As we emerge from the tragedies of the pandemic, we have the opportunity to imagine the kind of world we want to live in. We have the opportunity to do better. I imagine a world that protects the planet for the sake of its children, one that guarantees universal healthcare, and one that understands that education is a basic human right.
Will you join me?
Mario De Santis is a public school teacher and progressive Democrat running for office in New Jersey's First Congressional District. This seat is currently held by Donald Norcross.
The grandson of educators, Mario has not left the classroom in three decades. He grew to appreciate the role public schools play in cultivating strong communities and currently teaches in Collingswood, New Jersey.
Early in his career, Mario discovered his musical talents could serve as avenues for building community and promoting advocacy. One of his first jobs was working with The Gabriel Project, a fine and performing arts non-profit which sought to ease the burden of children's medical expenses. Understanding this valuable lesson, he challenged his own students to apply their talents to provide relief during the pandemic and organized similar efforts. The result of these projects provided relief aid for the Camden County Women's Shelter and the Community FoodBank of New Jersey - efforts featured on the local news and honored by the State Board of Education Student Recognition Program.
During the pandemic, Mario advocated for New Jersey's immigrant students and joined a coalition to pressure our legislature to include immigrant families in COVID-19 relief aid. He successfully lobbied to increase accessibility of local municipal meetings and was a strong voice in calling on the federal Department of Education to issue waivers for state standardized tests. During this time, he organized local actions and met with congressional staff to compel representatives to support single-payer, universal healthcare. With his partner, an academic dentist, he continues to join national demonstrations and advocate for a universal healthcare system.
Mario taught in one of the poorest cities in the poorest county in New Jersey and then taught in a wealthier district. These disparities motivated him to pursue his doctoral degree, focusing his dissertation on education inequities.
Say No to Norcross
In his first term, Donald Norcross, voted with Republicans more often than any other representative in our state. Against Obama, he was one of the only Democrats to vote for the Keystone XL Pipeline, which would have expanded the most "destructive energy on earth." He also voted to dismantle financial protections for communities of color. While accepting their campaign contributions, he celebrates the Covanta Incinerator for its "clean, renewable energy." Covanta is the largest polluter in the county and the second largest polluter of lead in America - there is no safe level of lead exposure.
As a universal healthcare activist, I was thrilled when a bill was introduced in March 2021 that would guarantee healthcare as a right for every single American from the time of birth - no more medical debt, no more rationing medication, no more needless death. During a global health emergency, it couldn't have come at a more urgent time.
I thought it should be simple to lobby Donald Norcross to ask for him to support the bill. After all, Ivy league research suggests a single-payer universal healthcare system would save $450 billion and 68,000 lives annually. Employers wouldn't have to choose between giving employees raises or paying for employees' higher health insurance premiums, divorce wouldn't leave 65,000 women uninsured annually, & patients wouldn't have to wait until they're Medicare-eligible to learn they were living with cancer.
Despite my year-long initiative to ask Norcross to support this bill - despite providing patient and provider testimony, despite the petitions, the press releases, & press conferences, despite the suffering associated with the pandemic - he was the only leadership member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus not supporting this bill.
As the year progressed, I learned more about his history legislating on behalf of the private insurance market. It became very clear why he was in no rush to support universal healthcare. He voted for Chapter 78, which resulted in New Jersey public employees paying more towards their health insurance premiums than public workers in any other state in the country. In his own words, he "led the charge" to pass the legislation which awarded the Norcross insurance brokerage $86 million. This is the insurance brokerage which overcharged south Jersey schools by millions of dollars for insurance premiums. At a time during which the school district in which I teach passed a resolution citing the rising costs of health insurance for their potential to lead to "cuts to critical critical programs, services and staff," maintaining the most-expensive healthcare system in the world for the sake of conglomerates like the Norcross insurance brokerage was not an option and I announced my primary challenge against him.
The truth is, if we had a single-payer, universal healthcare system, the Norcross insurance brokerage becomes obsolete. I refuse to believe it should take any greater tragedy than the past two years for us to join the rest of the civilized world and guarantee healthcare as a human right.