Partners in Politics: June Bratcher Forges Powerful Alliance

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Legislative Affairs Feature - September 2008

 

Tex Med . 2008;104(9):41-46.

By  Ken Ortolon
Senior Editor

They've done it all. They've stuffed envelopes, campaigned door-to-door, hosted candidate fundraisers and coffees, even baked cakes. Some have become professional political consultants. A few have run for and been elected to public office.

For more than 30 years, members of the Texas Medical Association Alliance have played roles large and small in the political arena. Leaders of organized medicine say the efforts of these physician spouses have been critical in electing pro-medicine candidates at the local, state, and national levels, and in securing important legislation for physicians and their patients.

San Antonio child neurologist Sheldon Gross, MD, former chair of the Texas Medical Association Political Action Committee ( TEXPAC ), says TMA Alliance members have a "national reputation" as well-organized, sophisticated, and astute political operatives.

"I would go to the point to say that TEXPAC would not have anywhere near the accomplishments it's had without the alliance," said Dr. Gross, who currently serves as secretary of the board of directors of the American Medical Association Political Action Committee (AMPAC). "TEXPAC would be a very different organization if the alliance wasn't as active as it is."

But it wasn't always so. In the 1970s most members of the alliance, then known as the TMA Auxiliary, were women, and some believed politics was a business in which "nice ladies" didn't engage. That changed when a pioneering woman named June Bratcher set out to change the face of politics in San Antonio.

 

Taking On an Incumbent

In the mid-1970s, Ms. Bratcher, the wife of now-retired San Antonio surgeon Everett Bratcher, MD, concluded that her state representative - a trial lawyer - did not adequately represent the interests of his constituents, which included a large number of physicians and other health care professionals.

"I didn't feel like he was responding to the community that he lived in, so I decided that maybe it was time that we got a new representative," Ms. Bratcher said.

Enlisting three friends to help her, she found a candidate to take on the incumbent and set about trying to get him elected.

Not being trained in political activities, Ms. Bratcher and her friends had little idea how to run a successful political campaign. But they did not let that stop them. Instead, they launched a grassroots campaign to identify physicians and other health professionals living in the district and to get them out to vote.

Their efforts nearly paid off - their candidate came within 800 votes of unseating the incumbent. Buoyed by their near success, Ms. Bratcher and friends took on the trial lawyer incumbent again two years later. This time, their candidate won.

With one win under her belt, Ms. Bratcher set her sights on bigger accomplishments. "We looked at the rest of our representatives in San Antonio; they were all trial lawyers," she said. "We just thought that was an overabundance of trial lawyers, so we started working in campaigns to get people in there who were not trial attorneys."

Ms. Bratcher designed a grassroots campaign strategy that she says was "not that sophisticated" but worked.

First, she took a map of the city and identified all of the House districts and each of the voting districts. Then, she overlaid that with a map of all ZIP codes in San Antonio and created a database of physicians, nurses, dentists, and other health professionals who lived in each ZIP code.

Then she and her friends began calling all of them to encourage them to register and vote. The effort worked. The candidates they backed won nine out of 10 House races that year.

"It was really a grassroots effort," Ms. Bratcher said. "It was no spectacular plan, but it's used to this day" by alliance groups across the country.

 

Making Friends

Despite their success, Ms. Bratcher says she felt tremendously disappointed about losing that 10th race, a House seat located in South San Antonio where few physicians lived. Her disappointment, however, didn't last long.

Shortly after the election, she received a call from the winner, a young former Marine who had his sights set on a political career in both Austin and Washington, D.C. Then-State Rep. Frank Tejeda (D-San Antonio) asked her what he had to do to get her and the physicians' spouses of San Antonio on his side.

"I said, 'We don't ask you to vote with us every time, but we ask you to listen to us, have an open door to us, talk to the doctors and find out their concerns.' He said, 'You've got it.'"

From that day forward, Ms. Bratcher, in particular, and organized medicine enjoyed a close relationship with Mr. Tejeda, who served nearly 20 years in the Texas House and Senate and the U.S. Congress before dying of brain cancer in 1997.

After those successes, Ms. Bratcher became involved in AMPAC and began speaking to alliances and other groups across the nation about her grassroots strategy. Ms. Bratcher also became the first alliance member to serve on the TEXPAC Board of Directors, a post she held for 10 years.

But the early years were not without controversy. Ms. Bratcher says a handful of people then in the leadership of the Bexar County Medical Society Auxiliary opposed women getting involved in what they thought was "a man's world." They even asked her to resign from the auxiliary.

But with the support of the late John Smith, MD, who served as TEXPAC chair and TMA president during his involvement with organized medicine, she held firm. And, she says, she always had a "silent majority" of local alliance members she could call on for help hosting an event or helping in other ways.

Once, Ms. Bratcher got a call from then-U.S. Representative Tejeda who was desperate for help arranging desserts for a large political rally he was organizing. Local restaurants already had donated the rest of the food needed. Ms. Bratcher and a few friends recruited a number of alliance members who eventually baked 52 cakes for the rally.

Dr. Gross says that type of relationship was invaluable in getting medicine's concerns heard. "She really helped him get started early on. He never forgot that," Dr. Gross said. "She had special access to him always because one of the rules of politics is you never forget the people who help you early on."

 

Influencing Your Peers

And, she quickly inspired other TMA Alliance members to pick up the torch.

"June Bratcher is the one who inspired us to get involved," said TMA Alliance member Susie Tonymon, of Fort Worth, who jumped into the political fray in the late 1980s when TEXPAC sought to remake the trial-lawyer-dominated Texas Supreme Court.

Ms. Bratcher's success in San Antonio inspired her to throw herself into the effort to distribute TEXPAC candidate slate cards urging voters to elect conservative justices. She also worked in the first campaign of Justice Nathan Hecht and then other candidates supported by TEXPAC.

Alliance member Carole Thompson, of San Antonio, decided to get involved in politics during the Clinton health system reform debate in 1994 because she thought Hillary Clinton was the "least competent person" to design a new health care delivery system. She says it was June Bratcher who got her excited and passionate about politics.

"As soon as she found out that I was involved, she called me," Ms. Thompson said. She says Ms. Bratcher taught her how to tackle politics with tenacity and fortitude and not be afraid to "stick your neck out, even though you know someone's going to take some hits at you."

In 1987, TEXPAC created the June Bratcher Award for Political Action, presented every other year to recognize a physician's spouse for significant involvement in a federal- or state-level political campaign. Ms. Bratcher was the first recipient of that award. That same year she also won the first AMPAC Belle Chenault Award, named for a long-time AMPAC board member and political activist whom Ms. Bratcher says she admired greatly.

Since then, seven other alliance members, including Ms. Tonymon and Ms. Thompson, have won the June Bratcher Award. Four of those winners also have won the Belle Chenault Award.

Former TMA President and TEXPAC Chair Robert Gunby Jr., MD, of Dallas, says the contributions of those women and other alliance members have been a "major driving force" behind most of TEXPAC's activities.

"They are the ones who have had time to do the grassroots efforts. They've visited the candidates, they've raised money for them, they've done phone banks. They've canvassed the electorate to get them to vote," Dr. Gunby said. "In all honesty, doctors just don't have the time to do that. Without these people, many of our issues would have gotten dropped. It's just unbelievable what they've done and what they've accomplished."

Current TEXPAC Chair Manuel Acosta, MD, of El Paso, agrees. He says TEXPAC needs more alliance members to get involved.

Ms. Bratcher says a lot of people think they can't do it or know too little about politics. They shouldn't let that stop them, she says.

"It is something you have to be interested in, and it takes a lot of work," Ms. Bratcher said. "It's sad when you lose, but it's very glorious when you win. And it can be very rewarding because you keep your pulse on what's going on in the legislature."

Ken Ortolon can be reached by telephone at (800) 880-1300, ext. 1392, or (512) 370-1392; by fax at (512) 370-1629; or by e-mail at  Ken Ortolon .

 

RELATED STORY

June Bratcher Award Winners Make a Difference for Medicine

Leaders of organized medicine say the hard work of physician spouses in backing pro-medicine candidates for public office has had a profound impact in making sure that the concerns of physicians and their patients are heard in both Austin and Washington. Since 1987, Texas Medical Association Alliance members have been honored for those efforts with the June Bratcher Award for Political Action.

The June Bratcher Award is a biennial award presented to a physician's spouse for significant involvement in a federal- or state-level political campaign. The award is modeled after the American Medical Association Political Action Committee's (AMPAC's) Belle Chenault Award and is named for the first Belle Chenault winner, longtime alliance leader and political trailblazer June Bratcher, of San Antonio. The award is presented in the spring of each odd-numbered year to recognize efforts during the past election cycle. The June Bratcher Award winner also becomes the Texas nominee for the Belle Chenault Award.

Since its inception, eight alliance members have been honored, including Ms. Bratcher herself, who was the first recipient. She was recognized for her efforts during the 1986 primary and general elections. Ms. Bratcher served as the coordinator for nine targeted primary races during the 1986 elections, and eight of them were victorious. She also coordinated 10 successful general election campaigns that year.

Ms. Bratcher was the first TMA Alliance member to serve on the TEXPAC Executive Committee. She was recognized by the San Antonio Express-News as the "Outstanding Woman in Politics" in 1982. AMPAC chose June Bratcher to be the first-ever recipient of the Belle Chenault award.

Other alliance members who have won the June Bratcher Award include:

  • Patti Tuthill, Dallas, 1989 : One thousand fellow alliance members were surveyed regarding the 1988 Texas Supreme Court elections under the leadership of Patti Tuthill. She manned the polls on Election Day only after deluging physician offices with slate cards, stuffing patient bills with election information, and walking block after block on behalf of medicine.
  • Susie Tonymon, Fort Worth, 1991 : In the 1990 campaign, Ms. Tonymon organized 20 medical community fundraisers across the state for then-incumbent Supreme Court Justice Eugene Cook. In 1992, she continued her campaign activities by serving as the assistant campaign manager for then-state Senate candidate Jane Nelson. Her efforts to beat a 12-year incumbent impressed Senator Nelson so much that she asked Ms. Tonymon to become a member of her legislative staff. In 1993, AMPAC recognized Susie Tonymon with the Belle Chenault Award.
  • Cathy Toledo, Fort Worth, 1995 and 1997 : More than 1 million voters received a slate card during the 1994 election season thanks to Ms. Toledo's efforts. She worked tirelessly on three Supreme Court races by assisting with fundraising, ad campaigns, and "Get Out the Vote" efforts. In 1996, Ms. Toledo helped now-U.S. Rep. Kay Granger get her fundraising and campaign efforts off the ground. During the 1995-96 campaign cycle, she assisted on six separate campaigns and coordinated candidate events specifically for the medical community in Fort Worth. Ms. Toledo took home AMPAC's Belle Chenault Award in 1997.
  • Barbara Hauser, Houston, 1999 : From billboards to bumper stickers, Ms. Hauser put the name of Rick Perry everywhere during her tenure as his Harris County campaign chair. She organized the then-lieutenant governor's "Get Out the Vote" efforts and arranged enough local media to secure his victory in Harris County. Ms. Hauser worked hard on medicine's behalf up and down the ballot on congressional, state, and judicial campaigns. Her efforts were key to the coordination of the TMA Alliance's activities throughout the campaign season.
  • Carole Thompson, San Antonio, 2001 : Recognized by the Wall Street Journal  for her grassroots campaign efforts, Ms. Thompson orchestrated a massive slate card campaign in Bexar County during the 2000 election cycle. Along with organizing an enormous voter registration drive, Ms. Thompson instituted a fax blast communication system to keep San Antonio physicians and alliance members up to date on key candidate issues and pending legislation. Former TEXPAC Chair Sheldon Gross, MD, said Ms. Thompson "had a reputation for going nuts with her fax machine. You'd go to sleep at night hearing your fax machine go off and you'd wake up in the morning with four or five faxes from her." Ms. Thompson chaired several local committees including the Bexar County TEXPAC Alliance and the Bexar County Alliance's Committee on Legislation. She was a cowinner of the Belle Chenault Award in 2001.
  • Pat Hyer, Fort Worth, 2003 : Outspent, but not outrun, Michael Burgess, MD, became U.S. Representative Burgess thanks to Ms. Hyer's efforts in coordinating numerous campaign activities for the TMA physician. In a campaign season that had a hotbed of activity in Tarrant County, she was instrumental in the election of a pro-medicine slate all the way down to the 141st District Court. Ms. Hyer received the Belle Chenault Award in 2003.
  • Maureen Priestner, Abilene, 2007 : Ms. Priestner played a key role in the campaign of Susan King, a fellow alliance member, for the Texas House in 2006. Ms. Priestner spent countless hours fundraising, block walking, phone banking, and organizing on behalf of now Representative King, who won three very tight races in the primary, runoff, and general elections. Ms. Priestner also is active in TMA lobbying activities and is a regular participant in the TMA/TMA Alliance   First Tuesdays at the Capitol grassroots lobbying program.

 

RELATED STORY

Bratcher Award Nominations Open in December

Do you know a Texas Medical Association Alliance member who is playing a pivotal role in trying to elect pro-medicine candidates this campaign season? If so, nominate him or her for the June Bratcher Award for Political Action.

The Texas Medical Association Political Action Committee (TEXPAC) Board of Directors will accept nominations for the 2009 June Bratcher Award beginning in December. The 2009 award will recognize an alliance member who played a significant role in the 2007-08 election cycle.

Nominees must be a TEXPAC member, as well as a member of AMPAC and the AMA Alliance, and must be nominated by his or her county alliance.

Each county alliance is limited to one nominee. Finalists will be chosen by the eight voting alliance members of the TEXPAC Board of Directors and the TEXPAC director of political education. The winner will be selected by the Executive Committee of the TEXPAC Board of Directors.

More information about the June Bratcher Award for Political Action can be found on the  TEXPAC Web site  or by calling Paula Frey at (800) 880-1300, ext. 1361, or (512) 370-1361.

And, it's not too late to get involved in this year's general election campaigns. If you want to get involved, contact your local candidate of choice or call TEXPAC at (800) 880-1300.

 

All articles in  Texas Medicine that mention Texas Medical Association's stance on state legislation are defined as "legislative advertising," according to Texas Govt. Code Ann. §305.027. That law requires disclosure of the name and address of the person who contracts with the printer to publish the legislative advertising in Texas Medicine : Louis J. Goodman, PhD, Executive Vice President, TMA, 401 W. 15th St., Austin, TX 78701.

Texas Medical Association Political Action Committee (TEXPAC) is a bipartisan political action committee of TMA and affiliated with the American Medical Association Political Action Committee (AMPAC) for congressional contribution purposes only. Its goal is to support and elect pro-medicine candidates on both the federal and state level. Voluntary contributions by individuals to TEXPAC should be written on personal checks. Funds attributed to individuals or professional association (PAs) that would exceed legal contribution limits will be placed in the TEXPAC administrative account to support political education activities. Contributions are not limited to the suggested amounts. TEXPAC will not favor or disadvantage anyone based on the amounts or failure to make contributions. Contributions are subject to the prohibitions and limitations of the Federal Election Campaign Act.

Contributions or gifts to TEXPAC or any CMS PAC are not deductible as charitable contributions or business expenses for Federal income tax purposes. Only contributions to the TMA Foundation, any CMS foundation and The Physicians Benevolent Fund are deductible as charitable contributions for Federal income tax purposes.

Federal law requires us to use our best efforts to collect and report the name, mailing address, occupation, and name of employer of individuals whose contributions exceed $200 in a calendar year. To satisfy this regulation, please include your occupation and employer information in the space provided. Contributions from a practice business account must disclose the name of the practice and the allocation of contributions for each contributing owner. Should you have any questions, please call TEXPAC at 512 370-1361.

 

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