Sheehey: Why I Care About Education And Health Care

Candidate for House Dist. 43

I have written about the importance of scientists like myself playing a role in government. I will work to make sure that facts and sound science are included in lawmaking. I was honored recently that the National Education Association-New Mexico has recommended my candidacy, because I also feel strongly that good affordable education and health care for all are the keys to a strong society and economy.

My life experience has taught me this. I grew up in a working class family. My parents were well-read, intelligent people, but were only able to get a year or two of college because of the Great Depression and World War II. From an early age, they took my sisters and me to the public library and encouraged our curiosity, so we looked forward to starting school. We had access to good affordable public education, and this served us well. One sister became a librarian, the other an English and Creative Writing teacher. Those jobs didn’t pay well, but both sisters found them satisfying and meaningful careers. Their jobs did have retirement and health benefits, and these became especially important when one of my sisters spent the last ten years of her life with Parkinson’s Disease.

I first got a B.A. in Aesthetic Studies (my wife Naishing’s favorite of my degrees), served as an enlisted man in the Air Force, went back to school on the GI Bill, and eventually earned a Ph.D. in Physics from UCLA. I came to New Mexico in 1986, and have had a good life here. My work as a scientist was interesting and did pay well, so we could help my sisters’ daughters with their higher education, which today has become expensive for middle class families. 

We could also afford to welcome a teenage nephew into our home to attend Los Alamos High School and now college. It is very clear to me that the taxes our parents paid to support good public education had a huge payoff in our lives and our ability to contribute to society. Better education for all New Mexicans, starting before Kindergarten, going through Community College vocational programs or university higher education, will pay off in better lives for all and a vibrant economy.

I’ve been fortunate to have good health, but others in our family have not. One sister dealt for years with the mental and physical side effects of Parkinson’s medications, and the other went through heart problems more recently. Without health insurance, both, on middle class incomes, would probably have faced bankruptcy, and more difficulty getting appropriate treatment for their illnesses.

Affordable health care is a national problem that will not fix itself. The United States spends 18 percent of its gross domestic product (GDP) for health care (over $9,000 per person), and still has 28 million people without insurance. Many European countries spend 9 to 12 percent of their GDP ($4,000 to $6,000 per person) and cover nearly everyone with equal or better care than in the U.S.  

We can learn from their experience to make basic health care available and affordable to all New Mexicans. If we implement efficiency in our health care system on par with Western Europe, that would be a boost of 6 to 9 percent in the productivity of our economy. I strongly support the proposals in New Mexico’s State Legislature to find the ways to make this happen here (for more detail, see my website “Health Care”). I have been an activist as a County Councilor, and I’m proud of what we have done to preserve the environment, fund public schools and health care, improve quality of life, and help our local economy.

I will continue to be an activist as a State Legislator. Better education and better health care for all will take thoughtful legislation and implementation. We will need to make an initial investment, but if we do this right, we will save money in the long run, our people will be healthy and productive, and our economy will grow. That’s how we can bring a brighter future to our District and the state of New Mexico.