By Kristi Johnston
Six weeks to live. This was the fate Jeff Jeans’ doctor prescribed to him while diagnosing the Sedona small-business man with a curable yet fatal throat cancer. Out of a job and uninsured, Jeans – a lifelong conservative Republican – relied on the Affordable Care Act (ACA) to access the health care services that saved his life. What Jeans quickly learned was that in life or death, no one is a Republican or a Democrat – we are all just people whose diagnoses should not mean a death sentence or bankruptcy and whose fundamental rights include access to health care.
Fast-forward to 2020, and Jeans will be taking the stage at the Democratic National Convention to advocate for the ACA and one of its critical supporters, Joe Biden. Jeans’ riveting journey from one side of the political aisle to the other is deeply symbolic of how one’s livelihood supersedes political ideology. Moreover, Jeans’ experience highlights some of the issues that matter most to Arizonans.
Health care is a top priority for Arizona voters, especially in light of the COVID-19 pandemic which has highlighted its faults and cracks. As we approach November, health care is shaping up to be a defining issue in the race for U.S. Senate: for Sen. Martha McSally, the inability to escape her record on health care was the nail in the coffin for her 2018 failed campaign against Sen. Kyrsten Sinema. As much as McSally attempts to invoke the same tactic on voters again this year, her voting record will do all the talking for her.
There are three fundamental truths at play. The simple truth is that McSally has done everything in her power while in office to undermine and destroy health care coverage, particularly for those with preexisting medical conditions like Jeff Jeans. The gut-wrenching truth is that if McSally, who repeatedly voted to repeal the ACA during her terms in the House of Representatives, had gotten the “f–king thing done” – a phrase she used in 2017 to encourage her GOP colleagues to join her on the vote – there is a very real possibility that Jeans would not be alive today to tell his story. The promising truth is that Arizonans deserve better than a comically transparent phony politician attempting to backtrack on a continuous and deliberate effort that could have cost them their lives – and are fired up to vote this November.
At NextGen Arizona, the organization leading the largest youth vote mobilization in the state, we hear from thousands of voters each week expressing that health care is a driving force for them casting their ballots this year. With the pandemic ravaging through our Republican-led state, posting record numbers of hospitalizations and deaths and leaving thousands without jobs and uninsured, a system without the ACA is unimaginable. We are talking to countless Republicans, much like Jeff Jeans, who are reckoning their ideologies with their livelihoods. Many of these voters are now feeling the failures of our leadership very deeply and personally, no longer blissfully detached from the grievances gone unaccounted for in a pre-COVID world.
With the nation’s eyes on us in less than three months, we are reminded that Arizona is on the brink of palpable change. In an election where voting could literally mean life or death, and we have the power to vote against the same people who attempt to destroy our health and livelihoods, let’s get this f–king thing done.
Kristi Johnston is the Arizona press secretary for NextGen America, the organization mobilizing the largest youth vote turnout in history. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @KristiLJohnston.