Commissioner Daines ‘fought the good fight’
One of the worst things about contemporary politics is that the people who are skilled at playing the game are often the big winners and those who are the true believers — who really want to do what’s right — are sadly defeated because the game is so loaded. In the end, the lobbyists who regularly buy and sell politicians can prove too much for the good guys. Take the case of the sugar tax or tax on sodas. I was recently shocked and saddened when I read of the death of Dr. Richard Daines, the former Health Commissioner of the state of New York. Daines was 60 years old when he died of a heart attack. He was thin and distinguished and truly one of the good guys in politics. His death was a tragedy.
He was fluent in Spanish, a former Mormon missionary in Latin America and a successful health care administrator at Roosevelt Hospital in New York until Eliot Spitzer appointed him to his position as health commissioner. When Andrew Cuomo was elected governor, Daines left his post although I am convinced that this really great man could have been persuaded to stay.
Daines fought for what was right: a tax on sodas. Like all of us, he knew that this country is becoming the land of the fat. With the increase in obesity we are seeing a rise in health issues, especially diabetes. The fatter we are, the greater our risk of contracting diabetes and everything that goes with it. At the greatest risk are our children and grandchildren. By refusing to act, we are creating generations of couch potatoes with high cholesterol and resultant heart problems. But the big problem is high blood sugar, and our consumption of soda is in large part responsible for that. Richard Daines knew it, Mayor Mike Bloomberg knows it and former Governor David Paterson knew it. He actually tried to do something about it and was soundly ridiculed for his efforts. Unfortunately, pressure from the drivers who deliver the stuff and the people who make it assured that the bill was dead on arrival in the Legislature. There was talk about the Pepsi headquarters in Westchester County closing if the sugar tax passed and down went the whole idea.
Dr. Richard Daines stayed true to his principles. Until his last day in office, he fought the good fight. When the Legislature sent him a message to lay off, he just kept pushing. Not only would his efforts have helped make us healthier but in a time of great fiscal crisis, the state coffers certainly could have used the millions, maybe billions, of dollars that the sugar tax would have generated. The tax was a great idea but the ethical slackers who opposed the idea came up with the usual excuses. They said that they were opposed to all new taxes. They said that the plan was really a regressive tax that unfairly penalized the poor. They said that people could get fat from other things besides soda. It was all a lot of hooey.
Andrew Cuomo could have used his 76 percent approval rating to do what was right but he didn’t. He refused to acknowledge that we should tax soda for the same reason we tax cigarettes, so that people will be less likely to use it and harm themselves. We spend so much time talking about the cost of health care and one of the biggest costs is the diabetes epidemic. It is taxing our heath care providers to the limits. But, no, for some reason we can’t do what is right for our children and for ourselves.
So what do we do? Do we give in to the fat cat lobbyists and politicians who care more about money than their children or grandchildren? Do we just shrug and accept what the Legislature says, that the bill is dead on arrival? Or do we revolt? Do we spit in the collective eye of a governor and a Legislature that make all kinds of high minded promises when they campaign and then give us the finger when they take office? I suggest that the governor and the Legislature look in the mirror and think about their kids. Maybe they should think about our health care system and look around the world at what happens when people decide that those who rule them have given them the shaft. No, let’s pass that sugar tax and let’s name it for the magnificent man who started the ball rolling, Dr. Richard Daines. For once, let’s do what’s right.
Originally published in the Legislative Gazette, 3/7/11