by Bob Fitrakis
The Big Guy–the Mayor of Mayors–got a bit testy last week when people in wheelchairs finally called him on the carpet over at City Hall. Greg Lashutka’s claim that the Americans with Disabilities Act constitutes an evil “unfunded mandate” is ludicrous. In Lashutka’s analysis and rhetoric, any federal law requiring state or local action that isn’t paid for with federal funds is an unfunded mandate–even those that advance civil rights or protect the environment.
By the mayor’s logic, the Emancipation Proclamation issued by Abe Lincoln would be the mother of all unfunded mandates. Think of the cost to those god-fearin’, hard-workin’ slave owners. And what about the Civil Rights Act of 1964? How dare the federal government make state and local governments pay to take down those “Colored Only” signs? Maybe the mayor could lead his able-bodied supporters in chanting “End Curb-Cut Oppression Now!”
Lashutka did the right thing by appointing one of the megaphone-toting demonstrators to a city advisory board on disabilities. But this doesn’t solve the problem that the mayor’s politics presents. Lashutka’s endorsement of Newt Gingrich’s Contract with America directly threatens the freedom and independence of people with disabilities. The anti-Gingrich protest last week that drew some 400 people, primarily union members and the disabled, got to the crux of the issue. It isn’t about balancing the budget; it’s about values and power. The Gingrich and Lashutka call to return funding to the states would end the federal mandate that allows disabled people to choose whether or not they wish to live on their own or in a bureaucratic institution. In line with Lashutka and Gingrich’s “state’s rights” slogan, the Wisconsin state legislature is already cutting Medicaid funding that allows disabled people to live in their own homes and is forcing them into nursing homes. These homes, of course, will be “privatized” and run by wealthy donors who understand the evils of “unfunded mandates.”
While the Newtster and the Big Guy spout off about fiscal responsibility, the nursing homes owned by their backers will cost us significantly more tax dollars in the long run. Doubtful, are you? Businessweek pointed out last year that “The State’s-Rights-Minded House” under heavy lobbying from baby formula makers, eliminated a rule requiring competitive bidding when states buy infant formula for the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) nutritional program. In 1994, the federal government saved an estimated $1.1 billion through its federal mandate that required competitive bidding. Prior to this regulation, only half the states required competitive bidding. Yes, attack the federal government and bring back the good old days when taxpayers paid $2.10 a can for Enfamil instead of 20 cents.
On Voino-vouchers and homo-necro-zoophiliacs
The happy-face world of Governor George Voinovich and the Wolfe Family Newsletter editorial board envisions nice, clean, middle-class Christian parents of white kids using our tax dollars in the form of an educational voucher to be redeemed at their choice of a public or private school. Buffy and Jody will use the funds to attend the local Leroy Jenkins or Billy Wasmus Christian Academy. And their parents will happily go to the polls in 1998 and vote for Voinovich for Senate. The guv’s current experimental pilot project is based on this scenario. But what will happen when reality sets in? The largest private inner-city school programs will undoubtedly be run by Louis Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam. I’ll use my Ph.D. to set up my Anti-Plutocracy School in Columbus–that will include a mandatory year of analyzing the selfish motives of the Wolfe family. Get the picture?
For years, Protestant fundamentalists have claimed that they alone talk to God on his private phone line and God wants them to have their own schools. Unlike the Catholics who set up their own schools in line with the First Amendment–you remember, “Congress should make no law establishing a religion…” –far-right religious fanatics have convinced the guv to mingle church doctrines and state tax dollars.
Still, they shall reap what they sow. The situation in Salt Lake City last week illustrates the problem. Fundamentalists complained that Christian kids were being discriminated against in public schools so Congress passed the federal Equal Access Act that rightly requires that all extracurricular school clubs be treated equally. Fundamentalist Christian clubs and, lo and behold, gay and lesbian support groups, benefited. In our system, one that values fairness and equality, this was predictable even in Salt Lake City. Student groups flourished; that is, until the school board voted to ban all extracurricular clubs. Meanwhile, the Utah State Senate passed a bill prohibiting teachers from condoning “illegal conduct in schools,” a thinly veiled attempt to intimidate faculty from sponsoring gay clubs. Hundreds of students staged a walkout and demonstration in defense of the First Amendment and demanding the separation of church and state.
U.S. Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) wants a limited ban of “just sexually oriented clubs.” This would equally ban those who advocate sex with dead animals of the same gender, Ronald Reagan’s old “Just Say No to Sex” clubs and the evangelical right’s “True Love Waits” that promotes abstinence and chastity.
If our multi-cultural, heterogeneous society is to succeed, we must be bound by an abiding faith in the Bill of Rights and fundamental fairness to all groups. And those like Pat Robertson, who demand that teachers have the freedom to keep the Bible on their desks, must also concede the right for them to keep a book promoting Satan on their desks. That’s why we separate church and state.