Monday, February 9, 2015


Guest Post: Ray Gonzales, Ph.D.  

Dr. Gonzales is retired from the California State University system, served in the United States Marine Corps (1957-59), was elected to the California State Assembly from Kern County in 1972, served in the first Jerry Brown administration, was a diplomat in the U.S. Foreign Service from 1980 to 1990, Director of Recruitment for the Peace Corps from 1993 to 1997, and is currently teaching as an adjunct in the Department of Political Science at CSU, Bakersfield. The article below was published in yesterday's Bakersfield Californian.


Saturday, Feb 07 2015 11:00 PM

Reagan supported health care coverage for all

As the day nears when all citizens have to sign up for health insurance or face a tax penalty, according to the Affordable Care Act, the criticism of Obamacare intensifies. The Republican-controlled U.S. House of Representatives needs no incentive to try for the umpteenth-time to repeal the major parts of the health care insurance law. They already failed with the Supreme Court, which ruled more than a year ago that the law, as enacted, was constitutional. But still, Speaker John Boehner and his minions, including our own Kevin McCarthy, who is majority leader of the GOP in the House, continue to oppose the health care law.
It seems appropriate for me now to tell a little story about how the darling of the GOP over the years, Ronald Reagan, was one of the first Republican leaders to see the value of health insurance for all citizens. When I was elected to the state Assembly in 1972, I had the help of a lot people, including many students who really got involved in my effort. One of these students was a young fellow named Tim Beckwith. Tim had been a student at Bakersfield College when I taught there, and he volunteered in my campaign. Tim is a quadriplegic, a victim at a very early age, which made it impossible for him to walk and fully use his arms; but he did the most that he could under the circumstances.
Tim was a brilliant fellow and a good writer, so when I went up to Sacramento, I took him with me and gave him a job as my press secretary. He could "hunt-and-peck" stories out on a typewriter in a flash -- and it was excellent work. It was Tim's first full-time job, and I made it clear to him that he would get no favoritism. He would have to arrive at work at 8 a.m. like all the other staff. He got an apartment across the street from the Capitol in a building that had been bought by the state to eventually be torn down to make room for a new office building on the site. Tim struggled, but he showed up at work on time every day.
One day, in a casual conversation with him, he told me he did not have any health insurance. I was shocked to hear this. I said, "Tim, how can this be? You're a state employee." He informed me that the state and all other public employers did not provide health insurance for their handicapped employees (the term we used back then.) I told him that wasn't right and that we were going to do something about it. They could just as easily get the flu or some other illness like everyone else.
We went to work. Tim contacted the leadership of organizations all over the state that served the needs of the blind, deaf/mute, paraplegics and quadriplegic and all others who were in a handicapped situation. I introduced a legislative bill to require employers to offer the same insurance to all employees regardless of their conditions. I was especially concerned that public sector employers, like the state and local governments, were not treating all of their employees equally. When I presented the bill before the Insurance Committee, the hearing room was full of handicapped citizens who had come to the Capitol to testify in support of the legislation.
But the story gets more interesting. A group of lobbyist for the insurance companies asked to meet with me to discuss the bill. I agreed. I had two rules for dealing with lobbyist:
One, they had to meet with me in my office. They did not have to fly me to Mazatlan or Lake Tahoe for the meeting, as they did with many other legislators.
Two, I would not meet with them on the day the bill was being heard in committee or on the floor. 
I recognized their right to lobby, as it is protected in the Constitution: "the right to seek redress of grievance" from your government. But they could not grab me in the lobby of the legislature, from where the term "lobby" derives.
On the appointed day, they came to my office for the meeting -- three fellows from the largest health insurance companies. I thought it would be a good idea to have Tim sit in on the meeting, so when he rolled in on his wheelchair, the lobbyists were a little nervous. This is what they had to say to me: "We will give Mr. Beckwith a health insurance policy if you drop your bill."
I was shocked but not surprised. My response basically ended the discussion. I said, "This is not about Tim Beckwith. It's about everybody in this state like Tim, who is not being treated fairly by their employers and the insurance companies."
Needless to say, with the overwhelming support of the disabled community and their supporters, the bill passed the Assembly and the Senate. And on July 21, 1974, it was signed into law by none other than Gov. Ronald Reagan. 
This is a fact that is not too well known and certainly should be an embarrassment to Boehner and McCarthy. They should drop their hypocritical position on the health care law, as not only did Reagan support health insurance coverage for all, so did the GOP's last presidential candidate, Mitt Romney, who passed a "Romneycare" law in Massachusetts when he was governor.
And Tim retired from state service after more than 35 exemplary years as a key employee who worked his way up the ladder to high-level management positions. I Facebook with him and his lovely wife, Donna, almost on a daily basis.
Ray Gonzales , Ph.D., a former Kern County assemblyman, is retired from the California State University system.

- Mark 

No comments: