Gallery: Health Lobbyist [3 Images] Click any image to expand.
By Scott Brazda | Submitted Photos
I ’ve been a lobbyist for 36 years,” begins Randy Haynie, “and for me, it’s always been about the issues. That’s what’s kept me going: the excitement of getting things accomplished.”
Haynie is nearing 40 years as a political lobbyist on the state level, and in his time, he has nurtured issues on a number of platforms, from red light cameras to privacy issues related to drones and to health & economic concerns regarding tobacco. “Certainly, lawmakers are concerned about cancer, but they often think taxing tobacco out of existence is the way to go,” says Haynie. “Problem is, they also know they can’t afford to and don’t have the infrastructure in place to replace the millions of revenue dollars tobacco generates overnight.”
Health issues, particularly those that involve cancer, occupy many hours and many days for South Louisiana lobbyists. Some, like Haynie, have worked to persuade senators, legislators and congresspersons for nearly all of their professional lives; others, however, kind of stumbled into the profession of health lobbyist. Case in point: New Iberia’s Patty Rowe, who turned her own health concerns, as well as those of family members, into a passion to help others battling cancer.
“About 16 years ago, while I was living in Nevada, I actually had two cancer diagnoses,” explains Rowe, “and my oncologist got me into a clinical trial in Los Angeles. It was there, as part of a support group, that I learned the American Cancer Society had funded part of the trial and that motivated me to get more involved. That was sort of my wake-up call to pay it forward, to follow my heart and to give back to make a difference.”
Rowe’s own motivations were amplified by two additional occurrences, both cancer-related: Her husband’s battle with testicular cancer and her mother’s fight against breast cancer. “At first, it’s about you; but then, when your loved ones are affected, you soon understand that your mission to pay back is about so much more.” Rowe quickly became involved in local Relay for Life events and helped establish Elko, Nevada’s first cancer support group. “The American Cancer Society could—and can-- only do so much. So we also started the Patty Rowe Foundation to help cancer patients with light bills and other expenses. I knew first-hand that when you’re battling cancer, the day-to-day finances can really be affected.”
In 2004, Rowe was asked by members of the Reno, Nev. office of the American Cancer Society (ACS) to do advocacy for ACS, its clients and the issues that affect them. Her initial task was to go out and get to know legislators so that “...they would know my face”, but Rowe was a bit stunned when she began to meet-and-greet. “To my surprise, they had no idea what we did. I was usually talking to an aide, and not the lawmakers themselves. But I will say that the lawmakers were, and still are, usually receptive.”
Building relationships with policymakers is helpful, to say the least, especially when a lobbyist is trying to move the needle on bills involving cancer and the like. But Haynie says the relationships with those in state or federal capitols don’t carry that value that they once did. “Twenty or even ten years ago, it was all about who you knew and the level of trust established between a lobbyist and a legislator. If you were trying to push the needle on a cancer law or any other law for that matter, it was who got the pertinent info to that official faster.” That’s not the case in 2016. “Today, it’s more about the facts. Elected officials have more data and information about health-issues on their desks and on their computers than they ever did before. And when it comes to the health of the people they serve, those same officials will look at the numbers over and over again.”
Still, the need for a receptive ear from those who will say “yay” or “nay” is still there, and when a “National Lobby Day” occurs in Washington, D.C. (as it did in mid-September), Rowe and hundreds like her are there. “You build on past relationships, you build new relationships,” she says. “We’ll put on our blue shirts, go and meet legislators,\ and introduce them to cancer survivors, which really makes a difference. I’ll work to get them on board with our ‘Palate of Care’ initiative, or colon cancer issues, which is simultaneously the most preventative cancer we have, and yet, is still the second-leading cause of death.”
In Rowe’s opinion, a meeting with federal lawmakers isn’t really that different from a meeting with state lawmakers. “It’s just on a larger scale in Washington. But most of them are pretty down-to-earth, and the majority of them will tell you ‘I don’t know’ when they don’t know. I will say, though, that meetings here in South Louisiana are a little more relaxed.”
The state versus federal difference, thinks Haynie, truly manifests itself in the make-up of health-related committees and sub-committees. “We have 144 legislators in Louisiana and a very small percentage of those have health or medical backgrounds. So with them, statistics are important; but even more so, comes the importance of our convincing those with a medical background of the validity of the changes we’re trying to implement. If the committees give us approval, then we’ve got a much better chance of getting the entire legislature to approve it. These guys trust the opinions of their health-experts.”
The biggest hurdle in getting a legislator’s attention, says Haynie, is the sheer scope of, not just cancer-related issues, but health issues in general. “Health care is always there, it’s never-ending,” says Haynie. “No matter what we do, no matter what funding or policy change we get, there’s quickly something else, another serious issue to take its place, and the legislators look at us and say, ‘Didn’t we just give you money for that? And now you need this?’ Continued funding is always a problem when it comes to health care.”
Lobbyists on the frontlines of cancer issues are told “no”... told “no” a lot. That’s when you have to be politely persistent, says Rowe, and remind lawmakers of who you are and who you represent. And if someone promised support of an issue, and then went the other way? “We go back to them and say, ‘You said you would support this matter that’s so important to thousands of cancer patients, but you didn’t. Well?’” laughs Rowe. “We’ll get a few arrogant responses, but usually the legislator will at least give us some time and try to explain his reversal.”
Relay for Life. The Iberia Coalition for Tobacco-Free Living. The Cancer Action Network. From Nevada to Utah to Louisiana, Rowe has now been, for the most part, a volunteer lobbyist for the American Cancer Society for almost two decades, and she says being a lobbyist could be in almost anyone’s future. “If you’re passionate, if you’re a people person, and you’re genuine about your feelings and you want to make a difference, this is something you can do.”
And as to why she continues to be a voice for cancer patients? “I do this to make a difference. I do this to find a cure. I do this because I don’t want my family or friends to suffer. I simply want to pay it forward.”