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Home / Articles / · Archive / News & Columns /  Strange Bedfellows
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Strange Bedfellows

Joe Jarvis is a darling of the left when it comes to health-care reform. So why’s he hanging with the right?

By Stephen Dark
Posted // June 11,2007 -

“The Democratic Party is an easier venue to find listening ears,” Dr. Joseph Jarvis says. Indeed his position paper expounding his theories on universal health care can be found on the Utah Democratic Progressive Caucus’ Website.

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“Not to say I haven’t found sympathetic ears among the Republicans,” he adds. “Just because many Republicans have been wrong in the past [on health-care reform] doesn’t mean they’ll be wrong in the future.”

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Which sounds odd considering Jarvis is running as a Republican against Democratic incumbent Scott McCoy, the state’s first and so far only openly gay state senator, for Senate District 2.

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At the Avenues Street Fair in September, the candidates had booths on opposite sides of the street. McCoy wore his trademark checkered shirt over a white T-shirt, while Jarvis’ stethoscope hung from his neck.

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That stethoscope has caught a lot of attention. The editorial board at The Salt Lake Tribune were sufficiently impressed to give Jarvis its endorsement. Utah Republican Party Executive Director Jeff Hartley admits surprise. “I was shocked,” he says. “Not because they endorsed him [Jarvis], but because the Tribune’s editorials have been drifting increasingly left lately.?

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Some on the left consider Jarvis’ health-care platform seductive enough to District 2’s predominantly Democratic voters to be a potential problem for McCoy. They also point out this is McCoy’s first time before the district’s voters. He gained his seat after Democratic delegates voted him in two years ago to replace outgoing Sen. Paula Julander, who’d fallen ill.

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Others on the left, however, see Jarvis’ running against McCoy in more sinister terms. They argue something must be up when Republicans, cheerleaders for market forces when it comes to health care, embrace a champion of coverage for all.

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“They’ll support Jarvis regardless of his views because he isn’t me,” McCoy says.

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Hartley, who finds no irony in Jarvis standing on a Republican ticket, doesn’t agree. “The Republican Party is the party of the big tent,” he says. Diverse opinions, he continues, promote vigorous debate. Asked if Jarvis had been a member of the Senate during the dental and vision bill debacle during the special session earlier this spring, would Jarvis have made an impact on the voting, Hartley answers, “Absolutely.?

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Jarvis’ critics doubt that. If evidence of Jarvis’ debatable ideological fit with his party was required, they point to his grilling during an interim Health and Human-Services Committee which McCoy sits on. McCoy recalls that when Jarvis briefed the committee on health-care reform, “Senator Sheldon Killpack [R-Syracuse] went after him a little bit. It’s amazingly ironic. The party was going after its own candidate.”

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Jarvis says he didn’t view it as an attack from the Republican’s point man on health issues. He also dismisses allegations he’s a GOP Trojan horse chosen to take out someone whom Sen. Chris Buttars, R-West Jordan, once referred to as “the gay.” Jarvis notes that at this year’s Salt Lake County GOP convention, one of his two primary opponents for the Senate District 2 race, Mark Towner, was supported by Utah Senate President John Valentine, R-Orem. Jarvis got 70 percent of the caucus vote in the second round of primary voting.

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Jarvis says he’s had a hankering for politics ever since his 3-year-tenure as Nevada’s state health officer in the late 1980s. His wife’s dislike of publicity kept the family practitioner out of the running, but not out of politics.

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For this year’s legislative session, Jarvis and Judi Hilman, his partner at the nonprofit Utah Health Policy Project, proposed a bill to provide small businesses access to a state health-insurance plan. But the bill, sponsored by Rep. Steve Mascaro, R-West Jordan, was squashed by the Utah Health Insurance Association, Jarvis says. The final version of Jarvis’ House Bill 122 passed by the Senate proposed a mere study to look at the issue.

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“It crystallized my sense of the difficulties of getting across to the Legislature health-care policy ideas,” Jarvis says. “Maybe if I’m there as a colleague, I’ll be able to make the point in a sustainable way rather than in a sound bite.?

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McCoy also has staked out a claim to health care. He’s put forward a state constitutional amendment acknowledging the right to health care for everyone. Nevertheless, McCoy complains that all Jarvis talks about is health care, a criticism Jarvis to some extent accepts.

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“There are tons of issues I have no idea what he thinks,” McCoy says.

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Contentious issues or not, for McCoy, what this race comes down to is effective political dissent. He sums up their battle succinctly: “Why vote for an imitation when you can vote for the real McCoy?”

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The answer to the all-powerful Republican majority in this state is not, McCoy says, throwing more Republicans at it. “It’s the battered-wife syndrome,” he maintains. “They [moderate Republicans] get beat up, abused, but leaving isn’t an option. ?Let’s hang in there,’ they say, ?Eventually things will change.’ Wrong.”

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How this argument sits with the voters remains to be seen. Jarvis is pragmatic about his chances. “I don’t have blinders on,” he says. “I know it’s a tough race.”

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McCoy says he is more concerned about getting out the vote than he is about Jarvis. “Voter apathy is intense,” he says. “Every year, Democrats lose elections in Utah by a few hundred votes. LaVar Christensen [R-Draper] won his first house seat by 22 votes. Think of all the trauma that could have been avoided.” 3

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Editor’s note: Ken Bowers, Constitution Party, and Ken Larson, Personal Choice Party, are also candidates in state Senate District 2.

 
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