. He was right there. In the flesh!
I kept walking because I was on a mission to get fair tickets. While in line, I tweeted the sighting. We live in a district where the only way you can get face-to-face time with our Rep is to randomly come across him out in the wild. Or, if you own a multi-billion-dollar medical device company.
I then called my wife, Becky.
She encouraged me to repeat what we had said in our first ever calls to a politician in the spring. “Go be awesome” she said. I got my fair tickets and headed back to the Representative.
I’m an awkward, non-confrontational person at the core of my being, every atom. The anxiety and nerves were streaming through me, and my hands were shaking.
There were two staffers nearby. The person in front of me started talking to the staffers, so I figured this was the line. Paulsen was sitting alone. As I waited patiently, the person in front of me left, never even speaking to Paulsen. I waited some more, and then the staffer noticed me standing one foot away to her right and facing her (for some reason my big, 6-foot-2-inch frame one foot away was invisible to her) and said to go ahead. By then, another woman had walked past the Representative, paused, turned around and came back to chat.
I listened to the woman as four more people lined up behind me. The woman told Paulsen about her health problems and how the ACA made it so her employer would have to provide health benefits she desperately needed. “I’ve had one heart attack without insurance, I’d rather not do that again,” she said. She also pointed out that any time she hears “tax cuts” she thinks “money for rich people.” He said that’s not how that works, but she replied it was how it seems to work in her world.
Meanwhile, the staffer took my name and address because, “Paulsen likes to write thank you letters.” She looked like a recent college grad intern type person. Perhaps too young to understand how amazingly crappy our health system was before the ACA.
The guy behind me in line started talking to the staffer: “I suppose by the time I get up there, he’ll have to leave.” She shrugged. He continued to press her on the lack of availability of our Representative to hear his constituents and how they never announce these things. She said they send out emails about them. He said “I’m on every list you have, and I don’t hear about anything.” I wanted to high-five him.
One of the four people behind me gave up and left.
The woman talking to Paulsen got up and began to head out. I patted her on the back in solidarity and said thank you.
For the following, I’m not going to use direct quotes because I didn’t record this or take notes, so I want to be careful about overstating anything. I will paraphrase to the best of my ability what I heard. For my section, I was so nervous that I will italicize the things I was thinking but not saying.
I sat across from Rep. Paulsen. I started to talk, but he wanted to know my name first. I said it, then began to tell him about my in-laws.
My mother-in-law got sick several years ago, Christmas of 2014. Really sick. To the point she required two months in the hospital then another 13 in a nursing home until she was well enough to return home. My father-in-law drove 105 miles one way to see her at the nursing home four days a week that entire time. He was also wrapping up his 40 years in ministry, not the most lucrative of careers. Without the Medicaid expansion as well as other Obamacare provisions, they would have been financially slaughtered just as they were reaching retirement after a career of serving the needs of others.
I told Paulsen how much his voting to get rid of these provisions was abhorrent to me and put my loved ones and many others in jeopardy.
He said he didn’t do that.
I blinked. This was unexpected. Flat up saying he didn’t vote to make health care unattainable for 20+ million Americans, to remove $800 million in expanded Medicaid funding.
He said he wanted to ensure that programs like Medicaid went to those who truly needed it and not to those who were able bodied. This implied that many recipients of this assistance shouldn’t get it. I’m not sure what he meant by able-bodied, because there are lots of reasons I can think of that, even with an able body, people wouldn’t be able to support themselves. Down Syndrome and Autism for instance have been on my mind with friends, coworkers and a colleague of Becky’s all touched by these diagnoses. I used to work with teens at a group home that had various levels of ability. I still think of them years later and wonder what became of them when they aged out of the system.
What about kids with autism?
He said he agreed with provisions like pre-existing conditions and allowing kids to say on their parent’s insurance until they are 26. I asked why he voted against these provisions. He said he didn’t. I said he voted to repeal Obamacare, he said he didn’t. I asked how he figures he can vote to take away $800 million from Medicaid, he said he didn’t.
I had entered a bizzaro world where just saying something makes it true. I changed tactics.
I said if you agree that these provisions for pre-existing conditions and so on are good, then FIX it. Don’t repeal it. Just work to fix the problems.
You don’t need to demolish a house because you don’t like the wallpaper in a few rooms, after all. (Awesome zinger I thought later, but didn’t say at the time.)
He said he had also heard from ministers who have been unable to get health care because of Obamacare. I loved how he didn’t want to listen or empathize, just tell me there are other sides I’m totally sure exist for real and that the fact my in-laws were saved by Obamacare doesn’t mean anything because others were not. He saw my minister and raised me “many ministers.” The fact my mother-in-law slid over into the promised land of Medicare coverage in June doesn’t remove the terror we lived with (not just for our personal loved ones, but millions of others in the same position) throughout the spring when Congress thought ripping away Obamacare without an actual plan in place was an honest-to-God good idea. It still remains a threat our friends and coworkers with vulnerable children live with because we’re not out of the woods yet.
I continued, I’ve never been much of a political person. I’ve donated maybe 30 bucks to politicians in my 39 years of life. I’ve never volunteered for one. But because of this health care vote, I’m going to be investing as much money as possible, volunteering and working this year for your opponent.
I don’t remember what he said, if anything, to that. But it’s true. I’ve never even been to a caucus except to report on one many years ago for the newspaper I worked for. I may be in marketing now, but the thought of cold calling anyone or talking to strangers about politics makes my skin crawl. However, doing nothing makes my soul crawl.
Knowing three more people were waiting, I said I didn’t want to take up any more time so he could talk to them. I got up and went out to my car.
I got to my car, no chicken in hand. I turned around to go back in when I saw two of the three people who were behind me in line coming outside.
“He already left?” I asked them.
“Yup,” said one.
“And you didn’t to talk to him?”
“Nope.” He shrugged, as if to say, What can you do with a representative that isn’t really interested in hearing from constituents. It was the saddest shrug I’ve ever seen.
The next day, I checked the Twitter feed. A lot of pics of Paulsen looking like he’s listening. But be assured, not everyone in political pictures meant to show “listening” are actually being heard.