West VA Lawmaker 'Worried' About HS Students' Single-Payer Tee-Shirts

Craig Brown

The Journal of Martinsburg, WV is reporting today:

Students’ T-shirts raise concerns

By Jamie West / Journal Staff Writer

BERKELEY SPRINGS - West Virginia Delegate Daryl Cowles, R-Morgan, has expressed concern that eight Berkeley Springs High School students recently wore Single Payer Action T-shirts, saying he is worried that the small form of protest could escalate into something more.

The shirts say "Single Payer Action. Everybody in. Nobody out," on the front and "What would Jesus do? Single payer health care for all. Everybody in. Nobody out," on the back.

Cowles said in a telephone interview Wednesday evening that the wearing of T-shirts by students was one thing - but the history of Single Payer Action and its organizer, Berkeley Springs resident Russell Mokhiber, made him believe that there could be more to it than a simple addition to the students' daily wardrobe.

"It's one thing for kids to wear a T-shirt, as long as it stays like that," Cowles said.

Cowles said Mokhiber has been arrested on a prior occasion due to his disruption at a U.S. Senate hearing on health care reform after requesting the single-payer option have a "seat at the table," and he had to be stopped by Town of Bath police after attempting to interview U.S. Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., on health care after a Berkeley Springs Streetscape ribbon-cutting ceremony. A video on the group's Web site, www.singlepayeraction.org, shows the attempted interview from Mokhiber's video camera.

Cowles echoed those concerns in an e-mail he sent out to some of his constituents, which was forwarded to The Journal.

In the e-mail, Cowles describes the T-shirt wearing as a "political protest" that would be occurring despite school policy.

"The debate over big government health care, big government taxes, big government control, and big government deficits....has no place in our school learning enviornment (sic) ...," the e-mail says.

"Russell must have enlisted some high school students to carry out this effort. I expect he is looking to make some news when his student protestors are asked not to wear the shirts," the e-mail says.

During the phone interview, Cowles said that he sent the message because he had received many calls from people concerned that the group would become disruptive around the school, and he had "full confidence in the school and their administrators that they would be able to decipher what is and isn't a violation of school policy."

One recipient of the forward sent out a second mass e-mail requesting that those concerned "call the school and school board and send (Superintendent of Morgan County Schools) Dave Banks an email to make sure this is stopped before it gets started."

A telephone message to Banks seeking comment was not returned as of presstime.

Mokhiber said in an interview earlier this week that the students' actions were more of a "promotion" than a protest or demonstration.

Cowles said he personally knows some of the students involved through his daughter, who attends the school, and they are good kids. He also said that the shirts lead into a "great discussion" for the school to have.

However, Cowles said he knows the confrontational history of the group, and hoped that it would steer clear of disrupting the school day.

"Russell is a fine fellow, but he is a professional organizer," Cowles said. "His group just doesn't have a good track record."

Single Payer Action is a nonprofit group based out of Washington, D.C., that is in support of H.R. 676, a single-payer health care system.

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