November 12, 1996 marked a new beginning for the 105th U.S. Congress, state legislatures, and local government. Newly elected legislators will have the responsibility to serve their constituents well. Their constituents on the other hand, need to express their views and lobby (For information about the new lobbying disclosure act of 1995 which became effective on January 1, 1996 go to www.arentfox.com) their legislators to support their issues. How easy it sounds, and yet how difficult to operationalize. However, we can learn from others.
The Cleveland Plain Dealer reported on October 21, 1996 that organized labor has re-emerged as a major political force and "has succeeded in shaping the debate and in knocking Republicans off-balance." They have been successful via targeted and focused television ads aired around the country and grass roots efforts. Their $5.5 million orchestrated television advertising campaign drove the minimum wage issue and many believe was the most significant factor in raising the minimum wage. Union organizers are speaking directly to union members in their local districts to assure voter turnout at the polls and to lay the ground work for a permanent political action network. The grassroots efforts are being undertaken so that "next year when there's a piece of legislation before the Congress that we care about, all we will have to do is snap our fingers and we've got a political machine ready to roll" reported Deborah Dion, a union media specialist. Labors' efforts have been estimated to cost between $35 million - $50 million.
Nursing has made great strides in the political arena during the past two decades. The groundwork for a permanent political action network has been in place since 1974 at the national level and is in varying stages at state and local levels. With the increasing thrust of national policy decisions and decentralization with state and local control and management of programs, it is imperative that we become more involved in state and local politics. Endorsement of candidates, voting for and working with council people, county commissioners, judges, local boards, mayors, state legislators, governors, and attorney generals will be critical now and in the future years. We need to grease the wheels of our political machine so that it can steam roll when we need our voices heard. But as organized labor has shown us, this also takes money. Money has never been easy to raise from nurses because most of us are not wealthy. We need to justify the benefits to be gained from our contributions to political action committees and candidates.
Just think what $35 - $50 million in advertisements for Nursing's Agenda for Health Care Reform would have done during the 104th U.S. Congressional session. It certainly would have helped shape the debate and changed the dynamics. Health care reform will continue to be addressed in incremental steps by the 105th Congress. We need to put our money where our mouths are. If each of the 2.2 million nurses in the United States contributed just $20 this year to the ANA-PAC, we would have $44 million to launch nursing's "ground war." This will assure continuation of our focused campaign to assure quality health care to all residents of the United States.
In the two months between election day and the beginning of new sessions of legislative bodies at the national, state, and local levels, we must not lay dormant. Grassroots efforts should begin with meeting your legislators, discussing areas of mutual interest, and offers to provide nursing expertise. Organized nursing can build up its coffers with your contributions so that we too can drive the health care reform issue during 1997-1998.
Keywords: Labor Unions, United States, Legislation, Lobbying, Nurses Political Participation
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THE AUTHORGreer Glazer, PhD, RN, FAAN
Director, Parent Child Nursing
College of Nursing
Kent State University
Kent, OH 44202
E-mail Address: GGlazer@Kent.Edu
Dr. Glazer is Professor and Director of Parent Child Nursing at Kent State University College of Nursing. Besides her many research activities in the field of women's health and stress, Dr. Glazer is chairman of the Ohio Nurses' Association Government Affairs Committee, a combination legislation committee and PAC. She is currently the legislative liaison to congressman Steve LaTourette and has previously been on health care committees at the state and national level. Locally she serves on the Board of the Cuyahoga County (Ohio) Children's Trust Fund and recently completed four years on the Health Care Committee allocation panel for United Way in Cuyahoga County.
Article published January 6, 1997