Wednesday, May 1, 2013

"I Need Something to Change Your Mind"

Shortly after voters approved a bond for our local school district in 2002, the school board announced a $13.8 million budget shortfall. District accountants had forgotten to factor in staff salaries for the new schools built in one of the fastest-growing districts in the state.

Around this time I ran into someone I know from church, a physical therapist who contracted with the school district. When the subject of the budget deficit came up, she shrugged. "At least we got a few things we'd really needed for a long time."

Uh-huh. But really? Why were we putting essentials on the credit card? If the district could afford to build schools, and there were more taxpayers moving into the area, why were we in this pickle? My own best, and probably woefully underinformed guess, is that the state's history of skimping on tax collection had finally caught up with itself. There was no evidence of criminal malfeasance on the part of the district accountant. He wasn't embezzling money, but he got fired for incompetence. Chalk it up to human error. SNAFU is another explanation. Mainly because I like to say SNAFU.

The community came through in a big way, as did the state, and the school district eventually climbed out of debt in 2007. Over the last ten years, voters also have voted in favor of two mill levies, something that had never happened in the district's history. People in this community had changed their minds. We got stuff we'd needed for a long time, and not even a budget crisis could stop that from happening. Maybe there's hope for other crises this country faces.

The week of April 15-19 was one of the saddest I can remember. The Boston Marathon bombings. The fertilizer plant explosion in Texas. The Senate's epic fail to do even one thing about gun violence, despite the public's overwhelming support for a variety of measures to address it. This last is the one that hurts the most, because 30,000 people die in gun violence every year in this country.

Twenty kids, six educators, and the shooter's mother dead doesn't change them. Not even one of their own getting shot in the head changes their mind about their position on gun violence.It's all NRA, all the time. SNAFU doesn't even begin to describe the whole sad, pathetic situation.

It brings to mind a Talking Heads song, "Mind," from the band's 1979 Album.

The salient line: "I need something to change your mind," because nothing so far has done it. Not time, money, drugs, religion, or science.

None of it has changed New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte's mind. She voted against instituting background checks and other gun control measures. Watch this exchange between Sen. Ayotte and Erica Lafferty, the daughter of slain Sandy Hook Elementary principal Dawn Hochstrung:

I'm not going to congratulate Sen Ayotte was doing her job to host Ms. Lafferty in her office. Ayotte's votes on the Senate gun control measures were obviously a slap in the face to Erica Lafferty and others who have been affected by gun violence. Sen. Ayotte brings up mental health, as have many other in public life, including NRA veep Wayne LaPierre, who has proposed a national registry for the mentally ill, but God forbid there should be a national registry for gun owners.

I believe they're as serious about addressing the crisis in mental health care as they are about addressing gun violence. Not a single Republican in the Congress voted for Obamacare, which includes provisons for mental health care reform. Congressional Republicans have voted unsuccessfully to void Obamacare more than 30 times in three years. Given their history of obstructionism on health care and so many other issues, reforming mental health care in this country would be a lot more difficult than passing laws that restrict who has access to guns.

Which leads me to the question--What will change their minds about gun violence? What has to happen that is worse than a Congresswoman with a life-changing gunshot wound or 20 dead first-graders? This question, to quote David Byrne, "comes directly from my heart to you."