2014 Second Place Writing Winner

News Story

Democrats are launching a plan to gather support for Obamacare and urging Medicaid expansion.

Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn) announced the new “offensive” strategy, which is aimed against states that haven’t expanded Medicaid. Democratic senators sent a letter detailing the benefits of Medicaid expansion to 18 governors who haven’t supported the move.

“It’s a straightforward request,” Murphy said during a Wednesday press conference. “Take another look at Medicaid expansion.”

Medicaid expansion has recently polled well among voters in some Republican states. In Kansas, Kentucky and Georgia an average of 54 percent of voters favored their state accepting federal funds to expand Medicaid, according to an April Poll conducted by Public Policy Polling and sponsored by MoveOn.org.

“The election has come, and this is a Democrat making his argument,” said Bob Laszewski, president of Health Policy and Strategy Associates. “It’s a sales pitch.”

Sen. Kay Hagan (D-NC), one of the 20 senators who signed the letter, is running for re-election.

Currently, 7.6 adults are ineligible for Medicaid because their states haven’t expanded coverage, according to an April study from the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Medicaid has been expanded in 27 states. The states targeted by the letter aren’t moving forward with expansion plans, according to the report.

“Republicans aren’t saying we shouldn’t have Medicaid,” Laszewski said. “They’re saying it’s pointless to expand something that’s unsustainable.”

In the letter, the senators give economic arguments for expanding Medicaid. They write that states could stimulate their economies by pouring federal dollars into hospitals if Medicaid is expanded. They also say that expanding Medicaid wouldn’t take a significant financial toll on the economy.

Murphy also discussed initiatives Democrats plan to take on selling the Affordable Care Act to the public. He said democrats need to start utilizing social media and appearing on cable talk show to discuss the benefits of the law.

“A stunning percent of the population doesn’t believe what they’ve been told,” Murphy said. “We just need to correct the record so people can adequately explore their options.”

And campaigning against the Affordable Care Act is no longer an option for Republicans up for re-election, Murphy said, citing improving medical care and a declining uninsured rate with the law.

But, most people say Obamacare hasn’t affected them, according to a May Gallup poll. Sixty-eight percent of Democrats said Obamacare hasn’t made a difference, while 41 percent of Republicans said the law has hurt them and their families.

“Democrats need to keep selling Obamacare, because it’s clearly not sold,” Laszewski said.

Back to top

Personality/Profile Article

Picking up a telephone, dialing a stranger’s phone number and mustering enough courage to ask for a campaign donation scared a young Chris Murphy away from politics.

In 2005, Murphy got his first taste of what he calls being a political “telemarketer.”

He put himself up against Nancy Johnson for a spot in the U.S. House of Representatives. Johnson wasn’t just the Republican incumbent for more than 20 years. She had millions of dollars to levy against a 31-year-old Murphy who grew up in the small town of Weathersfield Connecticut.

Murphy (D-Conn.) told his sad fundraising tale as a way to denounce money in politics during a conference at Yale University in May 2013. He’s been an outspoken critic of big campaign spending since he joined the Senate in 2013.

“At the starting line, I was $2.5 million in the hole and acknowledged I was going to have to spend 4 to 6 hours everyday asking for money,” he said during his presentation. “And I remember about two month in….just dreading it, just thinking to myself maybe I have made a horrible mistake. Is there someway I could turn this around and walk this back?”

Today, Murphy has come a long way from asking his Democratic neighbors of Connecticut for donations. His political action committee MURPH, which his also his nickname, has collected over $230,000, according to the Federal Election Commission. Before and during his race for Senate, he received about $10 million to become the Senate’s youngest member at 39 in 2013.

As he continues to bank more fundraising cash, Murphy is making a name for himself as the senator from Connecticut with dusty brown hair. He’s attacked the National Rifle Association after a gunman killed twenty children at Sandy Hook elementary school, supported Obamacare and traveled to the Ukraine to promote peace.

“The only place you can go from the Senate is national office. That would be somewhere distant, but it’s not improbable that a senator – who’s attracted favorable notice – would be on a short list for a national nomination somewhere in the distant future,” said Ronald Schurin, a political science professor at the University of Connecticut.

As a junior Senator, Murphy doesn’t make daily headlines in Washington, D.C. His youth is evident as he progresses through politics. On his Twitter page, amid tweets advocating for gun control, sits one about the death of a pet fish.

“RIP ‘Fishy,” Murphy tweeted on May 21.”But as I hear, 18 months is a pretty good run for a beta fish under the care of a 5 and 2 year old”. The 27-word eulogy received a handful of tweets and re-tweets.

Murphy runs his own Twitter account to relate with the public, he said.

“I think today people think of politicians as caricatures,” Murphy said. “They don’t understand that we are real people, who have real lives and have interests that aren’t unlike theirs.”

Throughout his campaigns for the House and Senate, Murphy emphasized family values. On his website and old campaign videos, he’s pictured with his wife Catherine and sons Owen and Rider. A photo of his sons is the background of his iPhone.

Despite the picture of a happy family, the prestige of the Senate seems to be unsettling for Murphy. After Murphy agreed to be profiled for the Hearst Journalism Awards National Championship, his office forbid eager competitors students from calling Murphy’s office, friends and family. Murphy acknowledged that there were a few “hiccups” to the journalism contestants during an interview.

He appears to be an average 40-year-old. And when press arises that Murphy is one of the “poorest” senators in Congress who’s still owes college loans it actually plays to his advantage, said Vincent Moscardelli, a political science professor at the University of Connecticut.

“That’s the way that it’s played up, to think that he’s in the position to empathize with the plight of the middle working class,” Moscardelli said.

He’s continually marketed himself as an average, middle class guy from Connecticut to relate and gain the support of voters, despite residing in one of the wealthiest states in the country, Moscardelli said.

After Murphy found out he successfully defeated billionaire businesswoman Linda McMahon and the $40 million campaign she waged against him for a seat in the Senate, money was on his mind.

“Tonight we proved that what matters most in life is the measure of your ideas, is the measure of your determination, is the measure of your friends, not the measure of your wallet,” Murphy said to a crowd of supports who chanted “Murph” and Obama’s campaign slogan, ‘Yes, We, Can.”

Moscardelli attributes Murphy’s victory to two main reasons: Connecticut continues to vote Democrat and Murphy was elected during the same year as Obama’s re-election, which gave voters more confidence in Democrats.

Since Murphy’s been in the Senate, his approval rating has remained from 50 to 53 percent, according to Quinnipiac University Poll. The latest poll on May 9 shows Murphy with a 51 percent rating. He’s most popular among women and young voters.

“It’s a decent approval rating for being in the Senate a year and a half,” said Douglas Schwartz, director of the Quinnipiac University Poll. “I think it has to do a lot of what people knew about him at the time of the campaign…. Democrats know he’s a Democrat. And Republicans know he’s a Democrat and strongly disapprove.”

As Murphy advances in the Senate, he said he hopes to be the best senator he can be. With no elections to worry about he’s grateful that he can, “focus on being a legislator.”

Making telephone calls from a small office in Connecticut doesn’t seem to be in his future. Now that he’s an incumbent senator, his fundraising continues to increase, especially among individuals. Murphy’s fundraising numbers from individuals associated with Yale jumped from $12,700 from 2009 to 2010 to nearly $85,000 from 2011 to 2012, according to an FEC filing. Murphy continues to participate in events for Yale since his talk on money and politics.

“He’s jumped in there aggressively and tried to win,” Moscardelli said. “He’s not going to campaign with one arm tied around his back. He’s not going to choose not to accept certain types of funds on principle.”

Back to top

Spot News

Lee Goold stood against the cold granite wall engraved with Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s speech that urged Congress to declare war after Pearl Harbor – an event that forced him to serve his country in the Army. A group of children clad in neon t-shirts and sunglasses shook Goold’s hand and thanked the World War II veteran for his service.

“It’s our day in the sun,” Goold, 86, of Milwaukee said, standing in one of the few spots of shade the National World War II Memorial offers on a humid June morning.

Moments later, a woman extended a small sunscreen bottle to Goold, who checked his arms to make sure he wasn’t getting burned. His gold watch glistened in the sun as his hand slightly quivered.

“We don’t want all our vets getting burned out here,” she said as she handed the bottle to Goold.

Staying healthy is important to Goold who spent his years after he returned from Europe raising a family and selling furniture.

Every few weeks, Goold travels to a local Milwaukee VA hospital to get his eyes examined and hearing aids adjusted. Having keen eyesight and the ability to hear made what he calls his last trip to Washington, D.C. worthwhile.

As Goold spent the day touring monuments, senators introduced a bill that’s aimed to protect the health of older veterans, like Goold, and a younger population that’s served in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Veterans Choice Act is intended to give veterans flexibility when choosing their medical care and ensure that the Department of Veterans Affairs is held accountable, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz) said during a press conference on June 3.

The bill comes on the heels of a scandal that’s plagued the VA. Officials from a Phoenix VA hospital are said to have have falsified patient waiting lists, which may have delayed treatment for about 1,700 patients. Eric Shinseki resigned as head of the VA last week.

“The American people are deeply angered and are demanding changes to fix this problem…” McCain said. “I don’t know of an issue more serious than this for the American people – as to how we treat those who have been willing to go out and serve and sacrifice on behalf of their nation.”

For the American Legion, the bill is a step in the right direction to fix a healthcare system that is paramount for the well-being of the country’s veteran population.

“It’s a system worth saving, said Edward Lilley, national field service representative for the American Legion. “Medical care is among the best for vets at VA centers.”

It’s beneficial for vets to seek care at VA hospitals because many medical centers conduct individualized research on specific military injuries, like post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injuries. Many doctors also specialize in treating war wounds and have a knack for relating to veterans, Lilley said.

Goold said he enjoys going to the VA. The staff is friendly, they know him and are familiar with his medical history. As the scandal began to unfold, Goold said he didn’t worry about how he was being treated. He was confident in his doctors. But he wasn’t confident in care vets from Iraq and Afghanistan will receive.

“There’s a lot more people coming home who are a lot worse off than I am,” he said. “They don’t have legs and arms.”

Fifty-seven percent of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans have sought care at a VA medical center for various problems, from treating mental illness to receiving general exams, said Lauren Augustine, legislative associate for the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.

VA medical services are available for veterans for five years after they leave the military. But if a vet has a certified disability resulting from a war, the veteran is entitled to be seen, she said.

The IAVA has urged the VA to make changes to ensure that veterans can receive the medical care they deserve as the scandal unfolded.

“We know that veterans actually report high satisfactory ratings,” Augustine said. “This is a crisis of trust and getting into the system.”

Saving on financial services is another benefit of VA centers.

Joe Diciara said his W.W. II veteran father often saves money when it comes to getting prescriptions filled at local VA medical centers in Massachusetts.

Diciara and his brothers attend all of their father Gerry’s medical appointments. As 90-year-old Gerry Diciara hobbled around the memorial with his cane, Diciara gave positive reviews of his family’s experiences with the VA.

“We just want what’s best for him,” Diciara, 62, of Burlington, Massachusetts said.

Making choices about how to care for an aging veteran can be a challenge for many families across the county. Lilley hopes more can be done to educate veterans about what they’re entitled to.

“With so many veterans, we don’t know what they’re eligible for,” Lilley said. “We don’t know what’s out there. We need to be educated about that.”

As Goold left the W.W. II memorial with a camera full of photos, he was certain he wouldn’t be back. As he walked through the granite archway of the busy memorial, a group of young Marines sat in the shade on benches, waiting to greet and thank other veterans who would spend the afternoon remembering their time in the service.

“The young ones,” Goold said. “They’re who we need to be worried about.”

Back to top