Kayser Enneking: The problems I can’t unsee – reflections on a race

Running for office was one of the most formative experiences of my life.

l assure you that counter to campaign trail name-calling, I am not an elitist, racist or cuckoo, although many questioned my sanity when I first threw my name into the political arena.

My mission then and now is simple: to improve the lives of Floridians by expanding access to quality health care. However, what I found on the campaign trail was a series of contradictions that required some time for reflection and understanding.

In every town I visited in Alachua, Putnam and Marion counties (Senate District 8), I found earnest, involved and informed citizens who actively voiced their concerns for our community in meetings and forums. I also met people who had never bothered to register to vote or believed their vote wouldn’t matter.

Some people shut their doors on me because I am a Democrat and they are Republican. Others, sometimes with great curiosity, wanted to speak at length because I am a Democrat and they are a Republican.

Throughout District 8, I saw the enormous gaps between rich and poor. I saw tremendous differences in resources between predominantly white neighborhoods and neighborhoods of color. I listened to health-care nightmares from those without access to health care.

I met an amazing array of people: social workers, pastors, teachers, police officers, nurses, scientists and small business owners who work to bridge these gaps to make our communities safer, smarter, healthier and more welcoming. I also met a disappointing number of people who would rather ignore these disparities and continue the status quo because it makes life better for themselves.

It’s one thing to read about disparities. It’s another thing to knock on all those different doors and see it every day for six months. You can’t unsee it.

At the end of long days of campaigning, our team often reflected on the responsibilities of elected officials to their constituents. There are many ways that people in public office can bridge disparities and improve our communities from cleaning our environment to developing affordable housing, to thinking broadly about energy, to bridging the digital divide.

This was the coolest thing about running for office: listening to folks about what doesn’t work, talking to experts about how to fix it and then talking about solutions. I never pretended to have the answer for everything, but I loved this give and take of collectively envisioning a better way to do things.

There are also many ways that people in public office can make life worse for our communities. Leadership is about guiding change, not just announcing something doesn’t work. Saying we don’t have the money to fix something is not a solution. Working on a budget is not just about cutting it. It’s also about rolling up your sleeves and creatively finding ways to fund things deemed important by our community.

From almost everyone I met on the campaign trail, I heard that the financial costs of health care are too high. In District 8, about one in four adults are without health insurance. Virtually everyone has a story about how our health-care system is hard to navigate.

I heard too much about costs and access problems in our health-care systems to unhear it. In my work I have seen the effects of these problems. I can’t unsee it.

I believe improvements to our health-care system start with making sure everyone has access to quality health care. I pledge to continue working for changes that improve access to affordable health care. That starts with expanding Medicaid in our state.

I learned that running for office requires a sunny disposition, a fondness for gabbing, an army of people who believe in you and thick skin. In my race there were clear differences between the candidates’ positions. Personal attacks were uncalled for because we had ample opportunities to attack positions. That didn’t happen. Neither did honesty.

As reported by The Sun, dark money tainted the outcome of the District 8 state Senate race. I met thousands of people in our community and I can say that dishonesty and deceptiveness are not our values. We are a community made up of civil, honest, caring and rule-abiding citizens.

The fact that dark money pollutes our electoral campaigns is a wake-up call that the process isn’t working. It’s time to consult with experts who can guide us on how to fix this problem. Then we need to talk about solutions. We can’t unsee this problem either.

Kayser Enneking is a physician in Gainesville.