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| Guest Columnist | Harry M. Covert | Hayden Duke | Jason Miller | Ken Kellar | Patricia A. Kelly | Edward Lulie III | Cindy A. Rose | Richard B. Weldon Jr. | Brooke Winn |


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September 10, 2007

A Political Manifesto - Part One

Richard B. Weldon Jr.

Who am I? This is a rhetorical question, but also an important exploration of philosophy, a political self-assessment in the face of aging, maturing, and awareness.

Some background is in order. I have been a registered Republican voter since my first election. Richard Nixon got my first presidential vote; I thought he was our nation's best choice for his broad world view and strong anti-crime stance. Well, one out of two ain't bad.

I worked for a Republican congressional campaign in Delaware as a high school student. His name was Tom Evans, and he was a legend in Delaware politics. I supported Pierre DuPont for governor, and had the pleasure to meet him when he visited with my Dad at our home.

My father was always active in the Republican Party, serving as the chairman of the county party for several years. He successfully organized the party and got a number of Republicans elected, even in districts with a higher percentage of Democrats.

My father is a die-hard GOP member. He worked hard for President Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan. He even ran for the New Castle County Council once, although the race didn't turn out the way we'd hoped. I did learn some valuable lessons about running a campaign, though.

He sometimes tires of Rush Limbaugh, Laura Ingram, and Michael Savage, even though he generally agrees with their take on things. Me, too.

As he's gotten older and wiser, I noticed his politics change even as he's gone through the aging process. We just celebrated his 75th birthday, and while he is still a rock-solid Republican, he has grown a little more flexible in his view of the world.

So have I, and maybe even more than Dad. When I first ran for the House of Delegates, I admit to a lack of understanding of the complexities of statewide policy. The needs of rural Frederick and Washington County are considerably different from the needs of inner city Baltimore.

State legislators take on two different personas; some decide that they were elected to represent only their legislative districts, and spend more time on ideological/partisan issues and less time trying to grasp the policy complexities of the whole state. Others feel that they have to be responsive to the needs of their districts, but also have a constitutional (and practical) responsibility to represent five million Maryland residents.

I fall into the latter category. It became readily apparent that I would have to find areas of policy compromise with other legislators if I was going to have success working for the people of District 3-B.

From earlier writings, you know that I was assigned to a committee dealing with healthcare issues. We vote on every issue, but based on the organizational structure, we focus most of our energies for the 90-day session on the topics our committees are assigned.

My first ideological struggle came over the question of embryonic stem cell research. I fought against the use of state funding for stem cell research for the first two years of my service in the legislature. Conservative Republicans and religious groups oppose the use of embryonic stem cells, arguing that if you accept the belief that life begins at conception, then killing an embryo by extracting the stem cells amounts to abortion.

I read every news article, religious pamphlet, and medical research article I could find on this subject. The debate is dizzying, as stem cell research has divided this nation's research and religious communities like no other issue.

If you want support to fight embryonic stem cells, you can easily fill several file boxes with scientific, ethical, and religious information to back your stance. The Catholic Church has made it a priority to stop this process, and has funded advanced adult stem cell research and study.

These reports cite cases of cures found using adult stem cells and questioning the value of continued embryonic research. Similarly, embryonic cell advocates have as much or more scientific evidence to support their claims that while there are short-term benefits derived from adult stem cells, the long term gains from the more adaptable embryonic cell research will far surpass anything discovered to date.

The accumulated data and evidence convinced me that while there undoubtedly are difficult medical ethics issues ahead, we needed to authorize research to continue using embryonic stem cells. I lost a number of supporters due to that decision. I still receive messages from former supporters and those with religious affiliation that prompt them to abandon their support due to that vote.

Next was the issue of access to healthcare. Health insurance costs are rising at alarming rates every year. Insurers are squeezing doctors into making the least expensive diagnosis, reducing payments for services rendered by caregivers, and at the same time raising the cost of insurance premiums on individuals and employers.

Conservatives advocate a purely market-based solution. Falling back on social economist Adam Smith and traditional fiscal policy arguments, conservatives believe that government should stay out of the business of healthcare, that profit motive is best way to stabilize the industry.

They're wrong. Government absolutely has a role to play managing this complex but essential service. No doubt a limited role is better than an expansive one, but a totally unregulated health insurance market is a recipe for disaster.

Think back to CareFirst (Maryland's Blue Cross/Blue Shield provider) and their attempts to transition from a non-profit to a for-profit provider in order to sell their corporation to a California-based for profit entity.

I looked at the other acquisitions undertaken by this company, and in every single case, once the sale was finalized, cost to consumers increased while benefits were reduced. A conservative who suggests this is good policy is a fool, a liar, or both.

I joined a number of liberal Democrats to fight that transition, and we succeeded.

One might wonder how wise it is for a Republican to make these policy-based alignments with the Democrats. I'll share some more examples of compromise and consequences next week.

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