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Spectators have little impact on the outcome of a game—particularly in “Politics,” the game of getting your ideas into law.


Published 11/1/2008
Edward S. Homan Jr., MD

Politics is not a spectator sport

Every game has its set of rules—the size of the field or racquet, the number of players or cards, how you keep score. What is common to all games is that the object of the game is to win. The players do not represent right or wrong, good or bad; they are just players playing to win.

In Politics, the game of ‘getting your ideas into laws,’ you first have to be a player to ever become a winner, just as in all other games. Spectators never have their name on the scoreboard.

If doctors haven’t noticed, almost all that we do in our job is governed by politics that we had little to say about—the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act, Health Maintenance Organizations, 3 Strikes and You’re Out, and the list goes on.

Years ago, doctors were the captains of the healthcare team, but they have given up that position (and control of their lives) because of a lack of persistence in playing the Politics game. It’s time for doctors to quit whining about their lack of political power. Doctors already have teams (the state medical society, specialty societies, medical staffs), but all doctors need to join a team and get in the game. “Let someone else do it” is not heard in the professions and industries with political power.

The rules are simple in the game of Politics. A college degree is not needed.

Rule #1: Everyone plays
Health care is by far the largest industry in my home state of Florida (and the country at large), and approximately 15 percent of all healthcare dollars go for physician services. With 18 million Floridians and $7,000 annually per capita for healthcare, that comes to more than $18 billion divided among 34,000 practicing physicians in Florida.

If all doctors would contribute just 0.1 percent of their gross income for political action, the doctors by themselves could have totally financed ALL contested winning legislative campaigns in the 2006 election cycle. If just 50 percent of the doctors in the state got in the game, we would still have the largest and best financed lobby by far in Tallahassee. Unfortunately, only 5 percent of the doctors are players, and they are carrying the rest of our profession on their shoulders.

To win the Politics game, everyone must play.

Rule # 2: Friends help friends
This operates the same in politics as in the real life, nonpolitical world. To become a friend is simple—help someone get a job. In this case, help someone get elected.

Political races are expensive and time-consuming. The average race for a seat in the Florida House costs $200,000. (Senate races cost $400,000.) Volunteers are harder to get than money. Every 2 years, this creates an ‘open-door opportunity’ to make or renew a friendship with someone seeking office.

Getting elected is not a solo sport like golf. Michael Jordon needed good teammates to have a winning season. Legislators need their campaign team to come together every 2, 4, or 6 years, so when a bill comes up that has two opposite (but arguably no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’) sides to an issue, the vote goes to the legislator’s friends. Why vote with the opposition and lose your friends?

It’s friends that win in the Politics game.

Rule # 3: Once elected, get re-elected
It is so hard to get elected the first time, you don’t want to fumble the ball and get defeated as an incumbent. To be effective, you have to keep your job, and to keep your job, you have to keep your friends that helped you get the job in the first place. They will be needed in the next campaign to raise the money, go door to door, put up signs, and help you get re-elected.

Because I am a doctor, most of my support comes from physicians. I am sympathetic to their issues to improve the health care of all Floridians. I also look for their help each election cycle. (Remember Rule # 2?)

Liking the game isn’t the issue
You can like the Politics game or not. That’s not the issue. The game is the game. There is no second place, no red ribbon, only winners and losers. It is a simple game, not rocket science, and most definitely not a spectator sport. To win the game, you first have to be in the game and on a team to help your candidate win so that after the election you can be represented at the table.

The steadfast rule in politics—friends help friends—is no different than in life.

Make your contributions directly at a fundraiser or deliver them together with a member of your political action committee (PAC) until you reach your 0.1 percent of income mark. The job of supporting a candidate is not one to leave to the next person. Everyone needs to play. Your medical PAC team will pick the candidates friendly to medicine and likely to win.

Set aside two Saturday mornings to help your candidate with his or her grassroots campaign. It will be an experience you won’t forget; hopefully, you will do it again every 2 years to renew your friendship. Volunteers are ‘forever’ friends.

In my life, I have played a lot of different sports, but I have found that Politics is the ultimate adult sport. All of the other games are for kids. The ‘ante’ and the ‘stakes’ in the Politics game are beyond huge, and to not personally be in the game is to consign your lot to someone who is likely not your friend.

Quit watching the game and play. Politics is not a spectator sport.

Edward S. Homan Jr., MD, is an orthopaedic surgeon and Florida State Representative, who has served in the legislature since 2002. This article is reprinted with permission of the Hillsborough County Medical Association publication, The Bulletin, Vol. 54, No. 2 – July/August 2008, pp. 15-16.