The following is an email I received from Daniel Carey, AOA Director, State Government Relations. The article highlights the impact your relationships have on your legislator and what we need to be doing to stay in the game. You'll notice it was written for OMD's. Please take a moment to read it.
How ophthalmologists can get involved in local politics to overcome key issues and influence legislation
By Paul Sternberg, Jr, Retina Specialist and G.W. Hale Professor and Chairman, Vanderbilt Eye Institute, and Janice C. Law, Associate Director for Residency Education, Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences, Vanderbilt University, Tennessee, USA
Why would a small group of ophthalmologists and ophthalmology residents quietly celebrate the results of a Democratic primary election for a seat in the Tennessee General Assembly in August, 2014? It turns out that the defeated incumbent, Gary Odom, had held this seat since 1986. When the Democrats were in control of the state legislature, he was House Majority Leader; with the Republicans now in control, he was the House Minority Leader. What was critical to the ophthalmic community was that Representative Odom was also the Executive Director of the Tennessee Optometric Association. For almost three decades, he had been ideally positioned to use his political power to leverage optometric issues. So when organized ophthalmology continued to face “scope of practice” challenges in Tennessee, we decided that one tactic would be to try to unseat Representative Odom. And while the ophthalmic community can’t take full responsibility for this success, we were actively involved in and supported Odom’s opponent, John Ray Clemmons: contributing and raising funds, volunteering, going door-to-door, and most importantly, making certain the medical community got out to vote.
In the end, fewer than 4,500 voted, and the margin of victory was only a few hundred votes: but at this local level, it doesn’t take a lot to make a huge difference. And with Clemmons not facing any Republican opposition in the November general election, his primary victory ensured he replaced Odom in the legislature. The newly elected Clemmons is now a lifelong friend of ophthalmology, annually visiting our institution to meet with our residency and talk with them about the importance of advocacy.
Success in advocacy requires effective communication with politicians. Effective communication requires access, which in turn requires relationships. And relationships start and end with elections and re-elections.
To start, it is important to know the key issues that affect ophthalmology and medicine in general. The best way to learn about this is to join your state ophthalmology society and, in turn, join your state medical association. The leaders of these organizations will help you identify issues that put your patients or your practice at risk. They will let you know which politicians are friendly and which less so. And they will help you become involved.
The best place to begin is by supporting candidates in their election campaigns. It certainly is best to get in early – the Clemmons election is a good example. Your involvement can take many forms. Candidates need money, so you should start building a relationship with your own contribution. But the only thing better than your personal contribution is getting others to donate through hosting a fundraiser, or bringing colleagues to a fundraiser. You also can help by putting a sign in your yard or even volunteering to make phone calls, pass out flyers, or knock on doors in your neighborhood. And remember that the first priority of an elected official is re-election! The Gary Odoms of the world may take their defeat seriously and immediately start their preparations to take back their lost seat – keep this in mind and at least be equally supportive when your candidate is up for re-election.
“Encourage the legislator to phone you with any questions about healthcare related issues, whether ophthalmic-related or not.”
After your candidate is elected, you need to maintain contact with your new ally. Make an effort to get together periodically outside the legislature. This could be meeting for breakfast or lunch, or even inviting the legislator to visit your office or ambulatory surgery center (ASC). Be sure that the legislator has your business card and your cell phone number. Encourage the legislator to phone you with any questions about healthcare related issues, whether ophthalmic-related or not. It also would be valuable to develop a social relationship. This is not essential; however, if you truly enjoy the legislator’s company, consider a golf outing or fishing expedition.
It is even more impactful for you to take a morning away from your practice and travel to the statehouse during the legislative session and visit your legislator there. You visit not just when your issue is on the docket: you don’t want to be viewed as a “one trick pony.” You must definitely visit when there is an ophthalmology-critical issue under consideration and bring colleagues (and your trainees) with you. Make sure that your local politicians are aware of your key issues of concern. It is important they know to notify you if they hear about legislation being considered that could be relevant to you. And if you (or your society) want to propose proactive legislation, do not hesitate to ask them to help you by sponsoring the bill.
Success in local politics is all about relationships: you must develop them and nurture them. Effective communication with your local politicians is not possible without a relationship. You will be more successful in convincing your legislator to support your position if he or she knows you and knows that you have been supportive of them. Dropping in at the eleventh hour is rarely successful. And remember that “all politics is local” – it doesn’t take a big gift to get on the radar of your local legislator. However, playing a key role in getting a candidate elected the first time may lead to a lifetime relationship of friendship, good will, and support.
READ ARTICLE HERE
Director, State Government Relations
American Optometric Association