BW: We need a comprehensive plan that provides full medical coverage for every American! Right now we have over 100 million Americans who are underinsured for health coverage, 44 million Americans who do not have health care coverage at any given time, and at least 20 million who do not have it permanently. I'm one of them. I don't have any health care coverage.
Almost two years ago I donated a kidney to my sister in law because it was the right thing to do. Now I'm considered to have a pre-existing condition and health care coverage costs more. I can't afford it. That's wrong on many levels, the most obvious being that we shouldn't punish people for being organ donors.
But health care is a crisis in a much larger sense and the Republican Party has no answers. Health care premiums for the average family in America increased by an average of 9.5 percent in 2005. That growth is more than three times the growth in the average American worker's earnings. People look at CD-6 and think everyone here is wealthy, and it's true that this is, per capita, one of the wealthiest Congressional districts in the entire country.
But the truth is that many people in this district are struggling in this economy. They have mortgages, and kids in college, and younger kids, and they have to pay for gas, and their heating bills are going through the roof. And on top of all that, the money they pay for health care keeps going up. Diane Swonk, chief economist for Mesirow Financial Corporation (http://www.mesirowfinancial.com), says "if you're rich, this is a great economy to be in, but other than that, it's not great."
I did not give ten years of my life to the Marine Corps and the Navy to build an America where the richest 3% of Americans have it great while the rest of us struggle as best we can. I believe we owe it to ourselves and our children to come up with a comprehensive, government—backed plan that provides health care for all Americans. The simple truth is that we are already paying for health care for uninsured Americans, but we are paying for it in emergency room visits, where it costs substantially more, rather than in preventive care, which costs substantially less! And on top of that, health care costs are making it more and more difficult for American companies to compete with their counterparts in other countries, who don't have to provide health care benefits. So it's an economic and national security issue as well.
But ultimately it's a human rights issue. Mr. Tancredo likes to cite "his deeply held conviction that abortion violates the sanctity of life." It's too bad that his "deeply held convictions" only apply to fetuses. He doesn't seem to care about how much those fetuses suffer and struggle once they become actual human beings. I do care and that's what makes me different from Tancredo.
And finally, beware of the "market based" proposals to be offered by Bush in his State of the Union address. Just as the primary purpose of his Social Security reforms, based on private accounts and market based reforms, was to put a lot of money in the pockets of New York investment firms that support him, so the primary purpose of these health care reforms will be to further enrich a subset of his supporters. Whenever you hear something is market based, look to see who is going to make the profit before you decide to support it!
ePMedia: You were part of Bill McCartney's football program when the University of Colorado Buffaloes went to the Orange Bowl in 1990. But recruiting violations, state audits, and the recent resignation and IRS investigation of coach Gary Barnett have cast a cloud over the team. As a CU graduate and a Douglas County high school football coach, what do you think about this scandal?
BW: Let's clarify first that I was not a player for Coach McCartney. I hoped to walk on and play football at CU, but at 6'3, 230 pounds, I had excellent speed for someone who weighs around 330 pounds! So I ended up working for the athletic department and the football team and it was a wonderful experience!
I think the problems we see in the CU football program are, at their root, the same problems we see at the State and National level in our government. No one is held accountable. Gary Barnett never once took responsibility for anything that went wrong involving his football program. By the same token, George Bush and Dick Cheney and Bill Owens and Tom Tancredo have never taken any responsibility for anything that has gone wrong in America or Colorado. George Bush should have stood up after Katrina and taken responsibility for the fiasco that cost so many lives and fired Mr. Brown on the spot. He should stand up today and take responsibility for the many failures in the Iraq War and fire Don Rumsfeld.
But you didn't see that at CU and you won't see it from the White House or the Governor's Mansion either. When I was in the Navy and the Marine Corps there was a concept of responsibility that I would love to see elsewhere in the world some day. In the military, the commanding officer of a unit, whether it be rifle company, an aircraft carrier, a fighter squadron, or any other size or type of unit, is ultimately responsible for every action of those under his command. If I, as a low ranking enlisted person, crash an airplane into a building and people are hurt or killed, the commanding officer is ultimately responsible, and generally, such a mishap will be the end of a commanding officer's career.
I used to think that was pretty harsh, but I don't think so anymore. An organization takes on the personality of its leader. At CU, that meant no one was responsible and players could—and did—do anything they wanted without repercussions. Under Bill McCartney that wasn't the case. Coach McCartney took responsibility for his players and enforced discipline. I've seen the same thing in coaching high school players. I've coached at many schools where the head coach decided discipline wasn't his responsibility and it showed. And that is why it was such a pleasure to coach under Jeff Ketron at Douglas County High School. Jeff takes ultimate responsibility for everything that happens in his program, and that's one reason why they won a state championship in Colorado this year.
My campaign will follow that leadership model. I will always take responsibility for anything that goes wrong in our campaign. I will never pass the buck or blame anyone else. And when things go well, I will always pass the credit on to others in the campaign. I believe that if Gary Barnett had taken this philosophy, he would still be the head coach at CU and we wouldn't have seen the endless list of incidents that caused those of us who love CU football to feel embarrassed in the last few years.
ePMedia: While Representative Tancredo cites his deeply held conviction that abortion violates the sanctity of life, your religious faith seems instead to lead you toward helping the poor and emphasizing what we have in common. Are you going to be able to avoid the kind of battle with Focus on the Family that Colorado Senator Ken Salazar is currently engaged in?
BW: Let me first of all clarify once again. I am not religious. I was at one time, and even contemplated entering the priesthood in the Episcopal Church. I've read the Bible and studied it extensively and I believe it contains great wisdom. I am not afraid to quote the Bible or any other religious text.
I am also not afraid of Focus on the Family. I am not looking for a fight with them, but I won't run from one either. I believe that Mr. Tancredo and Focus and many others use the abortion debate for political purposes. I do not believe they are sincere. I find it curious that people like Mr. Tancredo are so seemingly upset about fetuses, but don't appear to care at all about orphans, or about people dying in New Orleans, or about all the innocent people who have died in Iraq—or about the fact that we have executed innocent people on our death rows. If you "value the sanctity of life" then you must value it at all times, and not just for fetuses and when it is politically convenient.
I was an orphan, so the debate about abortion and adoption and orphans has special meaning to me!
But let's get one thing straight. Everyone is pro-life. No one is pro-abortion. I think everyone shares the same goal of seeing fewer abortions. At least I hope that's true. But the question is not who is pro-life. The question is who should decide! I don't believe the government should be in our bedrooms, our hospital rooms, or interfering when we are dying. These are all incredibly difficult and complex decisions and should be left to individuals. And just so we are clear on this, I support a woman's right to choose what happens to her body!
If Focus on the Family continues to try to force the Government into our bedrooms and homes and hospital rooms, and if Focus on the Family continues to try to destroy the separation of church and state, then I will engage in the same battle with them that Senator Salazar is currently fighting, and I will be proud to fight beside him.
ePMedia: When you were getting your law degree at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., you had a chance to debate Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. Who won?
BW: Well now that's an easy one——I did, of course!
In all seriousness, they were never formal debates and no one kept score. Justice Scalia is Catholic and apparently had a fond place in his heart for the University. He often came to campus to speak and would take questions. On several occasions I was able to engage him on legal and political issues. It was very stimulating and fun on an intellectual level.
But I don't agree with his philosophy as a Justice, and I don't think he is intellectually honest. His theory is that constitutional cases should be decided based on the "original intent" of the framers of the Constitution, and that we should only value what is actually written in the document itself. This position defies logic and reality.
To suggest that several hundred men gathered in Philadelphia in 1787 all had the same intent or all interpreted the words of the Constitution exactly the same is ridiculous. What I've noticed about Scalia and others like him is that they call it "judicial activism" when a case goes against them, and sound legal theory when it goes for them. Okay, so how to justify getting in the middle of how a State counts it's Presidential votes? Or how can it be okay to require lawyers to recuse themselves when they have a conflict of interest, while Justice Scalia can duck hunt with parties to cases and not be recused?
The bottom line is that I am not a fan of Justice Scalia and I believe his opinions are designed to help the powerful and the wealthy while undermining the poor and the middle class.
ePMedia: You taught high school science when you lived in North Carolina, and you cite improving schools and making better opportunities for children and families as one of your central issues. How can we make our schools better?
BW: Education is yet another area where conservatives are no longer conservatives. I hear them talk about smaller, less intrusive government, and then I see massively intrusive federal mandates like No Child Left Behind imposed in what has traditionally been one of the most sacred State's rights issues, education. Let me make this very clear—No Child Left Behind is a deeply flawed program that does not work, intrudes upon State and local control of education, and should be repealed!
CD-6 has three of the best school districts in America within its borders. These schools are excellent by every conceivable measure. But they can not measure up to the arbitrary and unrealistic standards of NCLB. If you can't achieve NCLB standards in the Douglas County schools, you can't do it anywhere. So I challenge conservatives like Bob Shaffer to end the hypocrisy, start being real conservatives again, and help repeal NCLB.
We also have the problem in Colorado of CSAP testing that is used as a bludgeon to intimidate schools and teachers into conformance with an arbitrary set of standards with no set of incentives as an alternative. It's all stick and no carrot. Additionally, Colorado spent 50 million dollars last year to administer the CSAP tests, and every cent of that money went to McGraw-Hill.
Why is it that every single Republican proposal for reforming anything always ends up making a huge profit for big corporations? Is it because Republican politicians always value profit for their corporate benefactors over the good of the American people? Well, I leave it to you to decide.
But I know this, that 50 million dollars that Colorado paid McGraw Hill to administer the CSAP tests could have made a huge difference in our schools. We could have used it to hire more teachers, and pay them higher salaries, and ensure that every school in Colorado is fully equipped. It's an undeniable fact that CSAP scores correlate directly with the socio-economic condition of the schools. Wealthier school districts have higher scores. One reason is because they spend more money per student in every school year. Imagine learning science in Douglas County High School, with the latest up to date equipment, and then imagine trying to learn it at North High School where you have no equipment. That's not fair, and we can do better!
I left a six figure salary at a large law firm in North Carolina to teach and coach at a high school there. My starting salary as a teacher was $32,000. My classes all had more than 30 kids in them. I had no equipment for teaching science. I had to deal with all the children's issues and problems. I worked 80 hours or more Every week! I've been in the Marine Corps and the Navy. I've been through law school. I've worked for John McCain on Capitol Hill. I've done a lot of things in my life and nothing—nothing—came even close to being as hard as teaching.
Ultimately I think if we really want the highest level of education, then we need to pay our teachers the way we pay our lawyers and entertainers. I believe if we really want to make education a priority, then we need more money to pay more teachers higher salaries. And for anyone who disputes that, I say go spend a year in a classroom yourself and then tell me I'm wrong. And I also would ask people why they are willing to pay someone more to entertain them than they are to pay the people who teach their children! There is no more important profession than teaching, because all other professions grow from teachers!
ePMedia: Bill Winter, thank you so much for answering questions from ePluribus Media.
ePluribus Media Contributors: Aaron Barlow, Cedwyn, JeninRI, Standingup and Cho
Photo Credits: Bill Winter for Congress