Former Rep. Jon Porte of Nevada was the keynote speaker at the annual Orthopaedic Political Action Committee membership luncheon during the 2009 AAOS Annual Meeting.

AAOS Now

Published 4/1/2009

Porter urges PAC, political involvement

Former U.S. Rep. Jon Porter addressed PAC luncheon

During the annual Orthopaedic Political Action Committee (PAC) membership luncheon, held as part of the 2009 AAOS Annual Meeting, keynote speaker former Rep. Jon Porter of Nevada shared the following story:

During his third term in Congress, he missed the renewal deadline for an $8 sticker that Washington, D.C., requires drivers to display on the car’s windshield. As a result, he had to personally go to a local office for the department of motor vehicles (DMV).

“I arrived at 9 a.m.,” Rep. Porter recalled. At 4:45 p.m., he was still waiting.

“I never pulled the ‘Congress card,’ though,” he said. “I was very patient, but at this point I was tired, hungry, and hot.”

When he finally reached the window, the clerk ran through the required checklist, then asked, “Where’s the letter from your boss that proves you work on the Hill?”

Exasperated, but still unwilling to identify himself, he said he worked for himself, and asked “Can’t I just put my business card on your copy machine, and then sign the copy?”

“No, you can’t do that. You need a signed letter on official letterhead.”

At 4:59, the supervisor sauntered over. After a few more go-rounds, the supervisor relented, saying, “OK, but don’t let it happen again.”

The healthcare DMV?
“Now, this was for an $8 sticker,” Rep. Porter reminded his audience. “And this is what some of my colleagues want the country’s healthcare system to look like. They want your patients to stand in line and to get to the window only to be told, ‘Wait a minute, you’re too old to have this hip replacement,’ or ‘you’re too young,’ or ‘you have to go to the back of the line.’

“This frightens me,” Porter said. “I want healthcare professionals to be able to make these decisions with patients. I don’t want the federal government telling you what you’re going to do.”

13 percent of Americans decide your fate
Orthopaedic surgeons need to become more involved in the political process, said Rep. Porter. He pointed out that, in a typical Congressional election, 50 of every 100 citizens eligible to vote actually register. Of those 50, about half (25) show up at the polls.

“How many of those 25 votes are needed to win?” asked Rep. Porter. “Just half—13 people.

“This means that 13 percent of Americans are deciding who your con­gressman will be, who will be on the city council, or who will be mayor.

“Think about that,” he said. “How would you like 13 out of 100 people making decisions that will affect your future, your families, your practices? This country has some pretty tough decisions coming up, and we’re letting 13 percent of Americans decide who will make those decisions.”

Don’t let that happen, urged Rep. Porter. “You have responsibility to vote and to make sure that your patients and your family members vote.”

The other party did it
Rep. Porter cited the successful “get out the vote” efforts by Democrats as one of the reasons he lost his seat in the November elections.

“There was an organized effort by the Obama campaign to make sure that members of the labor organizations in Nevada turned out to vote,” he said. “They got people to the polls.”

In 1998, Sen. John Ensign, another Republican from Nevada, lost his re-election race by only 428 votes to current Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

“That’s why this is so important,” he said. “Make a commitment that you’re going to get people registered and out to vote.”

“Both politics and health care are people businesses,” he told the audience. “They’re about relationships.”

As medical professionals, orthopaedic surgeons have a relationship with their patients, he said. “Your patients respect you and want to hear what you have to say.”

Politicians will respect and listen to you as well, he told the audience, especially if you build relationships with them. Again, he cited an example from his term in Congress, about a vote on an issue that would affect dentists.

“Because I have a relationship with my dentist, I called him at midnight to get his opinion on the bill,” said Rep. Porter. “He advised me that passage of the bill would be catastrophic for patient access, and his opinion influenced my vote. That midnight call gave me a perspective on the issue that I had not had before.”

Get involved
Although donations to the PAC are important, they are only one way that individuals can contribute. “Sweat equity” is equally important. Because congressional representatives must raise millions of dollars to conduct re-election campaigns every 2 years, individuals who volunteer their time to get out the vote are just as important as those who donate money.

“Guess who I listen to first when they call me up with a problem?” Rep. Porter asked. “The supporters who are out there in the Las Vegas desert heat in August, knocking on doors for my campaign.

“They may not give me a dime,” he said, but “they give their heart and soul.”

Personal support, such as setting up a coffee in your neighborhood to introduce a member of Congress to some friends, may be the most valuable contribution.

This might be a bit challenging in some urban areas, he said, but his congressional district is the largest in the nation—1.2 million people.

“And I can tell you, when somebody called me up and said ‘I’ve got a bunch of people coming over, can you join us?’ I was there…and I appreciated it.”