Making friends in politics

Thursday, March 01, 2012 12:15 PM
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The urgency and opportunity for local physician political engagement thanks to redistricting in 2012

David Ross, DO, Chair, Colorado Medical Political Action Committee

Like most carbon-based organisms, legislators and other elected officials cultivate during their life spans a safe environment to work and grow. They methodically vote and campaign in patterns that are intended to assure they have more friends than adversaries. Over time, at least up to the time they are term limited, legislators can accumulate a lot of both.

But every decade they are constitutionally compelled to make new friends and start over through a process benignly called “redistricting.” Redistricting is a cannibalistic, intensely political effort that reapportions voters into new legislative districts according to population growth and demographic shifts that have evolved over the previous 10 years. This process can be a nightmare for politicians. They can be paired in death matches with a colleague, wake up to find their “safe” district has received a potentially fatal injection of hostile voters or, just as likely, ambivalent voters who have never heard of them. And, in at least 30 places in Colorado, legislators have seen their districts evaporate underneath them. Both the endangered incumbent and the open-seat candidate are looking for “new” friends.

And this is where Colorado physicians must seize opportunity. In a part-time, lightly staffed General Assembly like ours, legislators can’t possibly acquire the expertise to make judgments on the literally hundreds of voting options they must annually consider. Logically and understandably, they are disproportionately reliant on the advice and insights of professional advocates, and more importantly, those of friendly and well-informed constituents. When the survivors of the 2012 election cycle convene in the 2013 legislature, they will be making some hard-core choices on things that will directly influence how we practice.

Here’s a quick quiz to underscore the need for physician engagement in the 2012 election cycle:

  1. Who is most likely to get a phone call returned, or legislative “ask” carefully considered?
    1. The trial lawyer who has given big bucks to that legislator and now threatens to transfer that largesse to another candidate/challenger.
    2. The physician who met his/her state rep once and gets an appointment in the capitol office the day before a big vote.
    3. The physician who organized local medical and health care community support – wrote letters, block walked, opened his/her home or office up for a meet and greet during the election cycle for this legislator.
    4. The physician who has never had any contact with the legislator.
  2. For the politically active physician, when is the optimal time to get involved locally in support of a medicine-friendly candidate or incumbent legislator?
    1. When they are first seeking office.
    2. When they are facing a potentially career-ending challenge.
    3. Right after a legislative session, to thank them for their efforts.

Hopefully the answers to this quiz are self evident. When it comes to legislative policy influence:

  1. Relationships are as important as the issue – and probably more valuable than financial donations.
  2. Relationships are cultivated, and are best planted when the political circumstances are most fertile – when candidates are seeking to gain or retain office. That’s when they need real friends who will step up and stand by them.
  3. Once every 10 years, the political landscape is scrambled and the opportunity to make solid, enduring relationships with candidates and incumbents locally increases exponentially.

There are three kinds of friendships, or “grassroots relationships.”

  1. Organic: The physicians who knew the incumbent or candidate before their political careers – family, neighbor, friend (and yes, patient) or business partner. These are by definition close, and the most likely sought by the legislator/candidate.
  2. Home grown: This is typified by physicians who at some point, engage in the array of political support work for their soon-to-be-friend. These constitute the majority of most physician/legislator relationships, and are grown on an episodic, opportunistic basis. This once-in-a-decade window is the quintessential opportunity.
  3. Artificial turf: These are the cyclical gestures of support that while less intimate have long-term importance and value. Examples include contributions to the political funds managed by COMPAC, signing a letter in support of the local candidate or incumbent or attending a reception or meet and greet with colleagues and friends.

COMPAC and CMS are in the middle of a systematic series of physician and component society staff training sessions in support of local legislative candidate screenings. The objective is to identify candidates organized medicine will endorse in the wide array of contested race opportunities before us.

Over the remaining months of this vital election cycle, we are aggressively pursuing the cultivation of the grassroots relationships in as many of these seats as we can possibly achieve. What we do now, not next January, will determine the course of everything medicine has on the table and at risk for the rest of this decade in the Colorado General Assembly. We must engage in this process for the betterment of our patients, our practices and for the patients and physicians of the future.

Contact me at and I’ll get back to you with the relationship building opportunities in your area.


Posted in: Colorado Medicine | Initiatives | Advocacy


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