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Commentary: Chalk one up for government

Government is not the solution, Ronald Reagan famously said. Government is the problem.

Reagan was wrong, of course. Even some Republicans grudgingly deny their iconic leader.

Government certainly can be problematic. Sometimes, though, it really is the solution. Maybe even a life-saving one.

I saw this illustrated last week in Queen Anne’s County just across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge.

Torrential rains forced assorted dignitaries inside the brand new Queen Anne’s Emergency Center on Nesbitt Road just off Route 50, almost in the shadow of the bay bridge.

Bipartisanship had to be credited. Government, too.

Starting this week, the emergency center offers 24/7 service for travelers and local residents facing health emergencies — heart attacks, impending births, etc. In cases like this a traffic-clotted bridge could be fatal.

For years, county commissioners and others have wanted some sort of emergency facility but they couldn’t afford to build it on their own. They raised almost $1 million, but the building, the water and sewer hookups and a state-of-the-art diagnostic and treatment capability would cost much more.

So the emergency center got help from government — from us, from taxpayers — and not just taxpayers from a growing but still-small county.

A civics lesson

It’s Democratic Government 101.

It’s what we all learned in high school: The larger community helps the smaller. Apparently, some want to revise that approach, but you won’t find them among those who need immediate care.

The Democratic-controlled General Assembly helped to clear the usual regulatory hurdles so the emergency center could set fee structures. Legislative leaders also headed off the suggestion that Republicans on the Eastern Shore deserved no help since they so frequently block government help.

“We’re saving lives,” said Del. Pete Hammen, the House of Delegates health committee chairman. “Because of the collaborative effort where people put policy in the front seat and politics in the backseat, we have a wonderful facility that’s going to serve the citizens of the Eastern Shore very well.”

Sen. E.J. Pipkin of Cecil County agreed — sort of.

“We’re filling a big gap in medical services here in Queen Anne’s County and the surrounding area,” he said. “It just doesn’t get any better than this.”

So, senator, there is a reason for government?

“Well,” he said, “we won’t go that far but we can say there certainly is the need for a safety net. This is part of that safety net. A big gap in that safety net got filled today.”

Having it both ways

This is called having it both ways: Give us the safety net, but don’t make us concede anything to government. Oh, and also don’t notice if we show up to cut the ribbons.

Asked a similar question about government, Democratic Congressman Frank Kratovil responded with an eye toward government’s critics.

“You hear so many bad things about government, how government can’t do things,” he said. “Here you have people working together across the aisle to get things done.

“It’s the best example of not only government doing its job, but of working with folks in the private sector to do something that’s needed.”

Local officials were equally quick to say government was the solution.

“Definitely,” said Gene M. Ransom III, chairman of the Queen Anne’s County Commission. “I think this is a situation where government involvement helped a private entity come here. … But if it weren’t for that push from government it wouldn’t have happened.”

Any number of things illustrate government meeting a real need.

The new facility includes a helicopter landing pad so the choppers won’t have to set down on nearby Route 50, as sometimes happens now.

With Kratovil’s help, the federal government provided $400,000 for a CT scanner.

With government involvement, officials at the University of Maryland Medical System decided to build the facility despite fears it could not sustain itself.

Flexibility was found in regulations designed to avoid costly duplication.

All of this was problem-solving by the people of Queen Anne’s County, by Republicans and Democrats working together and by government.

C. Fraser Smith is senior news analyst at WYPR-FM. His column appears Fridays in The Daily Record. His e-mail address is fsmith@wypr.org.