Personal connections with lawmakers can make all the difference
In December when I went to Washington for the lobby day to press for passage of H.R. 6490, I had an appointment with my representative, Robert Hurt of Virginia’s 5th District. He had already signed on to H.R. 6490, so the purpose of my visit was to thank him for his support and congratulate him on his election victory.
As I walked down the hall of the Longworth House Office Building toward Hurt’s office, a young man walking toward me smiled and said, “Hello, Mr. Stanfield. Good to see you again.”
The young man was Kelly Simpson, Hurt’s health legislative aide. Kelly and I had met during the previous year as I lobbied for the industry.
Kelly is an old hand in Washington, having worked for former Representative Virgil Goode four years earlier. Goode was not only a previous 5th district Congressman from Virginia, but someone I call a friend. It was in 2002, during his fourth term in the House, that I made the decision that unless I got involved in politics, I couldn’t change the path of public policy for the DME industry of which I was a part.
During the 2002 election campaign I launched the plan that today I ask other suppliers to follow. The grassroots advocacy program I put in place for the National Association of Independent Medical Equipment Suppliers (NAIMES) is founded on two principles: without a personal relationship with my representative I have no voice, and unless my representative recognizes my face and knows my name, I don’t have a relationship.
I put my plan into action and within a matter of months Goode recognized me and knew my name and about my company. At the time I was an owner, with partners, of two full-line DME businesses and two unit-dose respiratory medication pharmacies. I was active with two state DME associations and with AAHomecare, the relatively new national trade association formed after the merger of the National Association for Medical Equipment Services (NAMES) and the home care division of the Health Industry Distributors Association (HIDA).
Goode and I met many times in D.C. during his years in the House as well as back home in the district. Not only did I contribute to his campaign, but I was an advocate for him and his legislative goals. As often as I could, I made a point of being wherever Goode was when he was back home in the district. It was during his last years in the House that I met his aide, Kelly Simpson, later a senior aide to Hurt.
When I visited Washington during Goode’s tenure, he would often take me with him from his office to the Capitol when time was short, so we could talk on the way. When he lost the election to now former Representative Tom Perriello in 2008, I again made a point to follow my plan and build another relationship. When Perriello lost the election to Hurt in 2010 I was once again back in relationship-building mode.
There are several points to this story. One, you have to make an effort to befriend your representative. You have to meet him, talk to him and develop a relationship. You have to make an effort to get in front of him to share your views and your concerns.
I learned a lot from Goode during the six years that I worked with him and I continued to learn from his successors. I learned how Congress works and the role played by members of the House. Most importantly, I learned that supporting a legislator’s goals can be instrumental in gaining their confidence and support for my goals.
Two, getting to know and respect the members of a legislator’s staff is also a critical element of having a relationship with your representative. No member of Congress can handle the pressures of the office without competent staff to guide them. The health legislative aide sifts, weighs and boils down the reams of information coming to their boss’s office every week about health-care related issues, and likely knows more about the issues that concern us than the legislator.
Last of all, be sure to remember that without having these types of relationships in place, our small industry will never succeed in changing our destiny for the better. We must always remember that both recognition and relationships mean power.
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