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Democracy and health care is under attack in Utah
Over the past two years, Americans have sent elected officials one message that could not be clearer: we want more health care, not less. That message rung out in the halls of Congress and in town halls across the country in the outpouring of opposition to bills that would have repealed the Affordable Care Act.
It echoed in elections across the country in November, where Democrats made Republicans own up to their attempts to gut health care for millions and rode that message to 40 new seats and a takeover of the House of Representatives. Nowhere was the message clearer than in Idaho, Nebraska and Utah -three dark-red states where voters approved ballot measures in November to expand Medicaid, even though their elected state officials had repeatedly chosen not to.
On Monday, Utah Governor Gary Herbert signed a bill to overturn much of the voter-approved Medicaid expansion, cutting access to health care for 50,000 Utahns and undermining the most basic principles of representative democracy. Utahns didn't take this lying down. They overwhelmed their legislators with calls, knocked on doors, rallied and took direct actions to protect health care and their vote. At one point, faith leaders even blocked the doors to the House chamber. But the legislators voted for repeal nonetheless.
You might think adroit politicians would look at the results of the past two years and conclude they should respect the will of the voters and implement pro-health care policies. But in a state like Utah, where conservative forces hold overwhelming power in both the House and the Senate, they don't fear the voters; they feel perfectly comfortable paying overt fealty to their conservative ideology while making a mockery of the basic democratic principles upon which this country was built (democratic principles, it should be noted, that they fully embrace when it comes to their own election to office).
In a healthy democracy, the ultimate and obvious check on those in power should be an election. But in a state where the politicians do not believe there is a credible threat of being voted out of office, they can ignore the will of the people and pay no discernible price. They can act less like democratic statesmen and more like dictators who don't care what voters think because they don't have to.
This is just one more example of a disturbing trend in this country where the wishes of the majority are ignored or trampled and the minority view holds sway. We have been seeing this in health care for years, but we can see it also in issues like gun safety regulations, finance, climate change and so many others.
Like the many indignities we have been forced to endure in recent years, we are becoming numb to this insidious turn against democracy - the proverbial frogs in the pot. More and more we have simply gotten used to losing fights over issues on which there is broad agreement.
Here's hoping the brazen move by politicians in Utah will serve as a much-needed wake up call - that it will remind us just how important our democracy is and that we need to demand it and fight for it as if, like those 50,000 Utahns who have lost access to basic health care, our lives depend on it.
Jonathan Schleifer is executive director of The Fairness Project, a non-profit organization advancing economic fairness through ballot initiatives.