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photo of Jonathan KirchJonathan Kirch

MPA alum’s heart is in influencing government policy to improve public health

With healthcare issues on the docket continually these days, Jonathan Kirch (MPA ’07) is a very busy professional.  He works as a lobbyist for and is the Government Relations Director of the Delaware and Philadelphia chapters of the American Heart Association and American Stroke Association (AHA/ASA).

AHA/ASA is concerned with reversing the ever-widening obesity problem in this country.  Kirch says, “My organization has a bold vision for improving the health of Americans that will require major changes in our diet and levels of physical activity.  Achieving these shifts requires altering the environment that encourages us all to be sedentary and eat nutrient-poor, calorie-dense foods and beverages.”

Many of his organization’s staff and volunteers, however, have very little understanding and exposure to advocacy and how advocacy can accomplish these desired changes.  “Our success,” Kirch says, “rests on our ability to amplify our volunteers’ voices through the public policymaking process.  It is an ever-changing challenge to communicate with our supporters so that they feel comfortable and empowered to advocate at state, local, and national levels.

Having worked in his current position since before he finished his master’s degree, Kirch is energized by the challenges and potential rewards of working with policymakers. “I enjoy the ‘lobbying game,’ especially its simultaneously competitive and collaborative nature,” he says.  “No day on my job is exactly like the day before, and I never feel bored or uninspired to push the envelope further.”

Kirch was instrumental in the negotiations and advocacy that led to the passage of calorie labeling in the City of Philadelphia (and, ultimately, the entire country through provisions in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act).

Beyond calorie labeling, Kirch has been heavily involved in attempts to pass excise taxes on sugar-sweetened beverages, successful campaigns to raise cigarette taxes, and other legislation focused on stroke care in Delaware.  He was the first chair of the Delaware Coalition for Healthy Eating and Active Living (DE HEAL) and now serves as a member of its executive committee.  He is frequently asked to assist agencies and coalitions with many public health policy issues.

Knowledge of the practical importance of networking, relationship-building, and the intricacies of the policy-making process is necessary in Kirch’s day-to-day work.  These are things he learned while at IPA and in the School of Public Policy & Administration’sMPA Program, particularly as a Legislative Fellow. “I gained much of the confidence and knowledge I needed at the University of Delaware and in Legislative Hall to excel in my role with the AHA/ASA.”

“The education, personal and professional networks, and experiences I gained working as a Legislative Fellow positioned me to walk into my dream job [as a lobbyist] before I even walked across the stage at commencement,” Kirch says.  “[Either] as [an IPA] research assistant, student, or Fellow, I had conducted legislative and policy research, managed the administrative functions of the committee process in the House of Representatives, planned an international professional and academic conference, and contributed to our state’s economic-development comprehensive plan.  These varied experiences prepared me to work under minimal supervision, as well as make decisions cooperatively with peers and high-level decision-makers.”

Kirch adds, “The Legislative Fellows Program gave me experience working directly with the members of the General Assembly, their staff, and agency officials.  Also, my role with committees in the House gave me an intimate and real-life understanding of the entire legislative process, including rules, procedures, protocol, and the varied levers of influence that are less understood by casual political observers.”

Kirch grew up in the suburbs of Newark, Del., but loves living in the City of Wilmington. As for spare-time interests, “I keep active in local sports and social clubs, and I enjoy bicycling as well,” he says.  “I don’t know how to not have a full calendar, except when I take my annual vacations, usually to Bethany Beach.”

On his future, Kirch says, “I mentioned I have my dream job now, so I don’t know.  Maybe run for elected public office.  I think transitioning from advocate to legislator poses unique challenges.”  As for right now, though, he’s happy where he is.

“I love my work because I know the positive difference I get to make,” Kirch says.

photo courtesy of Jonathan Kirch