The Grassroots Advocacy Partnership is all about the Utah County disability community. The GAP blog will be a focal point for Utah disability news and legislative action. In a time where Utah disability agency budgets are being cut and services being slashed, it's critical that all families living with disabilities share their voices!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Utah County Disabilities, in Salt Lake and Washington

One of the biggest key factors in political advocacy is to interact with the right people.  You’ve got to know who is supposed to represent you in the Government.  Then, you’ll know who to contact to get action.  If I, living in Eagle Mountain, Utah, were to contact a Senator from Illinois, to encourage him to vote for a certain bill, it would have an impact.  However, if I were to contact my own senators, and remind them that I am one that can vote them in or out of office, my communication will have much more impact.  

The same thing happens on the state and local government levels as well.  

There are two big differences between the state and the federal government, as it relates to having a disability in Utah.  One is that the state government is more likely to pass or defeat bills that will have a direct impact on the services you and your family receive.  Even if the federal government allocates funds for the disabled, or mandates programs for them, it’s usually the state that manages the funds or the programs.

The second big difference is that most people aren’t as aware of the state government.  Who is my state representative in the house?  Who is my state senator?  What districts am I in?  What’s the role of the Governor in all of this?  Who really decides where Utah Disability services are applied, and how money is spent?

We just finished an election.  In a previous post, there are links to help you to know what your districts are.  The first step in becoming more aware is to check the maps and find your district.  

Once you know which districts you live in, here is a list of the Senators and Representatives, both federal and state, which represent you (as of the current preliminary results of the 2010 election).

Please note that these results only include districts that include parts of Utah County, or governmental institutions that impact Utah County.  Those with an asterisk (*) represent changes over previous officeholders.

Federal Senate

Mike Lee (REP)*
Orrin Hatch (REP)

Federal House of representatives

District 2  Jim Matheson (DEM)
District 3  Jason Chaffetz (REP)

Utah State Governor

Gary R Herbert (REP)
Lt Governor Greg Bell (REP)

State Senate

District 13 - Mark Madsen (REP)
District 14 - John Valentine (REP)
District 15 - Margaret Dayton (REP)
District 16 - Curt Bramble (REP)
District 27 - David Hinkins (REP)

Here are some websites to help you follow what happens in the Utah State Senate:

State House

District 27 - John Dougall (REP)
District 56 - Kenneth W. Sumsion (REP)
District 57 - Craig A. Frank (REP)
District 58 - Stephen E.Sandstrom (REP)
District 59 - Val Peterson (REP)*
District 60 - Bradley Daw (REP)
District 61 - Keith Grover (REP)
District 62 - Cristopher N. Herrod (REP)
District 63 - Dean Sanpei (REP)
District 64 - Becky Lockhart (REP)
District 65 - Francis D. Gibson (REP)
District 66 - Michael T. Morley (REP)
District 67 - Patrick L. Painter (REP)

Here is the official website of the Utah State House of Representatives:

Over the course of the upcoming year, we’ll be talking more and more about how to influence these representatives to support your families, your beliefs, and the programs that help you live your lives.  Check back in often!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Utah County Election Resources

Are You Ready to Vote?

A lot of what the GAP does is in advocacy, and much of that revolves around politics and the legislature, especially at the state level.  So much of what happens in the daily life of a family dealing with disability or special medical needs is determined by the programs that can support that family.  And, of course, those programs are funded and set up by the government.  Most programs, even most of the ones mandated by the federal government, are managed by the state, so the state legislature is really critical to the life of the family.

In a few days, we’ve got elections coming up.  In blogging about this, it’s not my intention to tell people what to do or who to vote for.  Each American must vote his/her conscience.  In my mind, however, to vote without information is unconscionable.

To that end, I’ve compiled, in one spot, a list of resources intended to help the voter in Utah County find out what each candidate stands for, and choose their vote.  

What’s Your District?

First of all, it’s a good idea to know what congressional district you live in.  Utah County is divided into two Federal Congressional Districts, the 2nd and the 3rd.  In each district, citizens vote for Representatives in the House.  This is critical, because this is the house that originates all of the budgetary bills, and budget is going to be the area that most impacts the disability community.

Here’s a link to a site where you can find your Federal Congressional District.

The Utah senators are not divided into districts, and each must run a state-wide campaign.

As I mentioned, the state level is where much of the action happens, impacting daily life of the Utah disabled citizen.  Often, however, people don’t even know their state districts, or who their representative is.   Here’s a site where you can find your State Legislative Districts.

Who’s Running, and For What?

Once you know your districts, you can take a look at who’s running and find out more about them.  Here’s a link to a site that lists all of the candidates, in all parties, for all of the offices that impact Utah County.  In many cases, there’s a candidate website link listed there as well.  Click into that and check out their policies.  They might have contact forms or email links so that you can ask them questions about their stands on Utah Disability issues.

Where Do I Vote?

Once you’ve researched and decided who to vote for, you’ll need to know where your voting precinct is.  Don’t just assume that it’ll be the same place that it’s always been.  I’ve been surprised on some election days to find that the location has been moved.  Check before you go.  Here’s a site where you can find your precinct.  

A Final Note

Clearly, since GAP is all about Utah Disability Advocacy, we’re very interested in what the candidates have to say about disability issues.  We would hope that all of the families that have disability issues in Utah and Utah county would weigh that information very heavily in their own voting decisions.  We also realize, however, that there are a lot of other issues at stake in each election.  

Please, each voter should find out, first, who is running in his/her district, and, second, what that candidate stands for in all issues.  Then, he/she should choose who would best represent.

Here’s a site for more general Utah County Election Information, and you can also always just contact the Utah County Clerk’s office at (801) 851-8000

Truly, voting is the single most patriotic act an American can do. 

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Degree or the Experience?

Which is more valuable?

I read with real interest this article about the intellectually disabled attending college.  It seems that more and more colleges are opening their doors and their classes to students with challenges.  For a student in a wheelchair, the process seems pretty obvious, doesn’t it?  A vet who can’t walk, for example, still can have an active mind, and make a real contribution to society.

But what if it’s the mind that’s disabled?  What about those with intellectual disabilities?  What about those with Down Syndrome, or Autism?  Can they attend college as well? The federal government is ponying up some more aid money to see that they can.  And colleges are going after that money by providing programs for the disabled students.

I found it really interesting to read that some people are upset by this.  “It dilutes the value of a college degree!” say some, or “It’s a waste of taxpayer money!”  

My first immediate thought is that the degree is not the issue.  I often think that the real benefit of my own college experience was just that:  The experience.  I learned a lot about the world around me.  I was exposed to many new ideas.  I was forced to work with other students.  All of which better prepared me to enter the workforce as an effective participant.  Regardless of the degree earned in the end, this is a valuable process.  

So, if a disabled student doesn’t get a degree, was their time in college wasted?  Or what if their degree is a lesser one?  That student still comes out the end better prepared for work and life than they would have without it.  They could well get a better job, be more self-sufficient, and a better contributor to the society that funded that education.