More veterinarians are serving in public office than 30 years ago, experts say. So much so, a new position was created at the American Veterinary Medical Association in March 2005 to accommodate the growing trend-assistant director of state legislation and regulatory affairs, held by Adrian Hochstadt.
More veterinarians are serving in public office than 30 years ago, experts say. So much so, a new position was created at the American Veterinary Medical Association in March 2005 to accommodate the growing trend—assistant director of state legislation and regulatory affairs, held by Adrian Hochstadt.
According to data compiled by Hochstadt's office, 23 veterinarians are serving in public office: 20 in 17 state legislatures, two U.S. senators and the governor of Georgia. "That's a pretty large number for a very small profession," he says.
In the upcoming November elections, three candidates are running who have veterinary medical experience: Jimmie Don Aycock, Republican running for the Texas House, District 54; Cap Dierks, nonpartisan in the race for the unicameral Nebraska legislature, District 40; and John Ensign, Nevada Republican up for re-election for the U.S. Senate.
Two other DVMs pulled out of their bids for public office. Bob Sindler, Orange County commissioner, was forced out of the race for the Florida House after failing to file proper paperwork. Ford Bell dropped out of his race for one of Minnesota's seats in the U.S. Senate because of a lack of campaign funds.
Dr. Mark Lutschaunig, director of the Governmental Relations Division of the American Veterinary Medical Association, says one reason more vets are serving in public office is because they are highly regarded in their communities. Aycock agrees that vets should "use [their] station in the community to make things better." But Ensign hopes the increase in vets serving the public will bring even more respect to the profession.
Aycock attributes the rise of vets in public office to an increase in the number of veterinarians — the AVMA saw a 19 percent increase in U.S. veterinarians from 1996 to 2006 — while Lutschaunig says more vets "are becoming educated on the issues that affect them as a practitioner and business owner, so they become more active and attuned to what's going on."
With more lobbyists and PACs being created to communicate with candidates, Hochstadt says there is a large move in public policy, with veterinarian involvement being one aspect. [Veterinarians] really do have a leg up to understanding the nuances of medical legislative issues."
That leg up translates to additional support for animal rights supporters. "There is nothing more valuable than having a veterinarian in public office because you can have great lobbyists, but there is no substitute to having a member in the legislature," Sindler says.
While the AVMA doesn't specifically lobby, state veterinary associations work closely with those DVMs in office. Charles Helwig, executive director for the Oklahoma Veterinary Medical Association, says the addition of two vets to the House last election enabled the association to work toward legislation alterations. Changes to its veterinary practice act were voted in after the association approached Phil Richardson, R-District 56, and Lee Denney, R-District 33. "It's valuable because [Richardson and Denney] are go-to people in the legislation for animal and veterinary issues," Helwig says.
The increase of vets in public office is no surprise to Hochstadt, who says "it is due to the fact that government has a huge impact on veterinary practice. They give and take licenses away. I do think people are saying we better be at the table when these rules are being written."