by Marc Herstand, MSW, CISW
The political discourse seems tremendously partisan these days. In Wisconsin most voters have either a very strong positive or negative view of our Governor, whose term has not been characterized by bi-partisan compromise and working across the aisle. On a national level it seems like as long as Obama has been President, the Republicans have been willing to do almost anything, including fighting proposals they themselves had supported in the past, to make him fail. Early in his term there was an effort for a “grand bargain” between President Obama and Speaker John Boehner but it fell apart.
As your lobbyist in Madison, despite the political environment, I need to work “across the aisle” on behalf of the social work profession. I have learned not to make assumptions about legislators and to approach each lobby visit with a hopeful positive attitude. There are very important issues to our profession, such as the Social Work Safety Bill and the Second Chance Legislation (changing the age when a juvenile is referred to adult court from 17 to 18) where partisan divisions don’t necessarily come into play. In fact the lead sponsors for the Second Chance legislation are both Republicans who are fighting hard for this legislation. There are also professional regulatory issues where partisan labels don’t necessarily mean that much. I recently met with the Chief of Staff for the Republican Assembly Committee on Health Chair who also chaired the Speakers Task Force on Mental Health regarding an egregious DHS policy that hurts mental health access to services in rural areas and among school children.
While it is important to work on a bi-partisan basis, sometime it is necessary to take a stand on an issue that rightly or wrongly is seen as partisan. Some examples where I believe it is important for NASW WI to take a stand include such issues as background checks on gun purchases, restrictions on the ability of same sex couples to marry, budget provisions that hurt the working poor and benefit the wealthy, accepting Medicaid money to help the working and near poor, the Child Victim’s act and other bills.
To advocate for policies, laws and rules supporting our profession and clients takes a lot of patience and a lot of work! It takes persistence and a hopeful attitude with public officials who appear to be ideologically distant from our point of view. Change can be slow and incremental until it isn’t (witness what is happening with public support for same sex marriages around the country). Every contact you make with your elected representatives on one of our professional or social policy issues is important. You never know what is going to tip the scales on an issue. You can never assume because a particular legislator is terrible on one issue we care about that he or she might not be an ally on another issue. Never underestimate your persuasive abilities as a social worker!