Remember the Ten Commandments? “Well this one is really important,” so said my late friend, Eppie Gonzales, as he taught religion classes at the Guadalupe Church on the west side of Salt Lake. I can’t remember which one he meant, but what sticks in my soul as really important is what Sister Sophia (my first grade catechism teacher), my parentsf and caring neighbors taught me — charity and loving my neighbor as myself.
Born and raised in Salt Lake, I grew up assuming everyone was guided by religious principles, and for the main part I have been right, except lately. And it pains me to see the common values that once bound us together are now eroding, especially in our political leadership. I wanted to believe that many of today’s lawmakers learned the same values; however, I now see their lawmaking is often disconnected from the values they espouse — charity and caring for one’s neighbors, as Eppie would say, “the really important one.”
For the past decade, I have seen some of our policy makers appear to lose their moral sense — our caring for each other, and the love-thy-neighbor thing. Now, we see lawmakers more concerned about material things, instead of how we live and care for each other. They say one thing and do another, especially when it comes to the health and welfare of our people. They take great pride in the growth of our economy and how they are able to subsidize building hotels and attract business to our state. They tout our healthy and growing economy, our natural resources and their beauty, but what about the health and well-being of our people?
The lawmakers want to make political points by lambasting federal money and big government then work hard to get federal money. For politicians that say they don’t want federal money, it’s ironic that almost one-half of our state’s budget comes from federal money: $6 billion of the state’s $13 billion budget.
The most discouraging thing, for the past two years, is to see how our lawmakers, without any qualms, have fought hard to refuse taking federal money to promote the health of more than 100,000 Utahns under the federal Affordable Care Act. So much for caring for one’s neighbor.
They gave several excuses and the main one advanced by House Speaker Becky Lockhart and House Majority Leader Brad Dee was they didn’t want to take federal money because they could not trust the federal government to keep its word. Then, Brad Dee, in what appeared as great bravado, stood up to save the national parks from last October’s government shut down by proposing the state pay the federal government $7 million to keep the parks open for business. When a colleague asked if there were a gentleman’s agreement to pay it back, Dee described it as a “donation” with no expectation it would be paid back.
Not only is it disingenuous to have a double standard, one for business and one for those less fortunate, but it is an abandonment and loss of the moral values we learned in our homes and churches that bind us together as a society. In the end, it’s not things or money that are important, it’s how we live our lives and care for each other. Our greatest natural resource is our people. Let all be healthy. As Eppie would say, “This one is really important.”
Utah native John Florez served on the U.S. Senate Labor Committee, as Utah industrial commissioner and filled White House appointments, including deputy assistant secretary of labor and on the Commission on Hispanic Education. Email: jdflorez@comcast