On finally talking to the Governor’s office

The Governors office called tonight. After 114 unanswered letters they finally called.

I talked with Don Johnson the Governor’s head of constituent affairs. We probably talked for about 45 minutes. He came across as a nice man whose job was to deliver bad news. He told me that the governor would not see me. He said they were aware of the problems that lack of Tenn Care expansion caused and their plan was to move forward on expansion. He said they already had the information they needed and they didnt see that talking to me would really change things. I had a lot to say to him.

1. I explained our story in depth and told him what lack of expansion had met for us. I was very explicit and very blunt. To his credit he listened. I told him all I wanted to do was to have the same conversation with the Governor I was having with him and that 15 or 20 minutes just didnt seem that much considering what we had lived with. I asked him to ask the governor to reconsider and talk with me. He told me that they knew a lot of people had suffered and suffered a lot.

2. I confronted him about what I had been told earlier in the week that it was against the governor’s policy to talk with constituents about tenn care expansion. He said it should have never been said like that. Their was no official policy like that. My impression was that while there is no policy there is a policy and that he really wished the staff had been more subtle than they were. Being told “we already have all the information we need and talking to you wont add anything” sounds a lot like “its against the governors policy to talk with constituents about tenn care expansion.”

3. I told him that many people were very suspicious of the governors intention. Saying something and doing something are not the same thing.

4. I told him that the perception was held by many that the governor avoided talking to anyone who he thought might be critical.

5. He told me that the Governors office was very aware of my letters and mine and Linda’s situation. He said that many many people had called or emailed or written specifically about us and asking the governor to expand tenn care. After so long waiting and wondering it was nice to hear we perhaps made a difference. Several times he made very supportive comments and I never felt like he was trying to hurry me.

6. I told him my state senator knew me and asked him to check with him about whether or not he thought I was worth talking to. I also asked him to check with one of his cabinet members I knew who could attest to my character.

7. I told him that if the governor had a real plan that helped real people I would support him at the top of my lungs. I also told him if the plan was hurtful I would be glad to oppose it at the same volume.

8. I thanked him again for calling and being so courteous. I asked him again to ask the governor to change his mind. My gut level feeling is that whether or not they call it a policy or not there is one and the governor will continue to say no.

9. I told him that Linda and I were coming anyway and we hoped we would have the chance for conversation. But we were coming.

I am grateful for Mr. Johnson calling. I am glad the governor seems to want to do something when a couple of months ago there seemed no chance at all. Something happened and I can only hope more happens to bring it all to a successful conclusion.

Mr. Johnson asked me to call him back if I had more to share and something tells me we will have more conversations.

A good conversation 114 letters into the process.

The 114th letter: I talked to a governor

Dear Governor Haslam:

This is my 114th letter to you.

I met Phil Bredesen today.  Only for a couple of minutes but what he had to say was noteworthy.  He was on his way inside the Baker Center at It to participate in a panel discussion with you.  He came in the front door.  I guess you came in the back.  I didn’t see you.

As the author of the destruction of Tenn Care and the ruining of countless lives he has always held a special bad place in my heart.  We asked him about Tenn Care expansion fully expecting him to come to your defense. He surprised us all.

He told us that he was strongly for Tenn Care expansion.  He said if he was governor he would have pressed ahead.  He felt like the chance to help so many people with the federal government picking up the tab was basically a no brainer.  I agreed.

I got for a couple of minutes to speak to a governor.  I wish it had been you.

Until tomorrow.

Yours truly,

Larry Drain

The 113th letter: A democracy is defined by the participation of its citizens– not their absence

Dear Governor Haslam:

This is my 113th letter to you.

I am still astonished by my phone call to your office yesterday.  To be told that it is the policy of the governor of a state not to talk with constituents about any issue is absolutely alarming.  It makes me wonder about the integrity of the whole process.  Any democracy it seems to me must be defined by the participation of its citizens and not their enforced absence.  I do not understand how you try to market yourself as the governor of people you won’t even talk to.  I don’t want to be managed.  I want to talk with, not be talked at.

You need the support of the people of Tennessee in what is ahead.  It is hard to have a conversation when no one is listening.

Until tomorrow.

Yours truly,

Larry Drain

The 112th letter: Is that really your policy? Astounding

Dear Governor Haslam:

This is my 112th letter to you.  Maybe the most troubled…..

I called your office this morning to try to set up an appointment on November 10 for Linda and I to discuss Tenn Care expansion with you.  I was blown away by the response.

I was told that as a matter of policy you will not talk to constituents about Tenn Care expansion.  Astounded does not even begin to describe my reaction.  How can the governor of any state refuse to see constituents on any issue?? Especially one as central and core as Tenn Care expansion.  You put a lie to everything you say you stand for.  How can you even pretend to be for people you wont even talk to??

Governor what do you have to hide?  What are you afraid people are going to say?  What are you afraid they are going to do??  You have truly amazed me far past what I thought you could.  This is leadership?? 

I will be returning to this topic again multiply times in the coming days.

Governor I am simply astonished.

Until tomorrow.

Yours truly,

Larry Drain

The 110th letter: questions for you

This is my 110th letter to you.

I have a lot of questions for you.  You don’t really seem to want to talk to me and the longer you don’t the more things I think of I would like to know.

1. Was there or is there a definable, concrete Tennessee plan? If someone asked for a copy does someone have one they could share?
2. How much influence does Darrin Gordon have not over Tenn Care operations, but Tenn Care policy?
3. What personal values guide your health care policy for Tennessee?
4. What are you going to do if the Tea Party says no to Tenn Care expansion?  What do you see as your options?
5. How do you plan to sell Tenn Care to the legislature?
6.  How do you think people in the coverage gap should deal with their lack of insurance?
7.  What are the positives of Tenn Care expansion in your eyes?  Why don’t you talk about them?
8.  Is health care a human right?
9. Do you think it is right for Tenn Care officials to complain about the federal web site when they can’t even get a state web site up?
10.  If a young child asked you why poor people don’t have insurance what would you tell them?
11. You are a big one for improving the economy in Tennessee.  Tenn Care expansion would bring 22000 jobs.  How do you justify turning your back on those jobs?
12. Why don’t you talk to people in the coverage gap?
13. You know that some people without insurance will die because of their lack of access to health care.  How do you personally deal with that?
14. What do you think about how Medicaid expansion has worked in adjoining state’s like Kentucky?
15. If you had the whole Tenn Care expansion thing to do again what would you do different?
16. Is the ACA here to stay?
17. Why haven’t you even acknowledged a single letter I have written you?
18. What stops you from talking to me?
19.  Will Tenn Care be expanded?  What does your gut tell you?

There are probably a thousand other questions.

Until tomorrow.

Yours truly,

Larry Drain

The 109th letter: people don’t die fast enough

Dear Governor Haslam:

This is my 109th letter to you.

A cynical friend wrote me:

“The Republicans think they somehow save money by not giving everyone health insurance.  All a they really do is pass the bills to someone else.  What the state doesn’t pay local communities must.  You see people without insurance have a bad habit of not dying quick enough to make a difference.”

Later he added:  “We suffer from a curious inability to realize that the refusal to pay for the cost of smaller problems almost always leaves you with the consequences of larger problems.”

Kind of “solve me now or suffer me later….”

Expand Tenn Care…..Don’t solve a problem by waiting to see if it becomes a bigger one.  I can tell you now.  Without action by you it will.  Act now.

Until tomorrow.

Yours truly,

Larry Drain

The 108 letter: You need to write a letter

Dear Governor Haslam:

This is my 108th letter to you.

You need to write a letter and send it to every newspaper in the state.  I think you need to write to every person in the coverage gap and explain to them what you are doing, what they can expect and what they can count on you to do.  It’s fair. We have waited a very long time.  It is time.  It is time for you to report to the people.  It is time for a public commitment about what you are going to make work.  Your resolutions are like everyone else’s– not much.  What are you committed to doing?

I know this is the last letter you are going to write so I wrote my own:

To all those in the coverage gap:

My name is Larry Drain and like you I live in the coverage gap.  We all have our own stories about what that means.  I want to thank you for your courage.  Tennessee is a better place to live because of what you add.  For many of you this is a life threatening situation.  For others it may become so.  We are ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances and you are in my prayers each and every night.  Do not give up.  No matter how much sense it might seem to make never give up.  You matter.  Your life matters. Your voice matters.

I wish I could explain all this but I can’t.  I don’t understand what philosophy, what set of political beliefs, what notion of responsibility says to over 160,000 of their neighbors you cost too much and your health, your life,  everything important to you is disposable.  I don’t understand the government that requires the sickness and death of its poorer citizens as part of what it means to govern.  I don’t. 

I don’t understand why I must go without healthcare because someone does not like or trust our president.  I don’t understand why someone would not want the federal taxes payed by Tennesseans to go to Tennessee and then have the gall to tell me they are protecting me.  I do not understand why some state officials refer to conversation about allowing over 160,000 of their fellow citizens access to health care as a waste of time.  How can the lives of 160,000 people be a waste of time??

I hope you speak..  I really hope you speak.  Do not ever accept the message you don’t matter or what happens to you doesn’t matter.  Talk to the governor.. Talk to your legislators..  Talk to your neighbors..Your church… Your friends..TO EVERYONE.  Tell them clearly, loudly, and over and over again:  WE ARE PEOPLE AND THIS IS WRONG.  The time for silence was over long ago. Speak.

I am told we may not win.  I can’t explain that either.  It is so hard that the people of Tennessee are okay with that.  But we can fight.  I know I will and I hope you will also.  Let them know we will not go easily.  Never let anyone believe this is the best they can do.

May you be blessed this day. May this be a good day and may you know that hope is real.

May tomorrow be the beginning of better days for all of us.

Yours truly,

Larry Drain

Governor. Until tomorrow.

Yours truly,

Larry Drain