Social workers should keep our eyes on several races for seats in the House of Representatives in November. Although four of the seven social workers in the Houses—Reps. Susan Davis (CA-53), Luis Gutierrez (IL-4), Barbara Lee (CA-13) and Niki Tsongas—are in safe seats according to both the Cook Political Report and the Rothenberg Political Report, two social work members of the House—Reps. Carol Shea-Porter (NH-1) and Kyrsten Sinema (AZ-9) represent districts that are borderline. Rep. Allyson Schwartz (PA-13) is relinquishing her House seat to run for governor of Pennsylvania. A newcomer is throwing her hat into the ring—Susan Grettenberger, the social work program director at Central Michigan University, is competing in the Democratic primary for the chance to challenge Republican incumbent Mike Rogers in Michigan’s 8th Congressional District.
Both Shea-Porter and Sinema are going to need the support of social workers who can help by contributing to their campaigns or volunteering to work on the campaign. Likewise, Susan Grettenberger faces an uphill battle—first having to win the Democratic Primary and then going up against a well-financed Rogers who chairs the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and serves on the influential Energy and Commerce Committee. While it’s unlikely social workers can begin to compensate for Rogers’s financial advantage, social workers and social work students can provide Grettenberger with volunteers who can knock on doors, hold rallies, and help spread her message. Social workers can be among her ground troops and help get her voters to the polls. The same holds true for Shea-Porter and Sinema.
Shea-Porter’s race has been declared a toss-up and will surely draw Republican resources to unseat her. She won re-election to the House in 2012 with 49.7 percent of the vote to 46.0 percent for her Republican challenger with 4.3 percent going a liberal third-party candidate. Shea-Porter had lost her seat in November 2010 when Republicans swept into the House majority. Sinema is a freshman in Congress who represents a district that is leaning Democratic and she is favored to regain her seat. However, it is likely that Republicans will target her in their effort to retain the House and possibly gain seats. Sinema won in 2012 with 48.3 percent of the vote to 45.2 percent for her Republican challenger with 6.4 percent going to the Liberal Party candidate. Both margins of victory are too close for comfort.
Other social workers in the House should be re-elected with little difficulty. Susan Davis won re-election in 2012 with 60.6 percent of the vote in California’s 53rd Congressional District; Gutierrez won in Illinois’s 4th Congressional District with 83.3 percent of the votes; Congressional Social Work Caucus Chair Barbara Lee won her California 13th District with an overwhelming 86.6 percent of the vote; and Niki Tsongas won the 3rd Congressional District in Massachusetts with 65.9 percent of the vote.
Although none of these four social workers are facing difficulty, that does not mean social workers should sit on the sidelines in these races. Social workers need to get involved in these races for the experience. They need to volunteer, organize events, and participate in the process on Election Day. These candidates have messages that need to be heard. Social workers should be empowering voters in these winning districts as well as those districts who need help. There are other closely contested races that you should be paying attention to and we will be highlighting these races in the coming weeks. While it is unlikely social workers can be the difference maker in securing a Democratic majority in the House in 2014, we could play a significant role in keeping the Dems in control of the Senate. Then when Hillary Clinton sweeps into the White House in 2016, we can help ensure she has a Democratic majority in Congress.
In any event, it is time that social workers begin flexing our political muscles. Change will not occur without political activism and political activism is not a macro practice. All social workers need to be involved.