My Point of View: Why hasn’t senator shown up to help in Albert Lea?

Published 10:00 pm Monday, September 25, 2017

My Point of View by Jennifer Vogt-Erickson

Sen. Al Franken is usually consistent in defending the weak against the strong. He often doesn’t bat an eye at standing up against powerful corporations to protect both civil and consumer rights. Why hasn’t he stood up for Albert Lea against Mayo?

On net neutrality, Franken has led efforts to maintain a level playing field for small businesses and help them stay competitive. He has stood up to giant corporations like Comcast, Verizon and AT&T to protect average people from paid prioritization and to promote free speech. The Open Internet Order of 2015 is constantly under pressure, and Trump’s head of the Federal Communications Commission, Ajit Pai, is a foe of net neutrality. Pai is working to undermine net neutrality even though 80 percent of citizens support it. Sen. Franken is fighting to keep the 2015 rules from being eroded.

Jennifer Vogt-Erickson

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After the Equifax data breach this past summer that affected 143 million Americans, Sen. Franken took a stand with other Democrats against forced arbitration clauses in contracts which prevent consumers from leading class action lawsuits. The contracts force consumers into private arbitration, which restricts consumers’ ability to challenge outcomes as they can do in public courts. Equifax backed down from using the clauses in its credit monitoring product TrustedID, but Franken called on Equifax to drop use of the clauses altogether. He also supports a new rule from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to clamp down on the use of forced arbitration in the powerful financial services industry.

He has repeatedly rallied against health care legislation that unravels provisions in the Affordable Care Act protecting people with pre-existing medical conditions and expanding Medicaid coverage. Millions of Americans have been projected to lose health insurance under every major Republican plan so far. Repeal and replace has devolved into “reheat and re-serve,” and the latest iteration is the Graham-Cassidy proposal.

Recently, Franken took the step of coming out symbolically in favor of “Medicare for all” by signing onto Bernie Sanders’ proposed health care legislation. On Facebook, he said, “Like Paul Wellstone, I’ve always believed that health care is a right for all Americans — not a privilege — and that every person in our country deserves access to the care they need.”

This isn’t exactly going out on a limb since the idea of single-payer insurance is gaining popular support, and a tipping point may soon be reached. Many powerful interests are opposed, though, including large insurance companies with deep pockets for lobbying and campaign contributions.

Franken is willing to take on many giants, so why not Mayo? Franken has barely addressed Mayo’s ruthless closing of Albert Lea’s hospital. His only public statements have been a repetition of Mayo’s talking points — Mayo failed to communicate effectively and there are many challenges in rural health care. His words have actually reinforced Mayo and hurt Albert Lea. Franken has ignored the fact that Albert Lea is an exception to the trends, and he should be raising the alarm that rural cities of our size are suddenly vulnerable to health care piracy.

I expect more from a DFL senator. Franken has no problem talking the talk in more general terms. He tweeted a picture of himself at the state fair with the message, “Paul Wellstone said politics is about improving people’s lives. That’s why I do it, and that’s why I keep fighting for Minnesota families.” 

I also demand more from a member of the Senate Rural Health Committee. Two weeks ago Franken tweeted, “As a member of @HELPCmteDems & cho-chair of Senate Rural Health Caucus, I’ll continue working to improve health care competition and choice.”

Albert Lea is where the rubber hits the road on both of these statements. We’re not the first casualty of Mayo’s path of destruction, and we won’t be the last if our elected officials don’t take on Mayo’s monopoly. It’s both economically and socially the right thing to do to stand up for health care services remaining in rural communities, and Albert Lea has shown mettle in this challenge. Why hasn’t Al Franken shown up to help us? By all means, Sen. Franken, channel Paul Wellstone’s populism and bring his fighting spirit here.

Jennifer Vogt-Erickson is a member of the Freeborn County DFL Party.