Tuesday, February 8, 2011

How to "Read" Your Legislator

In the last post ("A Challenge for You") I challenged you to contact your legislators about an issue that matters to you, then see how they respond (if they respond at all).  I'd like to expand on that topic and give you some hints on "reading" your legislator.  Guessing at their motives isn't a perfect science, but it can be something that helps you when you approach them.

I should clarify that if a legislator doesn't respond to you, they aren't necessarily evil, they don't necessarily hate you, they may not even despise your opinions.  They may just be busy.  Or out of the office.  Or fighting the flu.  Who knows.

If you don't get a response from a legislator on an issue that matters to you, follow up with a phone call to their staff to see what might be getting in the way of your response.  This does two things:
  • lets you know what is going on, for real, so you can judge if there is a legitimate reason for delay; and
  • probably puts the legislator on alert that you're not just a "day tripper," someone who really doesn't care about getting a response.

Of course, if you get a snarky or rude response, it is what it is.  File it away as a good lesson learned, but even then, try again on another day, perhaps even another issue.  Legislators are human.  They have bad days.  They may have missed their morning coffee.

Ah, coffee.  That brings me to one of my two examples I'm going to use as an exercise in reading your legislator, beginning with tomorrow's post.  Our "guinea pigs" for savvy citizen studies:
  • House Bill 1715, designating coffee as the State beverage, something that might be more controversial than you'd think; and  
  • Senate Bill 5261, which would allow 14-year-olds to vote in school board elections.

Check them out ahead of time, and we'll get to work on them tomorrow.  You can click on links in the previous paragraph, or try doing the legwork yourself; go to the bill search page on the Legislature's website, type in the bill number, and when it pops up scroll down and click on "original bill."

Have fun, savvy citizens!

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