The Legislative breakfast, an event hosted by Healthy Students Taking Action Together, Inc. (H-STAT), was a morning filled with insight and discussion. This marking only my second trip inside of the state Capitol, it was like a peak behind the curtain. I got to hear first-hand what the stance is of some of Georgia’s senators on Medicaid expansion and also the possible tobacco tax increase. Arriving at the Capitol building in the heart of downtown Atlanta and seeing its shimmering golden dome in the new morning sun was enough to get my heart racing and ready to do some lobbying for Medicaid expansion in the state of Georgia.
I arrived around 7:45am after walking through security, to a room full of white coats chattering amongst themselves. I was in a suit, so I wasn’t too out of sorts with the attire appropriate for the Capitol. The group was made up of nurse practitioner students, medical students, and public health students. Our speaker for the morning, State Senator Marty Harbin, was scheduled to arrive to talk to us at 7:30am, so I was a little relieved that he was running a little late. Colin, the Advocacy chair for H-STAT, gave an announcement that Senator Harbin had a scheduling issue and was temporarily out of the building and would be able to come back at 9am for a meeting with us. Given this news, the group of us made our way to the café and grabbed coffee or a quick bite. Senator Harbin soon arrived apologetically and was ready to hear us out. A pro-Medicaid expansion pitch was nothing new to him, and he promptly responded with his pro-financial literacy point of view. He believes that if more Georgians were financially educated in terms of how things are funded and how much debt the state was in that they would understand the issues around expansion better. Also, he explained that if Georgians understood how to properly manage their health, expensive medical treatments could be avoided more often. A very interesting discussion ensued in which marriage, age, and family were brought up. The most interesting for me to see first hand was that his reasons were made very personal when he talked about going to the emergency room with his wife, discussed rural hospitals around his home, and explained how his beliefs about marriage and family changed his values when it comes to healthcare.
Around 9:45 he was done, and he shook some hands with a few students that really challenged him. He shook my hand and smiled before disappearing into a hallway full of bustling suits and briefcases. As a group, we made our way up the multiple flights of stairs to the senate side of the building in order to stand at the ropes that literally and theoretically separate the people from their representatives.
After talking to some very passionate ex-nurses that pass on the requests to talk to senators and finding out who my district senator is, I filled out a yellow sheet, gave it to them, and took my place in line. My yellow sheet got a hand written 3-digit code, and with a ding of a bell it was handed to a page with some instructions, and he went off to find my district senator. After a short wait, my district senator, Mr. Michael ‘Doc’ Rhett, popped out from behind the huge doors. District 33 Senator Michael Rhett is the first African American resident to be elected to the state Senate from Cobb County, so I was very proud to have the opportunity to talk with him. He was very eager to hear my questions about the possible Medicaid expansion and the possible increase to the tobacco tax in Georgia. He responded calmly with nothing outside of the regular jargon you would read in the daily newspaper. All the same, it was still very interesting to hear from somebody that represents such a small city like Austell. He actually seemed more interested in me as a person and where I grew up and went to school in the community. It was a great way to spend my morning, viewing the lobbying process up close and personal, learning that lobbying may take getting to know whom you’re lobbying to in order to gain some initial ground, as well as meeting the person that represents my city.