Key Words: legislative liaison, politics, healthcare policy
The 2000 United States elections will go down in history for challenging the country to reexamine the entire election process. An equally significant byproduct of the 2000 elections is that they highlighted the importance of every person's vote. Narrow margins of victory were not only evidenced in the presidential election, but also many local, state and federal races. This election graphically illustrated to each of us that every vote counts.
The importance of the individual, however, does not stop with his/her vote in the election. It is critical that each of us understands and uses our political power with the newly elected officials to influence healthcare legislation. The 2000 elections were also unique in that term limit legislation became effective in many states for the first time, creating significant turnover in the legislature. In Ohio, the Speaker of the House and the President of the Senate as well as the chairs of the House and Senate health committees will be new. In addition, the Ohio House will have 47 (44 new and 3 switched chambers) out of 99 new representatives and the Senate will have 8 (2 new and 6 switched chambers) out of 33 new Senators (P. Noble, personal communication, December 1, 2000). Therefore, we are in an unprecedented time with a legislature filled with new leadership and new legislators who need to be educated by registered nurses about our issues. This same scenario is true in other states where term limits took effect for the first time this election cycle. Are we ready for this golden opportunity?
Cohen et al. (1996) outlined four stages of political development in an excellent article entitled "Stages of Nursing's Political Development: Where We've Been and Where We Ought to Go". The stages are: Stage 1, the buy-in phase; Stage 2, the self-interest phase; Stage 3, the political sophistication phase; and Stage 4, the leading the way phase. They believe that nursing has begun to enter Stage 4 where nurses become the initiators, leaders, and formulators of critical health policy. In order to reach Stage 4, the authors identify leadership development as a key issue.
I believe that political leadership development begins with individual nurses developing a relationship with an individual legislator. The American Nurses Association, as well as some state nurses associations, has developed liaison programs between legislators and registered nurses. Other specialty nursing organizations have also embraced this model of lobbying. My experience at the state level is that although the liaison programs have laudable goals, the goals are difficult to achieve optimally due to lack of R.N. participation in the liaison programs.
If registered nurses could extend the lesson learned that each vote makes a difference to each legislative liaison makes a difference, we could progress to Stage 4 of political development where nurses are proactive on leadership and agenda-setting for a range of health and social policy issues. Individual R.N.'s serving as legislative liaisons to legislators can make a tremendous difference in developing, implementing and evaluating healthcare policy. "Contrary to what many Americans may believe, members of Congress care desperately about their constituents"(Gugliotta, 1993). The constituent R.N. legislative liaison is in the ideal position to work with the legislator to move healthcare legislation forward.
Ideally, registered nurses should join their professional nursing associations' legislative liaison programs. Since over 10,000 bills are introduced federally (deVries & Vanderbilt, 1992), and approximately 2000 bills are introduced in each state (Larsen, 1999), it is impossible for an individual to keep up with legislation. The nursing organizations lobbyists' job is to track legislation, develop action plans and alerts, and to notify nurses when to take action. Most also include an orientation to the specific requirements of serving as a liaison. Although there are differences in expectations of legislative liaisons, most share the following expectations: 1) meet with your designated legislator a specified number of times yearly; 2) maintain communication with the legislator via telephone or email a specified number of times to "touch base" and not to ask for something; 3) correspond with the legislator when alerted by the organization; 4) follow up legislator requests for information; 5) work on future campaigns of legislator; 6) attend local events sponsored by legislator; and 7) participate in fund-raising efforts of the nursing organization's political action committee for the legislator. A registered nurse who serves in this role faithfully will undoubtedly develop a long lasting positive relationship with the legislator. Not only will the R.N. be sought to respond to questions the legislator has about healthcare legislation, but the legislator will be receptive to suggestions made by the R.N. for initiating healthcare legislation. In addition, when task forces and committees dealing with healthcare are formed, the liaison will be a likely recommendation to the committee by the legislator.
Newly elected legislators will begin their jobs in January 2001. We can begin now to develop the liaison relationships with legislators so that when they take office, they will already know whom to ask about healthcare issues. Make a New Year's resolution that deals with your professional life---volunteer to serve as a constituent legislative liaison for the year 2001. Just think what a difference it would make if every state and federal legislator had a registered nurse liaison. The world would definitely be a better place.
Greer Glazer, PhD, RN, CNP, FAAN
Director, Parent Child Nursing
College of Nursing
Kent State University
Kent, OH 44202
Email 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.
Cohen, S., Mason, D., Kovner, C., Leavitt, J., Pulcini, J., & Sochalski, J. (1996). Stages of nursing's political development: where we've been and where we ought to go. Nursing Outlook, 44(6), 259-266.
deVries, C., & Vanderbilt, M. (1992). Grassroots lobbying handbook. Washington, D.C.: American Nurses Association.
Gugliatta,G. (1993, August 3). To get Congress's ear, write don't call. The Washington Post.
Larsen, K. (1999). Ohio legislative liaison notebook. Ohio Nurses Association.