DiAnna Brannan doesn’t take a salary. But she is one of the most effective pro-family lobbyists in Washington state
In 2008, DiAnna Brannan was hit by a drunk driver and suffered severe brain trauma. Doctors told the homeschooling mother and volunteer family-issues lobbyist she would have to take three years off just to heal.
“I cried for three days,” Brannan says. But she and her husband, Scott, had no peace about putting their work at the Washington state Capitol on hold for even a month, let alone three years. “We felt like God said He’d called us to this and He had not told me to take three years off.”
Within a few days of the accident, she got a call from the chairwoman of the state Senate Education Committee saying she had a bill that, among other things, would gut Washington’s homeschooling law. Brannan’s tireless but gentle efforts over the years had built relationships with many liberals in the Capitol, and the chairwoman was one.
Still in bad shape physically, Brannan was able to convince the senator to amend the bill over the phone, sparing the law.
With that, she knew for certain she wouldn’t be taking three years off. But she also was not healed. The following years were a push, a sacrifice and an ordeal. Her then 18-year-old son often had to help his 15-year-old sister with schoolwork because Brannan’s brain was just not up to it.
But her decision to continue with what she believed God called her to do has been a boon for Christian families throughout Washington, one of the nation’s most progressive states. And it apparently caused no problems in her recovery. “She’s very effective; she very successfully held back the tide on a lot of things coming against parental rights,” says Danille Turissini, Statewide grassroots director at the Family Policy Institute of Washington. “She’s got, like, radar.”
Pro-family lawmakers are keenly aware of her value in the annual assault on parental rights waged in the state legislature.
“She’s phenomenally effective. Well-known and respected throughout Washington,” says Rep. Matt Shea, R-Spokane Valley. “She will work with all legislators, Democrat or Republican, doesn’t matter.”
That is evident in her decade-long fights against same-sex marriage, the takeover of homeschooling by the state and the erosion of parental rights.
“She’s the go-to person when we have difficult social issues,” Shea says. “She doesn’t come storming into an office. She is direct, but very loving and patient to explain it.”
Being respected in the Capitol is not the same as being immune from anti-Christian extremists, however. The Brannans have been harassed, had their property vandalized and endured death threats for their efforts on behalf of families and Christian values.
“In Washington state,” says Brannan, “being Christian and homeschooling is two strikes.”
But the Brannans were neither Christian nor homeschoolers early in their marriage. In fact, DiAnna was a working mother in the marketing and management industry, and a self-described feminist.
“We really had our lives in the wrong direction,” she says. Things were so bad, in fact, the couple was considering divorce.
In 1991, at age 28, the Brannans attended an evangelistic meeting, and both were saved on the spot. Radically saved. They began rearranging everything in their lives; they searched long for the right church and when they found it, they discovered homeschoolers. In 1996, they began homeschooling their own children, and DiAnna volunteered on a regional board helping families get started.
The state of Washington began an effort in 1998 to bring all homeschoolers under the public school agenda—thereby undermining the purpose.
Brannan began fighting the effort, and was named to the state board of the homeschooling group. She registered as a volunteer lobbyist and formed the Christian Homeschool Network (CHN) of Washington. The group advocates on behalf of homeschooling families and provides resources to homeschool parents.
“We started CHN as a family thing,” she says. And in many ways, it still is: Alan, 24, is a police officer in Kent, Wash., and Allison, 21, is a college student, but both continue to volunteer for CHN. Alan recently testified before a Senate subcommittee on a bill to allow parent-taught drivers’ education.
The first issue Brannan tackled is an ongoing one in Washington—the attempted takeover of homeschooling by the public schools. Every year, legislation is introduced, and every year Brannan is there to help organize a blockade against it.
Known in Olympia for her sincerity and kind ways, Brannan works with people of any political persuasion—which has been indispensable in her efforts to stop this and other legislation.
“Her authenticity, honesty and the way she approaches people humbly and honestly has led to her success in the legislature,” Turissini says. “She has gained allies in areas where we often do not even go. She’s a sweet warrior.”
For Brannan, it’s the simple Christian witness. “We can never forget who we represent,” she tells Citizen. “We have to do things His way.”
That has been tested at times.
“I’ve had death threats and slander campaigns,” Brannan says. She’s had threatening phone calls and emails. During the Preserve Marriage Washington campaign in 2012, someone smashed in the back window of the family’s Chevrolet Suburban right in front of their house in broad daylight.
The Relationship Builder
Perhaps Brannan’s greatest strength is in building personal relationships with all kinds of people in Olympia. From progressives and abortion advocates to traditional conservatives, she takes time with people and gets to know them—and allows them to know her.
“DiAnna has a really good talent of sort of reaching across the aisle, finding areas where legislators can agree with the tenets of homeschooling,” says T.J. Schmidt, the staff attorney representing Washington for the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA). “She’s really good at building relationships and finding common ground with legislators who you would not expect to be a friend of conservative values.”
One example is how she reached out to Planned Parenthood during the 2014 legislative session that ended in March.
Her organization and several other conservative groups backed a bill saying parental rights are fundamental, giving it legal standing similar to the state constitution. The goal was to rein in the legislature and judges. Brannan was named the director of the Washington chapter of the national group parentalrights.org.
During the debate, she met with the leaders of Planned Parenthood to explain that the bill, and the Christian community’s support for it, was not being driven by the parental-notification issue or any other points of tension between the groups. It was simply that in most cases, it’s best for children to be in their parents’ homes because parents know what’s best for their children. The bill merely sought to put that precept into law.
“All of the Left was opposing the parental-rights bill, and Planned Parenthood was a key player among the groups opposing,” she says. “Basically, I explained that our two main concerns are the international definition of the ‘rights of a child’ and concerns with Child Protective Services running (something) like a police state in King County.”
There were no ulterior motives and it was not related to abortion in any way, she told Planned Parenthood.
After watching her in Olympia for 11 years, Planned Parenthood’s leader told Brannan, “I believe you.”
Brannan did not compromise on any language in the bill, and largely on the strength of her reputation was able to convince Planned Parenthood to stay on the sidelines during the fight for it.
Shea was awed by her ability to work with the nation’s largest abortion provider without compromising.
“The leader of Planned Parenthood ended up agreeing with her,” he says. “If she can do that with Planned Parenthood, she can do it with anyone.”
As she did with the liberal chairwoman of the Senate Education Committee who called her shortly after her accident, Brannan finds a way to work with anyone by spending time getting to know them and what is important to them. She knows about their families, backgrounds, even some of their personal struggles. She’s trusted even when she’s on the opposite side of the issue.
That could well be because she doesn’t become negative when she disagrees.
“We never go down and trash the public schools. It’s just damaging,” she says of her homeschool lobbying activities. “And there is too much gay bashing. It’s not helpful at all.”
Effective lobbyists make really good money. Brannan is certainly effective—but she makes no money. In fact, it’s possible that she actually ends up in the red for her work.
“She doesn’t have a salary. She’s there on her own initiative,” says Turissini. “She’s accomplished this with very little other than her calling and obedience.”
Everyone in Olympia sees that.
“She comes down day in and day out. She doesn’t ask for anything, just gets the job done,” Shea says.
And not even brain trauma stops her.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Rod Thomson is a freelance writer in Sarasota, Fla. His most recent book is Living Threads: The Unbroken Connection of God’s People Through the Ages, available on Amazon. He also runs The Thomson Group, a public relations and communications firm.
This article was orginally published in the August 2014 issue of Citizenlink. More information can be found at www.citizenlink.com.