AFP’s Starla Brown believes people impact our communities most
Delray Beach resident Starla Brown began her rise through the ranks of Americans for Prosperity (AFP) as a volunteer. She loved it because she saw the impact an organization that gets into the community and effectuates change can make. The experience of volunteering with AFP made her realize that Americans must put aside partisan politics and align around policies. “No matter your political background, if you’re doing the right thing, if you’re moving forward with a policy that will positively influence people’s lives, that is what’s important,” she says. When people ask for her elevator pitch, she always responds, “‘I help people improve their lives,’ because the type of policy we lean into does.”
In 2013, Starla became an AFP employee, working as an assistant to Slade O’Brien. From there, she transitioned into the grassroots director’s role, or what AFP calls Director of Grassroots Operations. Three years ago, she received a promotion to Deputy State Director.
During her time as a grassroots director, one accomplishment stands out among the rest. In 2016, their state director and then CEO set a goal for them to knock on a million doors in Florida—something that had never been done before. “I had the audacity to say ‘yes,’” Starla explains. “I thought, ‘I’ve got this group of awesome, dedicated people and volunteers. How do we get there?’ I won’t say it was easy because it took a tremendous amount of work and commitment. But we did it. We got to that millionth door.”
“The people I work with are so passionate about freedom, liberty, and ensuring good policy gets across the finish line at all levels of government while fighting and fending off the bad policy; things like corporate welfare that take our taxpayer dollars and use them in ways that are not the proper role of government. That year, we had such a dedicated team that we got it done. It was just an amazing feeling. It wasn’t just that we hit this huge number; it was that we’d gone into the community to meet people where they were to talk about issues, not political parties. With the divisiveness of today’s political landscape, everybody’s drawing the proverbial line in the sand. The free exchange of ideas falls by the wayside because people aren’t sitting down and talking through things. As that divide gets wider, less gets done. The proper role of government becomes clouded. As an organization, we work to bring people together around that proverbial table and discuss the issues that impact their lives.”
In the healthcare arena, that involved removing certificate of need or CON laws in Florida. “Most people would think if you wanted to invest your dollars in opening up hospitals or facilities, you would be able to do that,” Starla explains. “But when states have CON laws, that’s not the case; the government decides whether or not you can. In Florida and still now in other states, it’s literally a certificate of need. And if the government didn’t see the need, they denied that opportunity. “When you look at rural and underserved areas, taking that free-market approach makes sense. It’s sad when the government puts up a barrier that doesn’t allow the free market to expand. What is better than competition to drive prices down and make healthcare more accessible?”
Starla and her AFP team also worked on direct primary care for doctors, an amazing opportunity for healthcare professionals. The positive effects of this achievement became personal when she recommended a direct primary care doctor to a friend who lives in Boca Raton. “I told her we worked on this legislation, and I wanted to share what a direct primary care doctor is all about.” After seeing the doctor, Starla’s friend learned that most of her patients do not have health insurance. This direct primary care doctor is now serving in the community because good policy allowed it to happen. Thanks to Starla and her AFP team’s efforts in Florida, they also expanded the scope of practice for some nurses, physicians assistants, and pharmacists. She says, “There’s still a lot to do, but expanding the scope of practice through some of the more recent legislation is vital because those individuals can serve the community for the things they are trained to do, making healthcare accessible for more people.”
“It’s easy for the government to take the top-down approach with a government-run health care program. Unfortunately, that approach puts people in a situation where they may get a health insurance card, but that often doesn’t equate to health care. There’s a big difference between having that card in your wallet and being able to access affordable health care.”
Last November, Starla and her team organized an event to bring around one hundred women together in the Naples area for training. “We convened a panel of experts to talk about not only the good policy but the future policy we could work on. It was eye-opening for many women. Most polls show that they’re decision-makers in the household around healthcare, and bringing them together to talk about what we’ve done and what we want to do was powerful. We formed a group of women called Strong Women, Smart Health. We’re still working through that coalition today and hoping to expand it in Florida this year.”
According to Starla, Florida has risen to the occasion in K through 12 education, although much more needs to be done. “At AFP, we support a universal education savings account because we believe in funding students and families to make the best decisions for their educational needs. AFP will continue to focus on this in Florida. Parents and students have dealt with multiple challenges during COVID. People realized that when they took advantage of alternative education, it met needs for students that weren’t being met before. Many parents are not ready to go back to the traditional public school. There are certainly some great public schools. But we can look at education from the supply side and the funding side. In Florida, we want more opportunities on that supply-side, more choices for students and families to meet their unique needs. I’m passionate about that.”
Still, state-level politics comes with never-ending challenges, and Starla points to professional sports as a prime example. “I say this as someone who loves baseball and football, buys my tickets and attends games. However, my tax dollars should not fund billionaire sports team owners to build or remodel new stadiums, which happens a lot in Florida. We’re seeing that with the Tampa Bay Rays over in Hillsborough County right now.
“It’s coming down to two cities sort of fighting over who’s going to give them the most money. This form of corporate welfare doesn’t lead to positive outcomes for citizens. If you sit in the county commission meetings and look at the budget and the tax dollars, you’ll see where your money is going. Hillsborough County has some of the worst roads. For a long time, local government has ignored infrastructure because of all these other expenditures. It just comes down to the fact that spending is more often than not in the wrong place. It goes back to the proper role of government. That’s another area that we’re pretty passionate about.”
Through her work with AFP, Starla has addressed significant societal issues, like poverty and criminal justice reform. “When we look at poverty and criminal justice, those things are linked together, and solving both are important to societal change,” she says.
Americans for Prosperity is part of an extensive network of nonprofits, with AFP focusing on the critical institution of government. But the overall organization of Stand Together, www.standtogether.org, is finding solutions to problems in society that aren’t necessarily the traditional solutions that come to mind. “In our organization, we talk about mutual benefit. When we have mutual benefit among us, when we’re working together, and not in a divisive way, then each of our successes is based on each other, because if one part of society is failing due to a lack of opportunity because of poor policy and government, every aspect of society suffers,” Starla says.
She will soon bring that passion to Mississippi in her new role as state director with AFP, focusing on healthcare and education. “Mississippi doesn’t rank as high as many other states; in fact, it’s at the bottom. I hope I’ll be able to work with not only the people of Mississippi but the legislature, the governor, and elected officials at all levels of government to bring the state further up.
“We have a fantastic team in Mississippi. No one works in a vacuum. The coalition partners and the people who coordinate with us around the state—from the individual who knocks on doors and talks to people or makes phone calls to the legislators, to the person who leads another organization that aligns with you on policy—everyone makes a difference. Without those coalition partners and volunteers, none of this happens. It takes a community. It takes people out there working and believing in each other. We’ve seen more people engage in what government does. We need to find civility and the ability to sit down around the table and talk through problems to come forward with solutions. It’s okay to be upset about something that’s happening. It’s okay to disagree. But we have to talk to each other and hear other people’s ideas. We may not agree with those ideas, but we must listen and hear each other if we truly believe in free speech.”
For more information, visit the Americans for Prosperity website.
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