Last week I was in D.C. along with 130 some other self-employed and small business owners (Democrats, Republicans and Independents) from across the country who support a strong public option.
As a recent cancer survivor, I was excited--and surprised--to hear that Republican Senators Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker agreed to a Tennessee breakfast meeting with myself and four other small business owners. Dr. Mary Stewart David from Dyersburg was one.
Dr. Stewart, an OB-GYN doctor may be forced to close her practice due to employee health care costs and recently lost a 40-year old uninsured cervical cancer patient who refused treatment so that her family wouldn't be financially ruined. She died last week.
A mill owner from McMinnville TN, Mark Jacobs' insurance premiums are so high he's been forced to cut his work force in half and may end up closing a 120 year-old family business.
The two of them were eager to share their realities with the Senators to explain that measures like tort reform and tax credits aren't enough to help average folks. After all, what's a tax credit to someone sick and unemployed?
The long table had two chairs at the head with enough space for the five of us to talk comfortably with the senators. A good sign. Although we suspected biscuits and gravy might be served at the southern breakfast, it turned out to be donuts and coffee. A minor disappointment.
Within the next 20 minutes, the five person meeting doubled, then tripled in numbers. Before the Senators arrived there were 12-15 additional people smiling and making small talk. Affable aids and assistants chatted about all things southern--including Mule day in Columbia Tennessee.
Around 9:20 AM the Senators arrived and began the howdy do's around the room. The five of us looked at each other wondering what to make of the production.
After making the rounds, the Senators addressed the group like royalty and thanked us for coming all this way for what turns out is a down-home Washington tradition they like to call "Tennessee Tuesday".
And then came the 6 little words that summed up our growing suspicion: "c'mon everybody let's take some photos". This wasn't a meeting, this was an "Okeedoke".
The Doctor never got to tell the Senators about her practice or her patient who died last week, nor did the man who may be forced to close his family business.
It seems southern hospitality has a down side.
Fortunately for the 58-72% of Americans who support health care reform with a strong public option, there is another Tennessee representative hard at work. He is the fiscally conservative, Blue Dog Democratic Congressman Jim Cooper who, when we met him at the Capitol, was in the middle of a session combing through the latest health care reform bill.
Taking time out to meet us in the hallway Rep. Cooper heard the stories of the doctor and the man who may have to close his business because of exorbitant health care costs.
Listening intently Rep. Cooper assured them he was committed to making health care reform a reality--including a public option.
With Cooper there were no shiny smiles, slaps on the back, donuts or biscuits and gravy, just some good old fashion respect and humility.
Cooper understands that the majority of Americans want robust reform and is keenly aware that 60% of his own district in TN wants a strong public option according to a recent Daily Kos/Research poll.
Before the vote on Thursday and Friday, Rep. Cooper's offices were flooded with calls in support of HR3962 and on Saturday, he cast his vote accordingly.
For those in D.C. threatening to filibuster, obstruct and vote along party lines against real change, you will be remembered and rewarded in the next election.
And when you wonder why you weren't re-elected, just remember you work for us. Okeedoke?
Molly Secours is a writer/filmmaker and cancer survivor in Nashville, TN.