David Dewhurst responded by letter to Dallas Area Interfaith, whose leader criticized the lieutenant governor for failing to meet with his organization to discuss CHIP eligibility. But the letter raises more questions than it answers:
"Dear Mr. Bennett:
I was surprised to learn today that your organization held a news conference at the State Capitol to criticize me for refusing to meet with the representatives of the Network of Texas Organizations regarding the CHIP program. You only sent my office a letter yesterday requesting a meeting, and my staff told your office they were processing your request.
Given this fact, I can only conclude that you are more interested in politicizing this issue than working with the Legislature to ensure that every eligible child is enrolled in the CHIP program.
As Lieutenant Governor, I have been a champion for children and a strong supporter of CHIP, and I believe that every eligible child should be enrolled in the program. As someone who has worked to increase funding for this worthwhile program, I would be happy to meet with you to discuss your concerns and ideas. Please contact Sylvia Anguiano in my office at (512-463-0001) to schedule an appointment at a time that is convenient.
After receiving the letter, I called Willie Bennett of Dallas Area Interfaith, Network of Texas Organizations. Dallas Interfaith represents 50 congregations in Dallas and Collin Counties, and the Network of Texas Organizations have represents 11 organizations similar to his.
"This is a longstanding thing beyond the request for a meeting we asked for Tuesday," Bennett said. "We have requested meetings throughout his term as lieutenant governor."
Bennett said the Network of Texas Organizations was told that Dewhurst's policy required groups to be screened by a staff member before meeting with him. "We followed their protocol of meeting with a staff person first but over the years that has not led to a meeting with him," he said.
"We explained all this to his staff yesterday," he added.
The real issue, Bennett said, is that Dewhurst appears to be blocking adoption of 12-month eligibility, rather than 6-month, for CHIP. The House has already signed off on the more lenient 12-month policy. "We really need to meet with him in person" to explain the organization's position, Bennett said. "We look to rectify that here shortly."
Bennett seemed mystified by the tempest. "We're not talking about a few people -- it's a large organization," he said. "We've meet with governors before."
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