THE U.S. CONGRESS
In 2009, the country was mired in contentious debate. President Obama was determined to overhaul the nation’s health care system while many opposed the idea. In August, the U.S. Congress recessed to their home districts. They were greeted by a vociferous constituency in support and opposition to health care reform.
A group of activists and I scheduled an August appointment with our member of Congress, Rep. Heath Shuler, a conservative Democrat representing the 11th Congressional District of North Carolina, former NFL quarterback, and the 17th biggest sports flop of the past 25 years according to ESPN. Our goal was to petition for his vote for health care reform.
We knew Shuler would be besieged by endless meetings with supporters and opponents. The question was: how do we distinguish ourselves from the rest? How do we get him to vote for health care reform? The answer lay in a simple political concept: provide cover for your Congressman. We were going to propose an idea to create enough political capital for him to take the heat.
In our meeting Shuler was already irritated by what he presumed was going to be another chorus of talking points. He started rattling off numbers citing the cost of debt and what it might do to the economy. He was loud and ornery. Earlier that year we’d planned to disrupt one of his fundraisers. It was covered on the front page of our local paper. He knew who we were and he didn’t necessarily like us. I told him we’d prepared a PowerPoint presentation. He said, “Okay, Paul, but you need to make this quick. I ain’t got all day.”
Heath Shuler is a football player, one of the best college players of all time and Heisman runner-up. Our idea was titled, “Two-A-Days,” a term referring to grueling, twice-a-day practices, something very familiar to football players. The idea was to create a public relations campaign encouraging people to manage their health by making two better choices every day. Shuler would be the spokesperson.
“You can visit a group of office workers,” I said. “And lead them up the stairs instead of the elevator.” I presented a mockup of him talking to kids explaining why an apple is better than a cookie. “Walk instead of drive. Green foods instead of brown foods. Watch TV standing instead of sitting,” I continued.
This was his response:
He called out to his aides, “Randy! Chad! Get in here!” I went through the presentation again. They were impressed. Below is a synopsis from one of the other activists:
The meeting concluded with Shuler saying this meeting would make his day. Randy said he wasn’t too sure about having a meeting with us before but now realizes that we “aren’t so bad after all.” We left a copy of the power point presentation as well as a few flyers that Paul had made about the Two a Day program. Shuler said he’d lost weight since the photo of him that Paul used and maybe he could supply a better picture! Perhaps even have a “before” and “after” photo of himself. They are going to talk about this idea more and get back in touch with us. Paul encouraged Congressman Shuler to get this idea into a bill as an amendment.
I was proud when the Affordable Care Act passed and was upheld by the Supreme Court. I believe it will be remembered as a landmark moment in our country’s history.