This is the third in a series of interviews with some of Utah’s elected officials. In addition to high-profile candidates, Utah has many public servants whose quiet work often goes unsung. With this series, I hope to shine a light on the personalities that make up Utah’s political leadership, not only for their work in government, but also to show what they are like as our neighbors.
The questions are a potpourri of the fun and the serious, and I hope allow us a small glimpse into the men and women who run our state.
I caught up with Rep. Sanpei earlier this week during his commute. He had been recommended to me as one to the driving forces behind Utah’s trailblazing Medicaid reform efforts in 2011. As we spoke, it didn’t take me long to understand why. Sanpei, in addition to a day job that puts him on the front lines of healthcare forecasting and analysis, really does enjoy the arcane and often confusing world of economic policy. He’s a true policy wonk.
In spite of that, or perhaps as a result of it, Rep. Sanpei is easy to talk with and is quick to laugh. I look forward to hearing more from him on further Medicaid reforms in the 2012 legislative session.
Thanks for making time this afternoon, Representative Sanpei.
It’s no problem.
This is your first term in the legislature. How is it going so far?
It’s great. It’s quite the experience. There is always lots going on, and it’s hard to describe to people. There are long days during the session, lots of people who want to talk, especially then, and always more to learn about.
But this is far from your first brush with legislative politics.
Right. I’ve been precinct chair, legislative chair, as well. I have always thought that it’s important to be a part of the process. If you don’t get involved in the process, you get the solutions impose on you without any input.
Let’s shift a bit. What do you do for a day job?
I’m Assistant Vice President for Strategic Planning and Development for Intermountain Healthcare.
And what does that mean?
I do planning, forecasting, and analysis. Lately, I’ve done a lot of analysis of how the healthcare policies over the last few years, especially at the federal level, will affect IHC. I’ve been looking at federal healthcare laws, what they will be and how they will affect us, payment mechanisms, and proposing solutions for what directions we need to go.
Sounds like fairly wonkish stuff.
[laughs]. There is a fair amount of wonkishness to it.
You like it?
I guess I must. It’s what I do every day. I do like the policy stuff, especially since it’s in both my day job and legislative job. I like analysis, looking into the future, looking at economic trends, trying to figure out what’s happening and what’s going to happen in the future.
What might surprise people in your wallet?
There’s probably not much in there that is surprising. Credit cards, driver’s license…but no coins. I never have coins.
Do you have a favorite vacation?
My favorite is Disney. Whether it is Disney World or Disney Land, I just love going there with my kids. There’s so much going on that it’s hard to think about other things in going on in life. It’s a great escape.
What is the last book you read or that you have on the proverbial nightstand?
You know, I read a lot of non-fiction. I like books that deal with the economy and current events. Alan Greenspan’s “Age of Turbulence” is the last one I read. It was interesting to see from all the economic events of the last 15-20 years from his unique perspective at the fed. He was there with five different Presidents, and so he had the chance to see a lot happen.
Do you recommend it?
[laughs] I would recommend it if someone is interested in economic theory…
Where did you grow up? What was the most mischief you got into before you were twelve?
I grew up all over. My father was in the Air Force, so I moved around quite a bit. Seven different schools by the time I was in seventh grade. Much of his family is in Hawaii, so we eventually ended up there.
I went to BYU for graduate school, and so we ended up here. My kids consider Provo home.
As for mischief—wow. I don’t know. I do remember my sister getting into a lot of mischief.
One more embarrassing moment was a swim meet in which I was supposed to swim the butterfly, But I was so nervous that I took off swimming freestyle. That sticks out in my mind.
How about your proudest moment before you were eighteen?
It might surprise people to know that I was a short track speed skating state champion in Hawaii. It’s not as big a sport there as it is in northern states, but it was a big deal. I had to work hard, and I was proud to win it.
Favorite Local Restaurant?
That’s a tough question because one of my favorite things to do in the world is to eat out. Hmm… I’d recommend the Osaka in Provo. I also like Ruby River for great ribs. And, of course, there’s always Café Rio.
James Bond or Mission: Impossible?
Wife’s favorite flower?
Oh, she’s hard to get flowers for on this one. She likes wild flowers. Roses would be so much easier because I can just buy them. With wild flowers, I gotta go pick them myself, and they’re not always in season.
Leno, Letterman, or Conan?
Letterman, if I’m still up. I’m usually asleep by ten.
Because I’m allergic to most things with fur, we don’t have any pets.
Why did become a Republican?
Primarily because of the fiscal discipline and social values of the Republican Party. I believe the Republican platform reflects those things better.
What legislation are you working on right now?
I’m doing some additional Medicaid reforms [Rep. Sanpei was a mover behind the 2010 Medicaid reforms], some mental health payment reforms, and substance use provision bill, among others.
It sounds like a lot. Can you tell me more about the Medicaid reform bill?
With the Medicaid reform, we’re trying to look at dealing with the effects of the aggregate effects of the federal healthcare reforms. We expect that the federal laws are going to increase Medicaid rolls in the next years. In 2011 we started to fix some of these things, but the devils in the details, and there are still a lot of details to work on.
One thing that is sort of creeping up on us is mental health issues. Nobody likes to talk about the topic, but it is a significant portion of our budget and there are lot opportunities to maintain quality and lower cost, which is becoming increasingly important.
When we don’t do mental health well, increases the costs of emergency healthcare, increases the jail and homeless populations. We gotta figure out how to get it right.
Sounds like important legislation. Please keep us informed about how it goes.
Thanks. I will.
Drive carefully, and you have a great day.
I will. Thanks, Dan.
- Meet Representative Holly Richardson of Utah’s 57th Legislative District (publiusonline.com)
- Meet Senator Casey Anderson of Utah’s 28th Senate District (publiusonline.com)