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Bill Straub: The hits just keep coming for Massie as he continues to add to his legend

Columnists, for various reasons, hold some empathy for Michael Corleone, recognizing what he meant in “Godfather III’’ when he said, “Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in.’’

Rep. Thomas Massie, R-SomewhereorotherLewisCounty, has evolved into this column’s great white whale to such an extent that I inwardly vowed to let his future calamities, though they be legion, pass without judgment. I’d rather have my teeth pulled ala “Marathon Man’’ than write another word about the Wonder Boy.

But then he goes and does something so incredible, so outrageous, it can’t be ignored and I get pulled back in. You know what they say: The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men etc. etc.

First, a quick recap. Massie is by all accounts, a decent sort, loves his wife and kids, always remembered where he came from, is supremely intelligent – an MIT grad – did a marvelous job for the short period of time he served as Lewis County judge/executive and is a champion of the burgeoning Kentucky hemp industry.

And he is a disaster of a congressman.

Rep. Thomas Massie

Rep. Thomas Massie

Of the 435 members of the House of Representatives, he certainly ranks in the middle 430s. As Kentuckians used to say “Thank God for Mississippi,’’ Thomas Massie can say, “Thank God for Louie Gohmert.’’

A few from the hit parade:

Massie has had three opportunities to vote for a Republican speaker of the House and in each instance he supported what can best be described as fringe candidates (Daniel Webster?), thus depriving the 4th Congressional District in Northern Kentucky whatever influence it might have been able to muster.

He opposed a five-year transportation plan configured in part to provide some financial support for the replacement of the Brent Spence Bridge that carries I-71/75 traffic across the Ohio River from Covington to Cincinnati IN HIS DISTRICT!. He did so not because the package failed to provide sufficient funding but because of a totally unrelated provision reauthorizing the Export/Import Bank, an agency that few people in his district drive over every day.

Massie co-sponsored legislation to pull the U.S. out of the United Nations, a move that would endanger the world order and firmly tied him to the ideals of the John Birch Society.

Back in 2014 he rushed to the House floor to stop a voice vote on awarding the Congressional Gold Medal to legendary golfer Jack Nicklaus “in recognition of his service to the nation in promoting excellence, good sportsmanship and philanthropy,’’ ultimately casting one of 10 votes against it, explaining Nicklaus “didn’t die on the golf course and he’s got plenty of medals.”

And he opposed legislation offered by a fellow Republican, Rep. Barbara Comstock, of Virginia, calling on NASA to encourage women and girls to study science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, known as the STEM fields, and pursue careers in those areas to advance the nation’s space science and exploration. He offered no explanation.

That hardly dents the surface of Massie’s rather exotic voting record, a record that his earned him the sobriquet Dr. No. We won’t even go into his insane gun nuttery, which has led him to introduce legislation prohibiting the establishment of gun-free school zones – as well as a photo of him posted on Facebook holding an AR-15 that, if there was any justice in the world, would do for him what riding a tank did for Michael Dukakis in 1988.

Now we have another incident to add to the legend.

Simply stated, the way the United States addresses the mentally ill has long been a national disgrace. More than 11 million Americans have severe schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and major depression and an untold number of these unfortunate folks, placed in the millions, are going without treatment, leaving families shattered.

From time immemorial the federal government’s approach to mental health has proved ineffective – a chaotic patchwork of antiquated programs and ineffective policies across numerous agencies. As a result, patients end up in the criminal justice system or on the streets because services simply are not available.

It’s a tragedy.

Rep. Tim Murphy, R-PA – keep in mind, a Republican – addressed the deploring situation with the Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act, which, among other things, creates a National Mental Health Policy Laboratory to establish objective outcome measures, thus providing policymakers with data to determine which programs are best serving the seriously mentally ill. The measure creates a position of assistant secretary for mental health and substance abuse disorders – a medical professional with psychiatric experience.

It further seeks to change patient privacy laws to give family members access to critical medical information about the treatment of adult family members struggling with mental illness.

“We are ending the era of stigma,’’ said Murphy, himself a psychologist of some 30 years. “Mental illness is no longer a joke, considered a moral defect and a reason to throw people in jail. No longer will we discharge the mentally ill out of the emergency room to the family and say ‘Good luck, take care of your loved one, we’ve done all the law will allow.’”

On July 6, in an exceedingly rare example of bipartisanship, the House passed the Murphy bill 422-2.

You know where this is going.

Wonder Boy strikes again!

Massie, along with Rep. Justin Amash, R-MI, who have become something of the Dynamic Duo in the lower chamber, opposed the bill by a Republican psychologist to improve the nation’s horrible mental health services. Asked what could possibly have led to this no vote, his press secretary, the very able Lorenz Isidro, offered a statement from the Whiz Kid himself:

“Republicans campaigned on reducing the federal government’s role in healthcare, so why would Republicans vote to expand the federal government’s role in healthcare?”

Well, perhaps because the federal government has a major role to play in health care whether Massie and his ilk believe so or not. Republicans almost unanimously detest Obamacare, but they’re pledged, in the words of House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-WI, to repeal and replace, not kill completely. Medicaid and Medicare remain in federal hands and the Centers for Disease Control still operated in Atlanta. And funding is still be considered for some way to address the Zika virus and other maladies that come down the line.

The federal government is a major player in health care filling in holes that the private sector ignores – like providing universal mental health treatment. Millions of souls are suffering needlessly because programs aren’t available and you’re going to turn your back on them?

The federal government is a major player in health care filling in holes that the private sector ignores – like providing universal mental health treatment. Millions of souls are suffering needlessly because programs aren’t available and you’re going to turn your back on them?

The Treatment Advocacy Center in Arlington, VA., recently reported that almost 20 percent of the hospital beds for the nation’s most severely ill and dangerous psychiatric patients were eliminated in the last five years during a time when demand skyrocketed. The report maintains the nation’s psychiatric bed shortage has deteriorated to “beyond disastrous.’’ Only 3.5 percent of the state hospital beds that existed in 1955 were still in operation by the first quarter of 2016.

R.G. Dunlop, long one of the commonwealth’s best reporters, now with the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting, cited figures from the Treatment Advocacy Center showing that as many as 350,000 mentally ill people in jails and prison nationally — 10 times more than the number in state mental hospitals.

“Prisons and jails have become America’s ‘new asylums,’” according to the center.

What’s going on in New Hampshire, for instance, is sickening. Mentally ill individuals who present a perceived danger to themselves or others are being housed in the secure psychiatric unit at the state prison – alongside murderers, rapists and other violent offenders – even though they have committed no crimes.

The state has no other place to put them. And the treatment is limited.

A recent Dunlop piece quoted Steve Shannon, director of the Kentucky Association of Regional Programs, a coalition of 11 mental health centers, as saying mental health resources are too scarce.

“We don’t want to incarcerate people because they are mentally ill,” Shannon said. “We don’t arrest people for diabetes.”

New Hampshire isn’t alone, by the way. Frankie Berger, director of advocacy at the Treatment Advocacy Center, says a place called Kentucky also treats mentally ill individuals in state prison.

So, congressman, that’s why the federal government might want to consider doing something about it.

It’s not funny, really. Massie is doing these atrocious things in the name of the good people of the 4th Congressional District, who certainly deserve to be better served.

Yet he’s the odds-on favorite to win a third term in November. Republicans from Kenton, Campbell and Boone counties are, for some reason, unwilling to present voters with a viable alternative who can provide something other than lunacy.

District Democrats – a bunch of weaklings who are all hat and no cattle – have turned to Calvin Sidle, an earnest but recent arrival in the district who has garnered some support from organized labor and a former Democratic governor, Paul Patton. But, as always, money is short

And isn’t that the way that these things go?


Washington correspondent Bill Straub served 11 years as the Frankfort Bureau chief for The Kentucky Post. He also is the former White House/political correspondent for Scripps Howard News Service. A member of the Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame, he currently resides in Silver Spring, Maryland, and writes frequently about the federal government and politics. Email him at williamgstraub@gmail.com.

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One Comment

  1. Marv Dunn says:

    And the voters in Northern Kentucky don’t care. We are so politically isolated, being fed by The Enquirer, Cincinnati TV stations, and the right wing talk radio of WLW and WKRC that anything outside the Trump/Bevin/Massie world is just too scary to contemplate. Thanks for bringing a little light on our situation.

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