I am a husband, father, son, brother, uncle and friend. I believe in sharing my talents and experiences by giving back to the community by giving my time to coaching, church and especially to the disability community. I truly believe that all men and women are created equally.
They say that Legislators only listen to the big money, but I am here to tell that the really good legislators do listen to their constituents.
A group of grass roots parents have been able to successfully keep a very bad piece of legislation, special needs vouchers, from coming to the floor of the Wisconsin legislature for a vote. Each and every person involved in the Stop Special Needs Vouchers, has had regular contact with out State legislators and shared our concerns with this legislation. We know that it will be back again, in fact Sen Fitzgerald has said that it is “teed up for next session”. Each person involved in this fight is from across the State of Wisconsin. I can attest to the fact that legislators from around the State heard from the people of Wisconsin that do not believe in this bill.
There is no place like our nation’s capital, Washington DC, to get a real feel for legislation on a national level. State legislation is great and I have worked well with my elected officials, Sen Chris Larson and Rep Christine Sinicki, but there is something about being in Washington that takes it to another level. If you are like me and want to make a difference when it comes to any issue, as you know mine is disability issues, there is no place like Washington to accomplish this. There are those that sit back and talk about it and then there are those who go out and try to make that difference.
This past week, I spent time in Washington for a Disability Policy Seminar, which culminates with visits to as many of Wisconsin’s elected officials as possible. There were about a dozen or so from Wisconsin that participated in this seminar. We spent two days brushing up on the issues, everything from Medicaid to community living, community employment, Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act to seclusion and restraint in schools. We heard from legislative staffers and experts in their specific field and what worked best on them, each and every one said it was the personal stories from the respective legislative district. In the end, it is all about civil rights for individuals with disabilities.
Our group split up and met with the actual congressmen or staffers for 10 of the Wisconsin delegation. I actively participated in 3 of the visits, including meeting with a key staff member in Congresswoman Gwen Moore’s office. There was so much going on this week, one of my visits was scheduled with a legislator, but he was called to a committee meeting and we ended up meeting with a key staffer. I have learned through the years that staff is just as important to build relationships with as we do with the actual legislator. It is so easy to talk about the issues that you are passionate about.
It is something about these visits that is really exciting. When I attend to various advocacy days in Madison, there are many different colored t-shirts. In Washington, I saw a group wearing pageant sashes and another group wearing styrofoam vaudeville style hats. When walking between legislative office buildings, it is amazing how crowded it gets. There were individuals just going office to office handing out their literature. There were visits with anywhere from 1 to 15 individuals. It is really exciting to be a part of this. For me, it is a complete rush being involved in these types of events.
No trip to Washington is complete without seeing the White House and a walk through The Mall. The night we walked through the Mall, we realized that no visit to Washington for a disability policy seminar would be complete without visiting the FDR Memorial. Since we are fighting this as a civil rights issue, we had to stop at the Martin Luther King Jr Memorial. As we walked around, we each selected our favorite quote on the wall, mine was "Make a career of humanity, commit yourself to the noble struggle for equal rights. You will make a greater person of yourself, a greater nation of your country and a finer world to live in." With the winter we all survived, it was nice to be able to walk around in just a jacket and see the cherry blossoms.
Each time I come back from these types of advocacy efforts, no matter if a State visit or even more so from Washington, I always get that bug about becoming an elected official. I am thankful that there are no current races to get involved in because there is always a huge time commitment when running and running the right way. I need to sit and think before jumping in with both feet.