The Benefits of Having Friends
The State Government Relations Committee focuses on building connections and creating solutions.
Christopher G. Ullrich, MD, FACR, discusses making a difference, challenging misconceptions, and keeping up the good work as his four-year term as chair of the State Government Relations Committee comes to an end.
What were your goals over your term?
I wanted to continue to enhance the committee's mission to support our chapters on state legislative and regulatory issues. Another main focus was to provide consistent constructive guidance to the College on state legislative matters. I also prioritized promoting state political action committees (PACs) to develop state e-advocacy networks and supporting state advocates at the national level.
How has chairing the committee affected your perspective of state-level government relations?
State government relations are the foundations of our federal government relations efforts. I was continually impressed with the commitment, enthusiasm, and political engagement exhibited by many of our state chapters. I also became more aware of the struggle that less-developed chapters face to be politically engaged and effective.
Do you agree that 50 states equal 50 different problems?
All politics are local, and states have very different political processes, cultures, and challenges. However, many legislative issues pertaining to radiology are startlingly similar across the country. The political process in Texas is very different from the political process in Vermont. Mississippi's political culture is very unlike New York's, but political coalition building is a key strategy to radiology's success in any state. For example, breast density reporting bills have come up repeatedly in multiple state settings. By responding consistently from state to state, many states have achieved manageable legislative outcomes. In a variety of states, we've proven that it is feasible to carry out a strategic plan that serves both patients and practices.
Consistent and small amounts of time build relationships. State politics is a marathon, not a sprint.
What are the top three misconceptions about state government relations?
1. The notion that you cannot make an impact is absolutely false.
2. Many people think it takes large amounts of money to get attention. It does not! It does require a reliable fundraising PAC process, but a $1,000 donation at the state level is a big contribution.
3. People also believe you need to dedicate large amounts of time to succeed. But consistent and small amounts of time build relationships. State politics is a marathon, not a sprint.
How much of state advocacy is about building relationships?
Different political issues require different political solutions, but it's all based on the fabric of relationships. Your local city council member today could be your next federal senate or house representative a few years from now. Supporting candidates in the early stages of their careers opens doors for you later, but lasting friendships are not made overnight.
Making a friend in politics doesn't require enormous amounts of time every day. Rather, it is a sustained effort over months and years. Practices must make time to support political engagement in their communities because there is value in being prepared before a situation breaks. For maximum impact, a state PAC and good representation by a first-tier lobbyist are a must.
What's the hardest part of state-level advocacy?
We don't often get to do victory laps because the vast majority of the wins are about preventing potentially harmful situations. We rarely need to pass a bill. It's more likely that we will be working to modify or defeat a proposal that is detrimental to radiology.
Unfortunately, after a while, it becomes challenging to sell playing defense to ACR members. But there is work to be done, and it is worthwhile work. Keeping a consistent and comprehensive state effort alive takes serious commitment by both the state chapter and local practice leaders.
By Christopher G. Ullrich, MD, FACR, past chair, State Government Relations Committee