Sunday, November 15, 2009

Interview with Dr. Manan Trivedi, Democratic Candidate for the 6th Congresstional District

Dr. Manan Trivedi is one of two Democratic candidates for the 6th congressional district. This is an open seat as the incumbent, Jim Gerlach, has decided to run for governor. Dr. Trivedi grew up in Berks County, went to medical school, served in the Navy with one of the first battalions to cross into Iraq in 2003. He campaigned for Barack Obama during the 2008 presidential campaign. Dr. Trivedi is currently a primary care physician in Reading.

Recently Dr. Trivedi was kind enough to do an interview via email. I found his answers to be thoughtful and show curiosity and compassion. Perhaps my favorite passage in the interview was his response to my question on the future of the 6th district, not of the people but the shape of the district, given that redistricting will take place after next year's census. He said, in part:

This race is not about my long-term career goals or ambitions - and when you serve in our nation's armed forces, you quickly learn that nothing is guaranteed in life. There are many serious challenges facing our nation that need immediate attention. All that I am focused on is earning the opportunity to represent the 6th so that I can do my part to make things better. If I'm fortunate enough to earn a victory in this election, I will remain focused on representing the best interests of my constituents

I've had the opportunity to meet and speak briefly with Dr. Trivedi once and found him to be soft spoken but confident, quick, with an air of intelligence but not arrogant. It is difficult to really gauge a person after one short exchange but he is one of the few candidates I've met that I would like to really talk with. Not only would he have a lot of interesting stories to tell but I think he would be an excellent conversationalist as well.

On your website you say you will fight for quality affordable healthcare for all. Does this include a mandate that everyone must have insurance?

I believe that an individual mandate is the best way to assure healthcare coverage for all Americans. However, I am opposed to such a mandate if Americans do not have an alternative to choose outside of private insurance. Without a public option, a mandate would force Americans into paying whatever the private insurance industry wants them to.

You talk about investing in community health. What exactly do you mean by that and what role would Congress play in your view?

What I mean by community health is the things we do every day to stay healthy and avoid illness and chronic disease. I believe we need to focus on health and wellness every day—not just the days we are at the doctor’s office or the hospital. There are many ways that Congress can help increase our investment in community health. And, I should add, I truly believe this investment would pay for itself in the long-term by producing a healthier populace and decrease costs of healthcare overall. Some examples include modernizing and expanding our public health departments, having more local and national health education campaigns on wellness and preventive medicine and assuring that health promotion programs in schools and worksites are fully funded.

One suggestion that has been made for health care reform is allowing insurance companies to work across state lines. As a doctor, do you think that would be a solution or cause more problems?

While this solution sounds good, the problem with this is that different states have very different rules and regulations on private insurance. Legislation that has been proposed to allow insurance companies to work across state lines allows insurance companies to adopt the lowest standards of any state they operate in and apply them across the board. This would, in effect, dismantle years of work some states have done to assure that insurance companies act somewhat responsibly in their coverage of patients.

Your wife has a very impressive resume in her own right, and, having run for a student government office in college, has more actual electoral experience than you do. What, if any, role will she play in your campaign?

Surekha is not only impressive on paper, but in person as well. I am lucky to have a wife and best friend who is so smart, talented, and supportive. She is quite engaged with the campaign and will continue to be. Her insight and instincts have already proven to be very helpful. I feel fortunate to have a person of Surekha's character and wisdom to support me, challenge me, and make me a better candidate.

Manufacturing is the 6th largest industry in the district; with your emphasis on new technologies and green jobs, do you see this industrial base as growing or shrinking?

If we can get a true investment in alternative energy and clean manufacturing jobs, I see this industrial base as growing. When we hear about President Obama's new Green Economy, it's important to define what that specifically means for my friends, family, and neighbors who I've grown up with here in the 6th District. The people in the 6th are smart and they're hard workers. We have more than enough talent to address the challenges at hand. As a nation, we must adapt to changing times, and here in the 6th, that may mean developing new skills or building upon old ones - either way, I'm confident that with the right leaders in Washington, we'll make the necessary adjustments and bring home the necessary resources to build a new, innovative, green and long-lasting industrial base for many years to come.

The 6th district is oddly shaped and often mentioned as one that might be re-made or disappear entirely in the redistricting after the 2010 census. Are you concerned about running for a seat that might not be there in 2012?

No. This race is not about my long-term career goals or ambitions - and when you serve in our nation's armed forces, you quickly learn that nothing is guaranteed in life. There are many serious challenges facing our nation that need immediate attention. All that I am focused on is earning the opportunity to represent the 6th so that I can do my part to make things better. If I'm fortunate enough to earn a victory in this election, I will remain focused on representing the best interests of my constituents.

Tourism is a small industry in the 6th district. Would you like to see this grow and if so how would you encourage tourism in the area?

I definitely would like to see the tourism industry grow here. The 6th District is a great place to live and visit -- from French Creek and Marsh Creek State Parks to the Reading Public Museum and the great shopping and restaurants in Lower Merion, there are so many wonderful attractions in the 6th District.

One of the most important factors that must be addressed to encourage tourism in the area is our need for better public transportation throughout some of the more rural parts of the district - this would encourage tourism and create jobs. It's been discussed in the past, but we need leaders with the political will to make it happen.

Your mother campaigned for Obama in the 2008 election and, when phone banking, encountered some resistance, presumably because of her accent. While Indian Americans are playing a more visible political role in the country (example: Bobby Jindal), have you heard any untoward comments regarding your background?

No, I have not heard of or know of any negative comments regarding my India American ethnicity. I am grateful for my heritage and I am active in Indian American cultural activities. At the same time, I am a proud American and dedicated to service. These are not mutually exclusive. In fact, that blending of cultures, ideas and ancestries is what makes America great. I think people, in this day and age, recognize that.

In late 2007 you wrote this on the Asian American Action Fund blog:
Most of us are sons and daughters of immigrants if not immigrants ourselves. We contribute in so many ways to make this nation, our nation, great. We need our stories to become part of the immigration debate. We need to make it evident that if the Tancredo wing of the Republican party was in control, America would be a lot less well-off. If, thirty years ago, we adopted the policies that Tancredo and his cronies are now pushing for, think of how different America would be. Forget about the technology boom in the late 90s. And wipe away the massive advances in medicine and research over the last two decades. Plus, you could virtually kiss the science and math departments of our major universities good-bye, just to name a few.
If elected to congress what reforms would you work for?

I would work towards streamlining the process for visa applicants who have job skills in sectors where the U.S. has a labor shortage (agriculture, medicine, engineering, science, etc.). Right now there are too many hurdles and red tape to go through for those who want to be productive members of American society and work in needed areas of the job market.

On your website you write about the need for public transit. Would you see this as more of a regional effort or a municipal effort within cities and towns in the 6th?

I believe the entire country needs a better, more robust public transportation system. This would reduce our dependence on foreign oil, decrease our carbon emissions and unclog our highways. The 6th district would greatly benefit from a better public transit. In particular, I am strongly in favor of a rail system along the Schuylkill expressway that would diminish traffic on this congested corridor and better connect Philadelphia with its surrounding communities in Montgomery, Chester and Berks Counties.

You were part of a team that worked on a Rand report on post-traumatic stress disorder, and one topic discussed in particular was the need to lessen the stigma attached to soldiers and their families who ask for help. How would you accomplish this?

Stigma is clearly one of the biggest problems in this realm and our research confirmed this. I think simply talking about mental health problems more openly and investing more in research in this topic is a strong step in the right direction. However, to truly get to the heart of this problem, we need more education and training programs for our military leaders—officers and senior enlisted—so they can understand and recognize problems early, be more accepting of mental health diagnoses and more willing to allow their men and women serving under them to get checked out when there are concerns.

The Reading Hospital and Medical Center is the district’s largest employer. Vanguard is another large employer. What would you say to the management and workers at these places to encourage them to support you?

First of all, I would say that I relate to them because I am one of them – I work as a doctor at The Reading Hospital and Medical Center. So for my co-workers at the hospital I would ask for their support because I recognize firsthand the inefficiencies in the healthcare system. We all spend too much time on administrative tasks and non-patient care related issues and not enough time on the things that really matter—making sure that our patients get better. Supporting me will assure that meaningful health reform initiatives will be led by someone who truly understands healthcare from the inside.

For those at Vanguard, I would ask for their support because I recognize that our economic recovery and the revitalization of the financial industry sector relies on the creation of new and sustainable jobs. That is what one of my main focuses would be as a Congressman.

While serving in Iraq you offered medical care to injured Iraqis who had been involved in a firefight that left one of your fellow soldiers dead. Is there an analogy here to bipartisanship or was that a peculiarity of being a doctor in battle?

During my time in Iraq I treated fellow Marines, Coalition forces, Iraqi civilians and enemy prisoners of war. This was the right thing to do. Under our mission and Department of Defense orders, we provided care to those who needed it under no prejudice or reservation. War is a horrible thing but even in the grimmest times I think it is important to maintain humanity. This is what separates us from our enemies and what makes our country so great.

What exactly did you do as a health policy advisor to the Obama campaign?

I did whatever they needed me to do. Initially, I helped narrow the focus on the key healthcare issues that were going to be relevant in the campaign and assisted with the writing of articles on health reform. Later, I transitioned into leading the healthcare op-ed rollout in Pennsylvania and provided region-specific healthcare information to those that needed it. I also assisted with the field and GOTV [get out the vote] efforts in Berks County and the greater southeastern PA region.

Other than raising money what do you see as the greatest challenge in this campaign?

I feel if voters get to know me, hear my story and learn of my background and dedication to service that I can overcome any challenge – financial or otherwise.

What question didn’t I ask that you would like to answer?

Several people have asked me why I did not announce my candidacy earlier. Until August 31st, I was on active-duty with the U.S. Navy and wanted to make sure that I adhered to the regulations set forth by the Department of Defense for political activity. I have great respect for the U.S. Navy and am honored that I had the opportunity to serve. I would have never done anything to tarnish that.”

My thanks to Dr. Trivedi for taking the time to answer my questions.

No comments: