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Patricia Jones: An unabashed antidisestablishmentarian

I'm confident that my fifth-grade teacher, Mr. Allred, had no inkling that his assignment would help one of his students understand who she is. I am an unabashed antidisestablishmentarian. Thanks, Mr. Allred.
I'm confident that my fifth-grade teacher, Mr. Allred, had no inkling that his assignment would help one of his students understand who she is. I am an unabashed antidisestablishmentarian. Thanks, Mr. Allred.
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My fifth-grade teacher, Mr. Allred, had a brilliant way of incentivizing students to complete their school assignments. Students who found better things to do than finishing their work would be forced to write 10 pages of what Mr. Allred claimed was the longest word in the English dictionary. Thus, I learned how to spell antidisestablishmentarianism — 28 letters long. Now, I know there are longer words than that in the English language, including the word that has 189,819 letters and takes a person three and a half hours to pronounce correctly. (It’s the chemical name of titin, a giant protein.) But I have always known how to spell antidisestablishmentarianism since my 10 pages of punishment decades ago. What I have realized since that time, however, is that the meaning of that long word describes my political philosophy.

Originally, the word meant the opposition to the disestablishment of the Church of England. Since then, it has also earned the meaning of opposition to those who are opposed to government. Of late, I have observed that those who are most opposed to government in general are often those who rely on it most. Case in point: Isn’t Medicare government-paid medicine? What about the millions of dollars spent by Utah taxpayers to cover the cost of Medicaid births, the bulk of them for married students on Utah’s university campuses, including high numbers at Brigham Young University, Utah Valley University and other colleges? Alpine School District has far and away the highest number of students taking advantage of a wonderful financial gift from Utah taxpayers, the Regents Scholarship. I could go on with many more examples. All of these taxpayer provided government services add to the quality of life of the recipients and, arguably, to our economy.

While serving on the Social Services Appropriations Committee in Utah’s Legislature, I heard some legislators criticize Medicaid as fraught with fraud and recipients as “on the dole.” Actually, Medicaid dollars are primarily used for three critical needs: (1) long-term care for frail elderly, (2) services for people with disabilities, and (3) assistance for children in poverty. My own son works with adults with severe disabilities, some of them nonverbal and requiring diaper changes and having no one other than the state to take care of them. One only has to visit places like Columbus Community Center to see angels in action, providing much-needed respite for caregivers and occupational training and opportunities for people with less severe disabilities. As far as allegations of abuse, the Utah Office of Inspector General does an admirable job of monitoring Medicaid provider service delivery, accuracy and billing. And they implement measures to identify, prevent and reduce fraud, waste and abuse.

For nearly 40 years I was in the business of measuring public opinion at Dan Jones & Associates. Over those decades, I found an interesting phenomenon. It seemed no matter what the topic measured, whether roads, schools, public transit, higher education, criminal justice, public safety, Medicaid, or government in general, about 25 percent of those answering the surveys were contrarians. In fact, the percentage of those with negative views became so predictable that we ascribed to them an acronym: CAVEs — “Citizens Against Virtually Everything.” The research also pointed to another interesting trend that in no way is intended to offend a large portion of population: older men were consistently more likely to fall into the CAVE category while older women were consistently most positive of the subgroups researched. Exceptions to these trends abound, but those were the trends nonetheless and they should spark interesting discussions as to why.

Interestingly, similar proportions of contrarians are popping up in national polls in today’s volatile political election process. And the numbers of naysayers seem to be growing. Another thing I learned in my years of doing research: people are better able to articulate what they don’t want than what they do want.

I’ve been fortunate to live in a household where our children were taught to acknowledge challenges and to think of creative solutions. Our family members were encouraged to respect our elected officials and the office they hold, regardless of whether they agreed with them. At the dinner table, we discussed our country’s challenges — homelessness, conflicts in the Middle East, health care, etc. We discussed ideas and possible solutions. I attribute this practice to the leadership of my professor husband, who for more than 50 years inspired literally thousands of young people to appreciate and understand the role of government while teaching in Utah’s high schools and universities. Politics is not a spectator sport, he said. I believe that by following this practice, we have fewer CAVEs in our immediate family. And I’m hoping there will be more room for pragmatic optimists in our political system.

I’m confident that my fifth-grade teacher, Mr. Allred, had no inkling that his assignment would help one of his students understand who she is. I am an unabashed antidisestablishmentarian. Thanks, Mr. Allred.

Patricia W. Jones is CEO of the Women's Leadership Institute. She was a co-founder and president of Dan Jones & Associates. She server in both the Utah House and Senate for a total of 14 years, 12 of which were in Democratic leadership positions, being the first woman legislator to serve in leadership from either party.