Ronald Reagan got it right regarding government

04 Hands on ipadEvents surrounding our state’s current budget process, as of this writing, remind me of the truth in a statement by President Ronald Reagan: “The most terrifying words in the English language are, ‘I’m from the government, and I’m here to help.’”

In a column titled “People over politics: Local delegation advocates for Fayetteville and Cumberland County’s future,” Bill Bowman and Jeff Thompson addressed the status of North Carolina’s 2020-22 budget. The column appeared in the July 3, 2019, edition of the Up & Coming Weekly. The writers reviewed the benefits to Fayetteville and Cumberland County that are in the budget approved by the General Assembly but vetoed by Gov. Roy Cooper, D-N.C.

Those benefits were summarized as follows: “The 2020-22 budget presented by the North Carolina Legislature brings more than $132 million in projects that benefit diverse aspects of our community. In a rare show of unity, their vision and ‘people over politics’ leadership style has netted us big and long-lasting benefits, including projects that, once completed, will net Cumberland County $20-$40 million a year in additional revenues.”

Cooper primarily vetoed this budget because the General Assembly has not agreed to expand Medicaid in North Carolina. Some 37 states, including the District of Columbia, have adopted expansion. By the time this column is published, the General Assembly will likely have acted on overriding the veto.

No matter how that vote goes, I contend Medicaid expansion is another issue driven by what is popular with citizens, but not based on their exposure to and examination of the facts relative to the matter. As I have contended time and again, the vast majority of politicians specialize in playing to the emotions of people and withholding discussion of information that will allow for informed decision-making by citizens. This condition is exacerbated by far too many entities and personalities in media joining with politicians in this information-denying appeal to emotions.

Now to look at how this information-denying, while appealing to emotions, plays out in Cooper’s veto due to the Medicaid expansion factor. His basic argument is that Medicaid expansion will provide medical care to a large number of North Carolinians, produce jobs, help struggling small hospitals survive and that the federal government will pay 90% of the cost. That paints a very attractive picture. Extremely relevant is what comes to light when one delves into the facts.

First, unpack the 90% payment by the federal government. Republicans contend that there is the real possibility that this payment will not continue forever and that the state will have to, at some point, pay all or part of that 90%. My personal experience says this is an extremely reasonable concern. I joined the U.S. Navy in 1969. The promise made to me was that if I stayed to retirement, I would be provided health care for life. I never expected that health care to be free. However, it seemed reasonable to think that the health plan in force at the time of my retirement would remain basically the same for the rest of my life.

Starting at retirement in 1991, my health care plan had an annual deductible of $150, paid 80% of my outpatient medical expenses and all but a small amount for inpatient care. I carried a supplemental at $35 to $40 a month, with a minimal deductible, to cover what was not supported by TRICARE, the military health insurance program. With me having no means of objecting, the federal government, in 2001, changed the TRICARE plan so that when I reached age 65, I was automatically moved to TRICARE For Life.

Under this program, TRICARE became my secondary coverage and Medicare became the primary. That shifted me to paying, initially, $104 per month plus the $150 TRICARE deductible. That started seven years ago. Over those seven years, the monthly cost has gone from $104 to $135.50.

At the bottom line, the government, in my estimation, dramatically changed my health care plan from what had been very reasonably expected based on the initial arrangement. Simply put, I contend Republicans are on solid ground to be concerned that the federal government will do exactly the same kind of thing with regard to the 90%. The likelihood of this happening is compounded by this nation’s growing debt, while absolutely nothing is being done about slowing or reducing it. Even further, there is the total mismanagement of the Social Security program. Should anybody believe the 90% will go on without a major shifting of financial responsibility from the federal government?

Second, without a sufficient number of doctors, Medicaid expansion suffers or just does not work. Part of the reason I still live in Fayetteville is that I have extremely good doctors. I am afraid that if I move elsewhere, I might not be able to find equally capable doctors who will accept TRICARE For Life. I know firsthand that this program pays doctors pennies on the dollar of what they claim for treating patients. During one of my medical procedures, a friend who is an anesthesiologist oversaw my being put to sleep. TRICARE paid him about 25% of the amount he billed.

Further, my mother retired after teaching in the public schools of Georgia for more than 30 years. After her retirement, Georgia changed her health insurance from an arrangement that had served her well to a Medicare arrangement that I could never figure out, even after reading many pages of information. My wife and I moved my mother from Georgia to Fayetteville when her cancer made it impossible for her to live alone. In an attempt to find a capable doctor for her in Fayetteville, I asked a friend in the medical field who she would recommend.

I contacted the office of the doctor she recommended. The lady who answered the phone explained that the doctor was not accepting any new Medicare patients. My mother ended up seeing the physician’s assistant in that office. The PA was very capable. However, the PA realized my mother’s condition was such that she needed to be seen by the doctor and called him in. My mother only got to see the doctor because of the PA’s action. She died six weeks after coming to Fayetteville.

I had a similar experience finding a doctor for my father in Albany, Georgia. Several years before this search, I had found a very good doctor who saw my father for many years under Medicare. That doctor left the area and I needed to find another. I read reviews on doctors in the area and called the offices of the seven doctors with the best reviews. Not one of them was accepting new Medicare patients. The best I could find was a clinic that did not have a strong reputation.
I have talked about TRICARE and Medicare. The point is that it is difficult to find doctors who accept patients under these programs because they pay doctors so little. Medicaid has the same low payment problem, and participants experience difficulty finding doctors.

Another concern is that Medicaid, by state, makes substantial use of managed care plans. The following is from my internet search of “managed health care” and going to “What is a managed care organization example?” under “People also ask.”

“Managed care plans have arrangements with certain physicians, hospitals and health care providers to serve patients who are plan members at a contracted reduced rate. ... However, the choice of physicians, drugs and treatment are restricted.”

With that background, please read the article by Crystal Ayres titled “12 Advantages and Disadvantages of Managed Care” at I contend that the article, with pure reasoning, demonstrates that the disadvantages of managed care far outweigh the advantages. Managed care is becoming more and more present in Medicaid.

A column by Bill Bowman titled “Budget is not about Medicaid expansion: It is about politics” includes the following quote from Republican Rep. John Szoka as it appeared in his recent newsletter:

“Medicaid is a separate issue that is very complex and, in all honesty, has been a mess from the beginning. To put money into an already inefficient and broken program would be irresponsible in the least and an absolute travesty to the taxpayers of N.C., at its worst.”

Szoka is absolutely correct.

The push for Medicaid expansion is simply another case of politicians employing class warfare and appealing to the pervasive entitlement mentality resident in American society. Essential to this strategy is the element of information-denying. In the end, what looks and feels like a good deal proves to be far from it.

Medicaid expansion is a case where Ronald Reagan’s warning applies: “The most terrifying words in the English language are, ‘I’m from the government, and I’m here to help.’”

Looking in the mirror

03 1Ilhan omarFor every American who chanted “send her back” at last week’s Trump rally in Greenville, North Carolina, there are millions who were repulsed, saddened or both.

Count me among the latter group.

Various theories are floating around about why Trump supporters started those vile chants. Most suggest chanters were simply trying to show support for the president, not urging deportation of an American citizen serving as an elected member of the U.S. House of Representatives. Perhaps the chanters have never heard of simply clapping or cheering, or perhaps they do not understand our Constitution.

Video footage does not show Trump chanting, but he does stand quietly by while the audience chants behind him. No video shows him asking for the chants to stop. Various news outlets report some Republican officials, as well as Trump’s wife and daughter, have urged him to tone down the rhetoric, so we shall see how that goes.

The chanting was instructive, however. It reveals what his re-election campaign will be like for the next year-and-a-half. It will repeat his 2016 maiden voyage — filled with racist language, hateful rants against people he perceives as the “other,” impulsive and hurtful remarks. It will be aimed again at appealing to working-class whites, his core constituency, and designed to whip them into a voting frenzy.

The handwriting is on the wall for Trump and his party. They are not attracting women, minority or younger voters, so the idea is to turn out every Trump supporter they can corral and suppress the votes of those voters not attracted to Trump or not motivated enough to go vote against him.

Trump and his campaign strategists may be right. Racist and hateful language designed to bring his voters out may well work as it did in 2016. It is also true that every election is different — no one election can ever be duplicated, as thousands of incumbents tossed out of office every year can attest. Our American landscape is littered with losing candidates who were convinced the formula that elected them the first time would work every time.

03 2 President TrumpWhat happened in Greenville says a great deal about Donald Trump and how he perceives our nation, but it also says a great deal about the rest of us. North Carolina has long prided herself as being different from other Southern states — more caring about public education, more nurturing of business ventures, more welcoming of social diversity. Since the chants, many among us have comforted themselves by saying things like “this is not who we are” and “we are better than this.”

But, in fact, this is who some of us are. The Charlotte Observer editorial board put it like this. “… it is, of course, part of who we always have been in America. And in North Carolina. It’s who we were in Wilmington in 1898. … It’s who we were when we redlined blacks out of white neighborhoods decades ago. It’s who we were on a July night in Greenville, and it could be what’s coming to Charlotte next summer.”

At some point, Trump will no longer be president. It may be by 2021, or it may be in 2025 after a second term. Whenever he fades into history, Americans will have to come to terms with not only his sometimes shameful behavior but our own. Some of us have kept silent when we knew we should speak up. Some of us may have chanted. Some of us may have taken more overt actions.

All of us should remember the words attributed to philosopher Edmund Burke and made famous by John F. Kennedy. “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”

From top to bottom: Rep. Ilhan Omar, President Donald Trump. 

City Councilman Dan Culliton declines to run in next election

06cityoffayettevilleFellow Fayettevillians,

For those who know me, they know that I am first and foremost a husband and father who puts his family above all else. I have balanced my personal responsibilities in addition to my professional responsibilities, along with the civic responsibilities of holding the District 2 City Council seat, and I have no regrets.

However, I believe it’s important to listen. So, when (I was) discussing the upcoming election with my family and my daughter innocently asked, as only a 6-year-old can, “Dadda — if you don’t get elected, does that mean you’ll have more time to spend with me?” I had to listen to what that question was really saying.

I have always placed a demanding schedule on myself, but very recently, we had a physician at our practice relocate out of the state. Due to this, I had to take on even more professional responsibility to ensure continuity of care within our practice, which also employs a very dedicated and loyal staff. I have a responsibility to those people and their families as well as the patient base we care for. I have always been a man of my word and live up to my responsibilities to the best of my ability.

I am proud that I have been able to serve the people of District 2 and this city honorably and effectively. I have worked tirelessly to ensure that my constituents have had a strong voice on the council that could be heard out of the other nine I had the honor to sit amongst. I am but one vote of 10; however, I have tried to make sure that vote was the people’s vote and not my own.

During my representation, I, along with the rest of the council and city staff, have made great strides in moving our city forward. We have accomplished much in a short time and at a very critical juncture in our city’s growth. I look forward to continuing that service until the end of my term and will remain steadfast in ensuring other projects and initiatives I am involved with progress on schedule.

However, as I said in my last campaign, actions speak louder than words. And upon much reflection, I must take action for what my heart is telling me. Therefore, I will not be running for another term at this time, so that I may better balance my time with my family and my professional responsibilities. I am hopeful to be able to offer my time and dedication to our city in the future should that path open again, and I will continue to remain engaged in our local community organization.

It truly has been an honor to serve under such an overwhelmingly broad base of support that has come from all sides of the community. Fayetteville, we truly are one. And although there will always be those who wish to divide, do not let them. I have faith that my district will choose wisely in a replacement. I will work with that choice to ensure a smooth transition so that District 2 and our great city continue towards its immense potential that I believe has yet to be reached.

People over politics part II: No resolutions

02 1Rep Elmer Floyd In Raleigh, our elected scramble to gather the votes needed to override the governor’s veto of the budget. Much hangs in the balance for Fayetteville and Cumberland County as projects that would create thousands of jobs, enhance our community’s economic development and elevate our quality of life all hinge on the governor’s obsession with expanding Medicaid in North Carolina. Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper is engaged in partisan politics. He is trying to impress his fellow left-leaning political cronies by demonstrating he’s a team player willing to reject the state budget to bring North Carolina into the fold by implementing Medicaid expansion. And, with support from political opportunists like freshman Sen. Kirk deViere, D-District 19, Cooper has put Fayetteville/Cumberland County’s $132 million infusion into our community in jeopardy. 

It is obvious in this situation that self-serving politics are taking priority over the governed people. If the budget veto stands, there will be many losers throughout the state.

The good news is that our Cumberland County delegation has demonstrated a refreshing display of unity, cooperation and communication when it comes to the needs and priorities of the people in our county.

Republican Rep. John Szoka has been diligent in his efforts to elevate the status of Cumberland County and to support the projects that will have a long-term and meaningful effect on the entire community. But the real soldiers in this fight to bolster our community are Democratic Reps. Elmer Floyd and Billy Richardson.

Floyd and Richardson have taken a tremendous amount of heat from fellow Democrats who will only side with their party because that is the thing they are expected to do — regardless of logic or ethics. Win or lose this battle over the budget, we can see who the leaders with integrity and character are. Win or lose, the true leaders will wake up every morning knowing they tried to do the right thing for the residents of Fayetteville and Cumberland County.

Win or lose, F02 2Richardsonloyd and Richardson have earned the respect of their constituents, who will not soon forget these representatives’ fight to remain diligent in their desire to create a stronger, more vibrant, more competitive Cumberland County for residents and future generations.

We have responsible leadership with vision — leaders who are willing to place people over politics while assuring citizens of Fayetteville and Cumberland County that we will be taking our place alongside the larger and more prosperous cities in our state. It is this delegation that, along with a substantial number of residents, businesses and organizations, has worked for years to improve our community. For too long we have watched while other North Carolina communities received special favors and funding from our state legislature while ignoring the needs of Cumberland County, allowing us to slowly become a Tier 1 county.

Many of our former legislators worked hard to improve Cumberland County and Fayetteville. Their efforts laid the groundwork for this current delegation to garner support for these much-needed projects — projects that will impact this community’s quality of life for decades.

This 2020-2022 state budget, if the veto is overruled, would bring a whopping $132 million to our county in projects that will benefit the entire community. These projects could net Cumberland County $20-$40 million a year in additional revenues. Think of what that will mean to this community. This budget is a once-in-a-lifetime win-win for Fayetteville and Cumberland County.

A special thanks to Republican Rep. Szoka and Democratic Reps. Floyd, Richardson and Marvin Lucas and Democratic Sen. Ben Clark for leading this charge. Again, win or lose, these gentlemen have drawn a line in the sand.
02 3Szoka

·        $12 million for the North Carolina Civil War and Reconstruction History Center; $3 million in year two with anticipation of a total payout of $46 million in the years ahead

·        $8 million to fund Cape Fear Valley Medical Center’s physician residency program

·        $1.85 million for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Park

·        $1.5 million for Kingdom Community Development affordable housing construction

·        $900,000 for the North Carolina Military Business Center headquartered in Fayetteville, each year for two years

·        $750,000 for Airborne & Special Operations Museum’s renovation fund

·        $750,000 for the Cumberland County Veterans Healthcare Program

·        $16.2 million to Fayetteville State University

·        $20 million to Fayetteville Technical Community College

Opportunities like these don’t just happen. To make projects of this magnitude a reality for any community, it takes hard work, diligent legislative maneuvering and thousands of local residents, businesses and organizations spending time, energy and money. It takes forward-thinking an and understanding of the needs of our community by a dedicated group of hard-working, business-savvy political leaders who care more about their constituents than they do about themselves or their political futures.

This is why it is vitally important that we support and encourage our local delegation to stay the course and stand up for Fayetteville/Cumberland County by keeping people before politics. Encourage them to pursue the $132 million and reject Cooper’s veto.

For some Democrats, it will be a bold and challenging move. However, it will demonstrate to everyone in Fayetteville, Cumberland County and the rest of North Carolina that our leadership has the integrity, vision and talent needed to aggressively move our community forward by doing the right thing for the right reasons. No one said it would be easy, but that’s what real leadership is all about. The rewards will be many, and the consequences are few.

Again, a very special thank you to our hardworking local delegation: Clark, Szoka, Lucas, Floyd and Richardson. Keep up the good work.

Thank you for reading Up & Coming Weekly.

Photos, top to bottom: Rep. Elmer Floyd, Rep. Billy Richardson, and Rep. John Szoka 

Apologies for this half-baked Alaska column

05auroraMy apologies to the two or three of you who had the misfortune to read my recent column about our Alaska trip. That column was written under the influence of jet lag and the king of all sinus infections, which I obtained in the 49th state. Being cranky and ill, I was unfair to Alaska. Mea culpa Alaska, you are wonderful. My fourth-grade teacher, Ms. Delgrande, would have probably given me a B on that column. Her daughter Susan Delgrande, out of kindness, gave me an A. Let us look back in gratitude to the great state of Alaska.

We flew out of RDU. The lengthy line for TSA review resembles Walt Disney World’s queue for Space Mountain. The TSA has added something new, a starter’s line for fliers to stand behind until their row is called. You walk down a 30-foot strip as a drug-sniffing dog weaves in and out of the tourists. The lady next to me said, “I’m sure glad I left my brownies at home.”

After the usual soothing air travel experience, we arrived in Fairbanks in early afternoon. Our tour kept pushing something called the Alaskan Salmon Bake for only $99 for two. Being gullible, we went. A school bus picked up a flock of tourists at the hotel. We were hauled off like so much Soylent Green to the tourist shearing. Truth in advertising would demand it be called the Alaskan Tourist Bake. It was the Alaskan equivalent of Dillon S.C.’s South of the Border, or a Myrtle Beach all-you-can-stomach fried seafood buffet. All the salmon you could eat — along with a salad bar featuring brown lettuce. Wine and beer cost extra. The next day, after applying the rule that Tragedy + Time = Comedy, I realized the tourist food scam was funny.

There is a four-hour time difference between North Carolina and Alaska. Who knew there was a time zone beyond Pacific time? Alaska time, like the cheese, stands alone. The University of Alaska at Fairbanks has an excellent museum in which I slept through a highly educational movie about the aurora borealis. Fairbanks also has the first Moldovian restaurant I have ever seen featuring a specialty apparently called Placenta Primavera. Yum.

The rumors about Alaska being the land of the midnight sun are true. The sun does not disappear at night. It drops into a low crawl across the horizon moving from west to east and then starts back up into the sky in the morning. Watching the sun refuse to set was worth the price of admission. A side trip took us to a giant Alaskan Gold Dredge, which can scoop out entire mountains looking for gold. We got to pan for gold. We came up with $26 worth of gold, according to the proprietors. They did not offer to buy it back from us. However, the gift shop had necklaces for sale for $76 into which you could put your gold flakes to preserve your precious memories of your Klondike gold strike. They did give us a free cookie and coffee to go along with our gold. We took a picture next to the Alaskan pipeline to scare environmentalists.

The next overnight stop was near the mountain called Denali, which formerly was known as Mount McKinley. That is one large mountain. The restaurant there sold wine in a can. This allowed you to sit on the deck, drink canned wine and admire America’s tallest mountain while thinking profound thoughts. One thought was that there are very few fat tourists in Alaska. You have to be in reasonably good shape just to get there.

There is very little access to actual printed newspapers in Alaska. I read the same Wall Street Journal I brought from home for a week until I found a New York Times in Anchorage. You can get excellent shrimp and grits with a fried egg on top in Anchorage. Who knew low-country cooking would turn up in the north country? While we were in Anchorage, Trump got into a twitter war with Bette Midler, calling her a washed-up psycho. Kind of made me nostalgic for daily news.

Once on the cruise ship, I was pleased to learn they showed a different episode of “The Love Boat” TV show every day. There is nothing finer than a 1970’s TV show with faded stars from yesteryear finding love on the Love Boat. Captain Stubing, Dr. Bricker, Gopher, and Isaac the Bar Tender remain on board. I still can’t get the theme song out of my head: “Love, exciting and new/ Come aboard/ We’re expecting you/ Love, the sweetest reward/ Let it flow/ It flows back to you.”

Have you learned anything from this waste of your reading time? Probably not. However, I now strongly recommend going to Alaska. Once the jet lag and the sinus cooties disappeared, I was able to appreciate the wonders that comprise the Last Frontier. One last note, Alaska delights in selling T-shirts and hats that compare the size of Alaska to Texas. Size matters. Alaska is 2.5 times bigger than Texas.

Alaskan people are among the friendliest and most self-sufficient folks I have ever met. If you can smile where it gets 60 degrees below zero in the winter, you are America’s finest.

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