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Looking Forward to 2008: Rep. Ellen Cohen

(Note: I have asked a variety of people to submit an essay to me to be posted during the month of December, to be called “Looking Forward to 2008”. This entry was written by Rep. Ellen Cohen.)

As I write this article, 2007 is coming to an end, and it would appear that the biggest event of 2008 will be the presidential election. That said, much can happen in 10 months, thrusting unknowns to the forefront and dramatically changing the landscape of predictions. Still, with whatever is in store for us, electing a President who will restore our country’s position of respect, compassion and integrity throughout the world is paramount. Someone who will bring us as a nation together while continuing to respect diversity in all aspects of our lives.

Clearly, the next President needs, on a national level, to focus on many of the same concerns we in the state legislature are facing: health care, including the children’s health insurance program, stem cell research, and mental health services. While recent research shows some very promising new forms of stem cell research, we can not and must not abandon the promise of what is being learned through adult and embryonic stem cell research. Regenerative medicine is vital to saving lives. Republicans and Democrats have voted in a very bipartisan manner to lift the bans set down by the present Administration that limits or stops research done on embryonic or early stem cells. All of this was brought home to me from both a very personal side regarding my late husband’s spinal cord cancer and a visit I received from twin 6 year old girls living in West University who shared with me how this research could help with their juvenile diabetes.

The next President needs to expand the State Children’s Health Insurance Program and, we in Texas need to do the same. Of the 9 million uninsured children in the United States, over 1.5 million live in Texas. CHIP is the program designed to help the children of working families. As President Clinton often said, these families are the ones who “are working hard and playing by the rules”. They are doing everything, but simply don’t make enough money to pay for health insurance coverage for their children without some assistance.

The next President, and we in Texas, need to focus on education. As a nation we are falling woefully behind in the areas of math and science. As a state, if we expect to have employees who can reason, who can analyze figures, who can articulate intelligently varying points of view, then we have an obligation to educate our children. We simply must invest in our young people if we expect them to succeed in Texas, across the Nation and throughout the world.

Finally, the next President must continue to preserve the value of “separation of church and state”. I spent a decade of my life working for the American Jewish Committee and have great admiration for people of faith. I also accept and affirm the right of people to question the existence of a deity. We must look at issues in accordance with our Constitution, not a specific religious ideology. From textbook rejections and staff dismissals from NASA to the Texas Education Agency, we must realize and respect our religious believes as separate and apart from the lessons learned by scientific experiments and calculations. Our science and faith are NOT in conflict, only the agenda of our leaders.

This coming year presents us with a chance to compare where we are as a nation and a state and where new and innovative leadership can take us. We have a chance to restore our prestige as a nation and our leadership as a state. We must take advantage of this time in history to elect a President whose visionary leadership will secure the future, starting with the next generation.

Ellen Cohen is the State Representative for the 134th District in Harris County.

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