So, I (Erin Erickson) had a meeting set with my group, Missoula Rises, and Sen. Daines, today to talk with his staffers on cabinet votes and the ACA. This has been set since last week. I sent him a list of our questions in order to facilitate real dialogue. All was good. We had about 50-60 people slated to attend. Then this morning the ground rules were changed: only 2-3 of us were allowed; no photos, no phone videos, no video equipment period. No recording. No answers to my previously submitted questions. They would only “hear” our concerns and pass them along to Sen. Daines in D.C.
But yeah, that is not ok. We are your constituents, our voices need to be heard. So that is just what we did. We were not silenced and our VOICES were HEARD. We had about 50 in attendance.
At noon, myself, Jeremy Reinicke and Stacy Kuiper Hunt met with Sen. Daines head Missoula Staffer, Bill Hillshey and assistant, Danielle Tribble. I introduced Missoula Rises and let him know we are 1,950+ strong. We are bi-partisan and we were there to have a substantive dialogue. I expressed our disappointment that they were unwilling to accommodate so many constituents that wanted their voices to be heard. I was disappointed that we felt the groundrules of the meeting were changed last minute. I encouraged them to work with us so that we can discuss the issues that are on minds. We requested his position on the following: Tillerson – he will vote yes; Jeff Sessions -he will vote yes; Betsy DeVos – he will vote yes; Tom Price – undecided. We began discussing the ACA – Mr. Hillshey recommended that we give him our written ideas/proposals for a replacement plan. I firmly reminded him that we are not health care professionals, nor do we have the resources provided to Daines on Capitol Hill; rather, I suggested that he provide us with Daines’ specified replacement plan and we would give him written feedback. That seems the most productive route. I also advised that we needed to get a date from him to meet either in person or video conference that will not be restricted to 2-3 people. We will continue to work with them on that front.
I invited them to come listen to our members speak on issues that will be impacted by Daines’ cabinet votes, but they declined to join us outside. We left after about 20-25 minutes and our entire group went outside. We stood out in the *freezing cold* right in front of his office, but our voices rang clear.
Abby Huseth, from Climate Smart Missoula spoke passionately about Tillerson’s ties to the oil industry and the devastating impacts that resulting climate change will have on our global community and Montana. She ended by telling Daines that he has a moral obligation to reject Tillerson as our global ambassador.
Jane Cowley, a local attorney who has worked in grant funded programs of the Violence Against Women Act, spoke expertly on Daines’ past assistance to women of domestic violence and questioned his decision to part from that and vote for Jeff Sessions as Attorney General, who have voted 3 x against that Act.
Errin Koehler wrote a beautiful letter that was read by Carolyn Buchta detailing the joy of being married to her best friend, but also the fear and discrimination that accompanies being a lesbian, both in Montana and around the world. She implored Sen Daines to not vote for Sessions who fails to support our LGBTQ communities.
Dr. Kathy Mann Bartlett, from UM spoke about the importance of federal legislation regarding providing education for students with disabilities. And how Betsy DeVos has no basic understanding of that when she intends to have the states regulate education for children with disabilities.
Staying of the topic of DeVos, Melanie Charlson, an 26 year public ed veteran and VP of MEA-MFT (yeah, she represents 18,000 people in the field of education in this state!!) gave a commanding talk about how utterly unqualified DeVos was to lead education in this country. And guess what, she did it through facts revealed in the hearings. (real facts, not alt-facts)
Finally regarding Tom Price as HHS (he wants to cut medicaid expansion) we hear a powerful, but quietly confident, story from Beth Gherlein (who had Baby Bea in tow) about the impact losing CHIP would have on her family. Beth and her husband are incredibly hard-working small business owners – they have built from the ground up, Tandem Bakery. They are in the process of realizing their dreams. And in order to do that, they must rely on CHIP for their daughter’s health insurance. It is critical to their daughter’s health and the economic survival of their family and business. Beth implored Sen. Daines to vote against Price who would be in favor of cutting those programs.
Finally, on this issue of medicaid expansion we heard from Rae Young Ellen, who was there to speak on behalf of her sister – who is a young woman in her 20s, a student at UM who was diagnosed with a severe chronic disease that impacts her everyday quality of life. We heard how she was relegated to her parents’ couch. But for the medicaid expansion in Montana, she would not be able to purchase her prescriptions or manage her disease. The thought of medicaid expansion being cut is terrifying for her as with that cut, her quality of life would diminish.
We had many other letters submitted that were then read and videoed at the Union Hall. People are probably still there sharing their experiences and stories: Elaine Trueblood Meeks, Tim Meeks, Emily Withnall, Lynmarie Lukas; Elizabeth Ries-Simpson, Molly Stockdale, I’m forgetting so many of you – so please tag yourself here.
This is US. This is our Missoula community. These are our stories, concerns and issues that need to be heard by our Members of Congress. We did have professional videographers there (TY so very much!) who will get these stories cut and packaged and they will go to Senator Daines. He will hear us. And with the media’s help, other people will hear us too. Let there be no doubt, that we are RISING STRONG and we will not stop advocating for ourselves and each other.