December 21, 2011
During the Holiday Season many visitors come to the Capitol. Families come to see the beautifully decorated tree that graces the Capitol rotunda. Some people gather to sing songs.
While the full Senate didn’t convene in December, committee hearings kept me in Madison most of the month. During this time I took an inventory of the concerns of those who contacted me this year.
During 2011 many people participated in the democratic process and expressed their opinions. Compared to last year, my dedicated staff and I had the honor to receive contact from nearly ten times as many citizens: 26,000 people.
Last year one-half of all contact came by email. But in 2011, ninety-four percent of contact came by email. Part of the reason may be the sense of urgency people had related to the fast-moving ‘budget repair’ bill.
Nearly three-quarters of those who called or wrote from our Senate District were opposed to the bill that became known as “Act 10”. Nearly 400 constituents came to my Capitol office to express their concern about the ‘budget repair’ bill.
People did express opinions about other legislation. The top bills people cared enough to call or write about included the state budget (476 people); changes in firearms laws (278 people); voter ID (139 people); redistricting – changes in legislative boundaries (100 people) and issues related to education – other than the budget or Act 10 (92 people).
Ninety-three percent of those who wrote were opposed to the state budget; eighty-six percent favored changes to gun laws; ninety-two percent opposed the new Voter ID law. Every person who wrote about changes to the legislative districts was opposed to the bill. Everyone who wrote about changes in education that would allow, among other things, new independent charter schools was opposed to these changes.
When citizens contact their legislators it is important legislators listen. Emails or calls are all logged and counted. As I prepare for every vote I read through all the contact I received on an issue. Sometimes early in the process a call or a note from a citizen makes a big difference in whether or not a bill becomes a law. Many times a citizen wrote and I asked permission to share their email during a committee hearing. The concern they raised or suggestion they offered can end up changing, delaying or even stopping passage of a bill.
It is very important citizens take the time to let elected officials know their opinions. This is fundamental to our democracy – the representation of the people’s interests.
But my job is not all bills and policy. At least half of my job is what I call ‘social work’ or helping people navigate the state bureaucracy. Nearly every day I receive a call that requires providing assistance to constituents not related to legislation. This assistance can be help with a public program like Food Share or energy assistance; help with child custody or child support and many issues related to health insurance.
The economic downturn brought an increase in the number and types of calls. This year I received calls from many people involved in foreclosures or other housing or financial problems; both businesses and citizens called with concerns about unemployment insurance. A number of constituents needed assistance working through the bureaucracy of the Departments of Natural Resources or Transportation.
I also routinely work with our federal officials to resolve problems with Social Security, Disability and Medicare questions. Local elected officials and I often join together to local communities obtain grants or other assistance. Local leaders can make a big impact on our communities. But they, like other citizens, need assistance with the state bureaucracy.
A big ‘thank-you’ goes to my senate staff: Ben Larson, Joel Nilsestuen and Linda Kleinschmidt who made sure the phones, emails and questions were answered. And a ‘thank-you’ to all who contacted us and gave us the opportunity to serve you.