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Adventures in Government - Coffee in Cochise County

May 2, 2017

As someone who grew up in a rural area, I'm determined to connect with Cochise County over the course of this campaign. Like many rural areas, Cochise is often ignored in favor of the much more populous Pima County, particularly Tucson. I refuse to ignore it, so I scheduled a meeting with someone who seemed to be politically active there.

State of the County

Cochise County is a sprawling place, with just a few small towns separated by expanses of farms, wilderness, and mountains. It's a county in decline, with some estimates suggesting the county is losing 600 people every quarter. Bisbee is holding steady thanks to a decent tourism industry, but most of the cities don't have a strong lure. Several of the cities relied on the mining industry, which has declined significantly in the past few decades.

Sierra Vista, the largest city in the county, is entirely reliant on the existence of Fort Huachuca, a military base. Fort Huachuca is important as a forerunner in military intelligence and electronic warfare, so it's not currently in any danger of closing... but it has closed in the past, and if it ever closes again Sierra Vista may not survive.

Basically, Cochise County is slowly dying, and it will continue to do so unless something changes. Attempts to revive the mining industry haven't changed it. Attempts to improve and renovate the Douglas Port of Entry to improve trade and tourism from Mexico have gone on with fits and starts for years without significant progress, and our country's deteriorating relationship with Mexico isn't helping.

I spoke about some of this with Jacob Jones Martinez, who I met at Broxton's Coffee Shop in Sierra Vista specifically to talk about the situation in Cochise. Jacob, who works with Cochise Health and Social Services, is familiar with the political groups around the county and gave me some useful contacts.

I was particularly interested in Cochise County's health care infrastructure, which Jacob was naturally quite familiar with given his occupation.

In short, the health care infrastructure in Cochise County is not good. One of the county's community hospitals recently closed (the one in Douglas, I believe), leaving the county with three remaining community hospitals (in Bisbee, Benson, and Willcox) and one private hospital (in Sierra Vista). The private hospital seems to have a poor reputation, unfortunately. And, as I understand it, many people with serious medical issues prefer to drive to Tucson for their care rather than visiting their Cochise options.

And, of course, if the AHCA passes (with its cuts to Medicaid intact), it's very likely that even more of Cochise County's rural hospitals will close, since fewer people will have access to care, meaning fewer patients in those hospitals, meaning even more financial strain on those institutions.

Less health care in Cochise means less jobs, as healthcare staff are let go. Fewer workers means less demand for other services, which brings down the economy, which makes more people want to leave, which creates less demand for health services, and so on. The attack on Medicaid only contributes to the death spiral facing Cochise County.

How long, I wonder, until the declining infrastructure of Cochise finally convinces the U.S. Army to move the operations at Fort Huachuca to someplace more hospitable?

I want to help Cochise County recover before that happens. I'm not entirely sure how, exactly, but improving access to health care seems like a good place to start.

For the long term, we need Cochise to become more attractive for businesses and industry that bring money and people into Cochise. That takes time, though. You can't force businesses to move there or force locals to be entrepreneurs, but you can make the place attractive enough for people to consider it.

It's like tending a garden in the hopes that some day you'll have seeds to plant in it.

Learning to Spin

As my conversation with Jacob came to a close, another person involved with Cochise politics arrived and spoke with me. She asked me several questions I've heard a lot over the course of this campaign so far:

Have I held office before? Do I have any military experience? Have I received any political training?

No, I haven't.

That's my honest answer to those questions, and I usually give it with a wry, apologetic smile.

However, I can't keep doing that. I can't let those expectations define what it means to be a good politician. I need to start spinning those answers, turning my negative answer into something positive, or at least into an interesting story.

No, I've never held office before or served in the military. Instead, I focused on my education, and then on starting a successful business. From being someone born in a mobile home and relying on subsidized school lunches, I've built an organization that provides quality jobs, has a huge economic impact, and focuses on social responsibility and charitable giving. So, while I've never held public office, I do know how to work with the public, to collaborate despite disparate opinions, and to build something that lasts.

I'm not a career politician, and it's my job to convince people that this is a good thing.

Granted, this is most often a concern when I'm talking to people who have been in politics for a long time. They're looking for something specific, and I'm almost certainly not it. However, that just means I have to work harder to convince them to set aside their expectations.

All in all, this was an extremely valuable meeting. I appreciate Jacob Jones Martinez for meeting with me. I look forward to meeting and getting to know more of the people of Cochise County.