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Name: Rita Ghazal
Born: Ann Arbor, Michigan
Current Digs: Richmond
Occupation: Education Policy Analyst
Favorite part about the job: Collaboration and working under a strong, experienced leadership team
First job ever? Babysitting
Favorite book? The Alchemist, The Color of Water
Favorite movie? Casablanca
Must See TV? The World News
Comfort food? French Fries
What's in your car CD player right now? I do not have one. I have a cassette player, and it is empty.
Next journey? Central America?
One thing people might be surprised to learn about you? I have an identical twin sister.
Last gift you received? A programmable coffee maker.
Best advice you ever got? Listen.
Whom do you admire and why? Thurgood Marshall. He was brilliant, persistent, and conscientious.
Ambition, political or otherwise? Create useful, solid, fair, and equitable policy.
Describe a perfect day. Espresso, a non-fiction book, sunshine, and a beach.
Political Leaders Program Class of 2005 graduate Mary Loose DeViney was mentioned in a recent New York Times article. Mary was among those business owners who met with Todd A. Stottlemyer, the new president of the National Federation of Independent Business. Click more to read the full article.
Amassing the Troops for Political Battle
Published: May 4, 2006
FALLS CHURCH, Va. â€” It was 7:30 on a recent weekday, and a dozen small-business owners, coffee and muffins in hand, were already hard at work on how they were going to win Congressional relief for their No. 1 problem: rising health care costs.
Members of the National Federation of Independent Businesses met in Virginia to discuss lobbying strategy for a bill on health care cost relief.
From across Virginia, people like Mary L. DeViney of Tuel Jewelers, who had driven two and a half hours from Charlottesville, gathered to discuss their priorities with Todd A. Stottlemyer, the new president of the National Federation of Independent Business.
By tapping into its far-flung grassroots base, as it was this particular Wednesday morning in April, the federation has become a force in Washington. More than a decade ago, the federation, which now has a $95 million annual budget, began rallying its 600,000 member businesses to pressure lawmakers â€” personally, when necessary.
"The N.F.I.B. is among the top five lobbying groups in the capital," said James A. Thurber, director for the Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies at American University, "in the same rank with the AARP and the N.R.A., for example, even though they have far fewer members." AARP has 35 million members; the N.R.A. about 4.3 million. The federation cut its teeth in the early 1990's, fighting the Clinton administration's health care reform proposals. Under the leadership of Jack Faris, who stepped down in February after 14 years as president, the federation mobilized members to help derail an effort to require employers to pay most of their workers' health insurance, on the ground that the cost of the plan would force small companies to cut more than one million jobs.
More than a decade later, the cost of health care remains the federation's top issue, and it is once again on the offensive.
In early April, the federation began a national campaign to persuade United States senators to approve legislation allowing small companies to band together to buy health insurance through trade or professional organizations. The vote on the legislation, known as the small-business health plans bill, is expected in the Senate the week of May 7. The federation, which has been working to come up with affordable health care options for small businesses for more than 10 years, is pumping $1 million into a series of radio commercials in eight crucial states, including Florida and Ohio, in an effort to sway senators to vote for the bill. The federation urged owners of small businesses in those states to contact their senators, especially when the legislators were home over the latest Congressional recess.
The campaign involves some new tactics for the federation, like using banner advertisements on Web sites, the group's chief lobbyist, Dan Danner, told the business owners who gathered for the morning meeting in this Washington suburb to discuss health care.
The federation is also placing ads in daily newspapers and their Web sites in the eight states, and on small-business and local and national political Web sites and blogs. In addition, the federation is sending faxes and e-mail messages to members â€” and postcards to those without e-mail â€” asking them to urge their senators to vote for the bill, Mr. Danner said.
And, demonstrating its reach, the federation has gathered 450,000 petitions from members and others calling on Congress to enact the bill.
The federation, which often adopts Republican legislative positions, opposes the leading alternative proposal to allow small companies to join a government-run national program modeled after the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program. Mr. Stottlemyer told those at the meeting that option would be akin to "forcing everyone to have a Cadillac when people just need a means of transportation."
A lot is riding on the health care legislation because fewer than half of the federation's member companies can afford to offer insurance to their employees. If passed, according to a recent actuarial study by the risk- management consultant Mercer Oliver Wyman, the legislation would lead to a reduction in employer health insurance premiums of 12 percent, saving small businesses about $1,000 a employee.
The small-business owners at the meeting, who sat around a spacious conference table at the CJ Coakley Construction Company's office, gave the federation's health care legislation campaign that rarest of blessings: no questions.
The campaign strategy borrows heavily from the federation's playbook in helping to defeat health care reform a dozen years ago â€” like using action alerts that now usually come by e-mail rather than fax to galvanize members. After the briefing on the campaign's details, the small-business owners moved to other legislative fights over the estate tax, minimum wage, tax cuts, work force training and immigration.
Passion was strong over the estate, or inheritance, tax, which the federation calls the "death tax." It was repealed temporarily but will be coming up for a vote in Congress, perhaps in May, to decide whether that repeal will become permanent.
Maria Coakley David, the chief financial officer for CJ Coakley, who has testified on the estate tax before Congress, called it "a double tax," and urged Mr. Stottlemyer, a Northern Virginia businessman who became the federation's president on Feb. 15, to hold firm for the tax's permanent repeal.
"We want to hold everyone's feet to the fire on this," she said, giving a glimpse of the hard-edge style the federation embraces with Congress and governments.
That style has served the federation well. The federation, which also operates a political action committee that gave overwhelmingly to Republican candidates in 2004, has chalked up important victories since the early 1990's; five years ago, for example, it helped torpedo federal occupational safety regulations intended to protect workers against repetitive-stress injuries.
The federation sends ballots to members six times a year to gauge opinion; for the federation to adopt a particular stance, it must be supported by 70 percent of members.
Its effectiveness has remained steady even though membership has hovered around the half-million mark for years, an issue Mr. Stottlemyer said he was reviewing. He told one questioner at the meeting that he wanted to attract activist recruits while retaining those who had been active â€” around one-third of the membership.
He plans to bolster the federation's state and local network, he said, because important issues like tort reform often bubble up in state legislatures where change can be rapid and issues can be shaped more easily than at the federal level. The federation has offices in all 50 state capitals as well as Washington.
Mr. Stottlemyer, 42, who was previously the president of an information technology services company, Apogee Technologies, also said he wanted to draw on his background to customize the federation's communications with its members to marshal its influence more effectively .
"Small business has changed, and is changing," he said, "Two or three people can be working out of their homes; it's not necessarily the storefront anymore."
Political Leaders Program Class of 2005 graduate Waldo Jaquith, one of Virginia's most well-known bloggers, is now a Contributing Technology Editor to Campaigns and Elections magazine. Waldo will contribute a regular column about the intersection of technology and politics.
This move catapults Waldo from a tenured political blogger to the status of an "official" reporter. The line between blogging and journalism gets ever more blurry.
Waldo's first column appears in the current May 2006 issue.
Fellow Virginia blogger Chad Dotson also debuts this month as a Contributing Technology Editor for the magazine.
A list of those who plan to attend the 2006 Blog Summit is now available online.
Click here to read the names of those who are planning to participate in this year's Summit.
The Sorensen Institute has confirmed that Josh Wheeler, Associate Director of the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression, will be a speaker at our 2006 Blog Summit.
If you have not already registered to attend the Summit, but plan to do so, please Click Here to Register. For purposes of reserving hotel rooms and planning meals, we need to get a firm count of those who plan to attend the Summit as soon as possible. Many thanks for registering early.
Ashley previously served as a Special Assistant to the Secretary of Technology for Virginia. She is a 2005 graduate of CNU and the former President of the Student Government Association there.
Congratulations to the Sorensen Institute's Marc Johnson (shown left with Governor Tim Kaine at our recent 2006 Gala). Marc is not only the Director of Sorensen's Youth Programs but also a graduate of the College Leaders Program Class of 2003.
Marc was recently elected Chairman of the Young Guarde Council of the College of William and Mary Alumni Association, which represents all alumni who have graduated in the past five years. Way to go Marc!
Marc is also quite busy these days preparing to launch our 2006 College Leaders Program: 26 exceptional students from across Virginia will begin their one-month long studies of political leadership on Grounds at the University of Virginia beginning May 27.
The Sorensen Institute has confirmed that author and nationally recognized political blogger Jerome Armstrong will deliver the Friday night keynote address at our 2006 Blog Summit.
Jerome is the author (along with Markos Moulitsas Zuniga) of Crashing the Gate: Netroots, Grassroots, and the Rise of People-Powered Politics. Jerome is also the founder and editor of the political blog MyDD.
Recognized as a pioneer of the political blogosphere, Jerome works as an internet strategist for advocacy organizations and political campaigns. He lives in Alexandria, Virginia.
The Sorensen Institute's Coy Barefoot interviewed Attorney General Bob McDonnell on Charlottesville radio recently. Barefoot is the host of an afternoon talk radio program on NewsRadio 1070 WINA called "Charlottesvilleâ€”Right Now."
The Attorney General discussed a host of topics including: price gouging at the gas pumps, sexual predators, illegal immigration, identity theft, and the marriage amendment referendum which will be on the ballots in Virginia this November.
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