Blog Post Draft: Meet Deema Tarazi, Spartan and Health Care Advocate (4/27/2021)
Having joined Chamber Hill Strategies in March 2021, Deema Tarazi draws from her background in advocating for maternal health policies and patient protections to help clients connect the dots in Washington. During our conversation, Deema recounted her experience defending the Affordable Care Act (ACA) from attempts to repeal and replace the law in 2017, as well as her observations on the differences between state and local advocacy.
What are some of the highlights of your career?
I started my career in 2016 around the time when the Trump Administration and Republican-controlled Congress began their efforts to repeal and replace the ACA. I had the opportunity to work with organizations for rare diseases and chronic conditions to lobby in support of key ACA provisions, such as Medicaid expansion and protections for those with preexisting conditions. Later, at March of Dimes, I was working on extending Medicaid postpartum coverage from 60 days to one year, which I was happy to see that this policy was included in the American Rescue Plan.
What prompted you to transition your career ambitions from law to advocacy?
Initially, I was interested in pursuing legal services, namely focusing on immigration law. During my second year at the Michigan State University College of Law, I participated in a program that allows students to come to Washington, DC for a semester. I always wanted to explore DC, and I was fortunate to be placed with the Hemophilia Federation of America (HFA) under the mentorship of a Michigan State law school alumna. From my experiences working with legislators and advocates, and learning about policymaking, I fell in love with federal government affairs. When I returned to law school, I set my sights on coming back to DC, and I was fortunate to be hired for a full-time position at HFA after graduation.
What are some of the biggest challenges lobbyists and advocates face in 2021?
Lobbying is a face-to-face career. Being in a room and talking to people is the best way to gauge people’s reactions. The pandemic has really changed the way we communicate with and build relationships with people. Since there are no opportunities to bump into someone in the hallway or meet them for coffee, you really are relying on email, texting, and calling. That said, technology has made the advocacy process more inclusive, and advocates who previously couldn’t travel to Washington are now able to connect virtually with members of Congress and their staff.
How is state government advocacy different from federal government advocacy?
State and local lobbying is different because some of the people who serve in state and local government serve part-time, and they are more connected to the daily coming and goings of the community. This creates the opportunity for more “personal touches,” and you can more effectively leverage advocates’ relationships with state and local lawmakers than you can federal lawmakers Additionally, each state has their own set of lobbying rules, so it was always important to review the laws to ensure compliance.
What’s some of the best advice you’ve received?
“Always remember why you started.” I relied heavily on this advice while studying for the bar and it has carried over into all aspects of my life. I find that it is important to keep everything in perspective, which sometimes can get lost as thing constantly change as we face difficult challenges, but usually the reasons of why we started doing something do not change. This motivates me to keep moving forward no matter how difficult a challenge may seem to be.
What else should we know about you?
I’m a proud double-Spartan, meaning I went to Michigan State University for undergraduate and law school, and I love watching games during football and basketball season. Staying connected to the Michigan State community is important to me and there is even a restaurant in DC that I use to go to before the pandemic which hosts all DC Spartans during game days.
I’m also an avid reader – I do not have a favorite book – but anything with the typical love storyline I do enjoy. In 2019 I hit my reading goal of reading 60 books in a year and my favorite book that year was Educated by Tara Westover, a moving memoir about her life.
I’ve become more interested in activities outdoors like hiking and exploring parks since the pandemic started. I look forward to traveling to some of the national parks out West as I have yet to explore the Grand Canyon.