On my YouTube channel, I recently featured interviews with two up-and-coming candidates, Jaye Espy (D15 delegate) and Ashwani Jain (County Council At-Large). I had known Ashwani from Montgomery County Young Democrats, he being a millennial himself. I remind him that, for all he’s accomplished, he’s even younger than me, at 28. I had only met Jaye Espy recently at a holiday event where she expressed interest in the show.
Both candidates brought up their personal battles with medical conditions and discussed how they influenced their decision to run for office. Ashwani described his battle with cancer at a young age, and Jaye Espy talked about seeking treatment for her daughter’s mental health. Each personal story raised overlooked questions. Why are people with a severe illness, such as cancer, so often talked about, rather than spoken with? And why is mental healthcare often either stigmatized or cast into a wide net in attempt to cram into a one-size-fits-all treatment approach?
Ashwani discusses his run for office as a cancer survivor and his work for the Make A Wish Foundation and Joe Biden’s Cancer Moonshot:
Jaye Espy discusses mental health:
Aside from those questions, which we discussed in the interviews, it got me thinking about the fine line between having personal medical issues inspire a run for office or guide your campaign platform, and politicizing your personal illnesses. Ashwani talked about how some cancer patients were more open about their conditions than others. While some patients preferred to share their battles with cancer in a narrative as a courageous personal journey or as a victorious story to inspire optimism, others felt less comfortable with the idea of letting their illnesses define them. Likewise, Jaye Espy’s daughter, who was present, consented to her telling of her struggles with mental health, an issue that is often stigmatized with the blame placed on the patient. The purpose of Jaye’s story was to highlight the gaps in the mental health system. It was an expensive and emotionally draining process to find the right specialist, as treatment methods need to be tailored to the individual as well as the condition.
In neither case did I get a sense that they were politicizing a health issue. Whether or not Governor Hogan does so is up for debate, but the least I could say is that it would serve him well to do something to reign in healthcare and prescription drug costs.
Anyways, I did not get the sense from either of the interviews that the candidates were looking for sympathy. Their message sounded more like, “Here’s a structural problem, now let’s fix it.” Of course, it is a personal choice of the individual whether or not his or her own medical issues are up for discussion.
Ashwani also made a good point, that when he was diagnosed with cancer as a child, he felt like he was constantly being talked about as if he had no say in his future. This is why I often bring up personal agency. If anything could serve as an inspiration to take charge and run for office, it’s the feeling that everyone around you is trying to decide things for you.
I may not necessarily agree with all of their policies (though I probably do, for the most part), but any potential disagreements are irrelevant to the point. Even if these health issues are part of their respective central inspirations to their campaigns, it took notable courage to discuss them so openly.
I will continue to highlight past and upcoming candidate interviews in this blog, plus adding my own personal commentary on other topics.