For over a decade Elizabeth Emken has served as an advocate for developmentally disabled children, most recently as Vice President for Government Relations at Autism Speaks, the Nation’s largest science and advocacy organization devoted to the public health emergency of autism.
Before becoming active with the autism issue, Elizabeth served in management, financial analysis, and corporate operations at IBM. As an efficiency and cost cutting expert, Elizabeth utilized activity-based cost analyses to identify administrative savings across IBM U.S. – helping streamline operations, eliminate waste, and save the company millions of dollars.
Elizabeth graduated from UCLA in 1984 with degrees in Economics and Political Science. Her studies included course work at Cambridge University, where she focused on political and economic issues in China and the Middle East.
Elizabeth began helping families of children with autism, like her son Alex, more than a decade ago when she learned how little was being done to help individuals and families with disabilities. Elizabeth became a citizen-advocate, and as a Board Member, handled legislative advocacy for Cure Autism Now. She coordinated advocacy for the first major piece of federal legislation addressing autism, the Advancement in Pediatric Autism Research Act, ultimately becoming the lead title of the Children’s Health Act of 2000, which authorized programs totaling more than $200 million over 5 years at the National Institutes of Health, Centers for Disease Control, and Health and Resources and Services Administration.
A vital element of this accomplishment, Elizabeth led the charge to ensure transparency and accountability on how the NIH would spend autism research dollars. For the first time at the NIH, her efforts produced a portfolio analysis of autism spending that would have to withstand public scrutiny – a policy Elizabeth believes should apply throughout the entire government.
Elizabeth led autism community advocacy for the Combating Autism Act of 2006 on behalf of Cure Autism Now, Autism Speaks, and 17 other leading autism organizations. The Combating Autism Act of 2006, which passed in December, 2006, authorized nearly $1 billion over 5 years to combat autism through research, screening, early detection and early intervention.
Elizabeth joined Autism Speaks in March 2007 where she immediately launched a multi-state campaign to secure insurance coverage for autism-related services. Since then, 29 states have enacted autism insurance reform laws, saving participating states millions in taxpayer funds that would otherwise have been directed to state health care and special education services. This groundbreaking legislation, aimed at ending marketplace discrimination against individuals with autism, passed into law in California on October 9, 2011.
Elizabeth has worked extensively on behalf of military families, advocating for support totaling $24 million at the Department of Defense since 2007, and supporting health care coverage for autism related medical services in TRICARE, the health care program for active duty service members and retirees.
In 2008, Elizabeth secured, for the first time, placement of autism as a Presidential campaign issue with mentions at both party conventions and debates. This was followed by a first ever commitment for autism funding in a President’s full year budget proposal.
Elizabeth lives in Danville, California with her husband of 26 years, Craig, a Global Enterprise Solutions Architect at Dell Incorporated. They have two daughters, and a 19 year old son, Alex, who has autism spectrum disorder.
Government Spending and Budget:
I am committed to reducing the size and cost of government, reducing the publicly held debt and lowering taxes.
For too long, we have been spending money we don’t have on programs and agencies that have not produced results. We must reduce federal spending and provide real oversight on the performance of every federal agency, just as is demanded in the private marketplace. It is the job of Congress to provide this oversight and scale back agencies that do not provide appropriate return on our massive taxpayer investment.
Congress must make the distinction on priority spending in government, work within a budget, and stop spending now the future taxes our children have yet to earn and pay. I will insist on Congressional oversight of bureaucratic spending and a renewed focus on results.
Small and large American businesses will lead us out of the economic downturn, not more government spending. We must provide our business community the tools needed to grow the economy.
I will relentlessly pursue federal policies that foster free market capitalism and promote business growth and investment in America. Fundamental tax reform that allows capital to flow freely to the most efficient and demanded sources is the best way to create jobs and restore American financial stability.
Excessive regulation of our businesses must be examined and curtailed. New jobs created should not be government jobs. We just cannot afford it. Instead we must support the free market and create again the environment where small businesses can thrive and expand. The stimulus was a bad idea from the beginning, and resulted in poor economic and job results. I favor rescinding remaining spending authority of the stimulus.
Accountability in Washington:
Our elected representatives should have the courage and discipline to properly manage the Nation’s finances without the force of law. Sadly, they don’t. Because of the severity of the crisis, I support a balanced budget amendment movement. The momentum behind this movement will serve to let Congress know the people are serious about debt reduction.
I also believe Congress must be held accountable for the impact of their laws on our economy. New rules and regulations that kill jobs and hurt small businesses must be offset by the repeal of regulations that help create an equal number of free market jobs and opportunities.
Finally, I would seek ways to ensure the process is open and accessible to our citizens. When I went to Washington D.C. to find out what our government could do for autism research, it was very difficult to get any attention from the ‘good ole boy’ system. That has to change. The fundamental stability of our Democratic Republic comes from the average citizen’s right and ability to access their government to redress their grievances. That’s what I’ll work to provide and protect, and I will ensure you have access to your Senator on multiple communication platforms.
Questions and Answers with Elizabeth on Important Issues:
Q: How would you balance the budget?
A: You have to look at everything. There is no government agency that cannot be reduced in some form. At the same time, economic growth must be a component of any budget balancing plan. We cannot pay this debt down without robust economic growth that produces more revenues.
Q: Would you raise taxes to balance the budget?
A: No. I believe tax rates are already too high in this country. And, with the weakened economy, we cannot ask American families to pay more in taxes. I believe we need tax reform that makes our tax structure more competitive against overseas sources. By lowering the tax rates for businesses, corporate investment and capital will return to the country. That will stimulate growth and provide greater tax revenues.
Q: What agencies would you eliminate?
A: My approach is different. I want a top to bottom review of every agency, requiring metrics that measure results and value for invested tax dollars. Those programs that aren’t producing need to be made to produce. And those that have no possibility of returning value for invested tax dollars should be discontinued. As a cost efficiency expert, I spent a good portion of my career implementing these practices in the private sector.
Q: Would you cut Social Security benefits?
A: Social Security is a contract with the American people, and I would never vote for legislation that would alter or limit the benefits currently provided to seniors in or nearing retirement. We owe it to our seniors and those who have paid into this system all of their lives to ensure it is solvent and there for them as promised. However, Congress’ mismanagement has threatened the entire system. Because we need real, immediate solutions, everyone should come to the table and help develop a plan that ensures solvency and ensures benefits for those who depend on them. I support some of the ideas I’ve already heard. For example: a means test would benefit the system. I don’t believe Warren Buffet should be collecting Social Security.
The solution must produce a financially sound system that protects those seniors who rely on this income.
Q: What regulations and mandates would you cut to stimulate business growth?
A: Regulations and uncertainty over corporate taxes have given job-creators reason to fear investing in our economy. For example, Obama care has created uncertainty about the future cost of hiring an employee. And regulations on producing energy continue to drive up the cost of doing business. A recent Small Business Administration study concluded that federal regulations cost employers $1.75 trillion annually.
I would freeze across the board the new job killing regulations and taxes of the past four years. When the unemployment rate drops below 5%, then we can examine those regulations and add only those that are vital to supporting the free market.
Q: Would you have voted for the stimulus?
A: No. It has failed, as predicted, to produce jobs and move our country forward. It was the most expensive failure in the history of America until Obamacare came along a few months later.
Q: How would you address illegal immigration?
A: Everyone knows this system is broken. Our U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein has been in office for twenty years and she has done nothing to fix this problem. We cannot fault those who are drawn by the opportunity and promise of the American way of life. They are acting in their families’ best interest, as we would in the same situation. But we must approach the illegal immigration issue with a comprehensive solution that starts by securing our borders. There’s no reason why the United States of America cannot secure its borders, and until we do, we cannot adequately address the other problems with immigration.
We also need to ensure that we have a vibrant guest worker program that provides for our farms’ labor needs. Those families that are here working legally must pay their taxes and secure required drivers licenses, auto insurance and similar necessary items.
I believe amnesty would only make the problem worse, and I am not in favor of amnesty. Those that are here illegally must go through the proper legal immigration system.
These are tough questions, and we must have an honest discussion on how to solve the problems created by our lack of border security. That includes bringing together affected communities, business and labor leaders, and others to work out reasonable solutions to issues.
Q: What are your thoughts on a national energy policy?
A: Having a sound energy policy is vital to our national security, our economy, and our environment. We should pursue strategies to reduce our dependence on foreign oil and take an “all of the above approach” to energy development. The government shouldn’t attempt to pick winners and losers as we seek investment in alternative energy technology research. I propose we tie a portion of the revenues from new and renewed energy exploration leases to fund tax credits that support alternative fuel technology research and development. This simultaneously begins the process of reducing our reliance on foreign oil by refocusing on domestic production, while ensuring an even longer-term focus on non-oil based energy alternatives.
Here’s the bottom line: All of us seek a greener, cleaner planet, but higher energy costs will further weaken the economy, eliminate jobs, and drive up the price of everything. Environmentally-sound domestic energy exploration will divert resources from regimes funding terrorism while lowering the cost of producing American goods.
Q: Would you have voted for Obamacare?
A: I would have voted against Obamacare, and I support its repeal. This is despite the fact that it contains a very important provision for which I was a leading advocate, ending insurance marketplace discrimination against people with autism.
We do need genuine changes to our health care system. Health insurance should be portable and individuals should be able to control what’s in their benefit package. The role of government is to establish a set of fair insurance marketplace rules, and then serve as an honest referee. Government run healthcare is not the solution. Consumers must be more directly involved in decisions about their healthcare services to provide the market forces that will drive down costs that are presently skewed by government intervention in the healthcare system.