Last week I had the good fortune to spend some time with parents who reside in the fine state of Idaho. The occasion for my visit was their annual statewide parent conference. Hosted by the Idaho Parents Unlimited (IPUL), the conference has grown to the point that the hotel could not provide a meeting room of sufficient size to accommodate everyone who wanted to attend. The conference has become a real success. Parents of children with disabilities plan their fall calendars around it.
My first presentation at the conference was a review of the 104th Congress. I was on the agenda to immediately follow lunch in a large group session. To my dismay I was scheduled to follow Mike Crapo a member of the U. S. House of Representatives and precede Justin Dart (scheduled to appear at a reception later in the evening). It occurred to me that when the conference participants reflected on the strong and weak moments of the conference, the bearer of news from the 104th Congress might be viewed as a low point. However, I attended the lunch session anyway.
Now and again things happen in our lives that have no discernible cause and yet their timing provides them with tremendous impact upon us. The lunch session in Idaho was one of those events for me. In Rep. Mike Crapo I found my "everylegislator." Or at least my idealized version of "everylegislator." He opened his remarks by letting us know that historically, he really had never been aware of our issues. He went on to say that during the 104th Congress, however, he became acutely aware of them. In particular, he became aware of the issues swirling around the reauthorization of the IDEA.
Now, it's impressive enough to have a public policy maker, in a public forum, own up to his/her lack of knowledge about an issue and then to credit the efforts of advocates for making him/her aware and sympathetic. But what Rep. Crapo did next is very unique. He actually committed to working on the reauthorization of the IDEA and revisiting issues on which he felt agreement had truly not been achieved. He thought the Congress had done a good job with the IDEA but felt the next Congress could build on the work of the 104th and do better.
Reflecting on the Welfare Reform Legislation, Rep. Crapo also indicated that, at the time of passage, he had not been aware of the impact it had on children's SSI benefits. He committed to revisiting that issue.
All of this is to say that in Mike Crapo, we have a legislator that is willing to look hard at issues that impact the families of children with disabilities. I must admit that I am not familiar with Rep. Crapo's voting record on anything. I'm told he's very "conservative." But what I saw was a man just trying to do the right thing and admitting that he doesn't always know the ins and outs of our issues but that he's willing to learn.
So why am I rambling on about all of this? I ramble because the national election fast approaches. It is essential that just as we expect our elected officials to carry out their responsibilities, we must shoulder our own citizen responsibilities. We must be informed voters. Hence, in the FF of October 4th, we provided you with a petition that spoke to the fundamental principles of the reauthorization of the IDEA that we believe most parents of children and youth with disabilities support. We urged you to get as many individual and organizations to "sign on" to that petition as possible. We also urged you to ask your members of Congress to "sign on".
By the time you receive your next Friday Fax, the election will be only four days away. This can't wait until then. Let's take advantage of the time that we have left. Let's become informed about how supportive all candidates for public office are of the services and policies that will provide a good life for our children.
You probably noticed that I didn't mention the party to which Rep. Crapo belongs. I didn't mention it because it doesn't matter. What matters is his commitment to work on behalf of children and youth with disabilities. This is an important, historic election for our country. This is a critical election for the well being of our children. Get informed! Get involved! Then vote! Paraphrasing my colleague Justin Dart, vote as if your child's life depends on it ......... because it does!