116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
My friend Rachel tells some interesting stories of her past service as a state legislator in Florida. Once a constituent of hers came to the Capitol adamantly demanding an audience with his representative.
“I’m not leaving until I meet with him,” the constituent insisted.
“He will not be available at all,” Rachel replied. The constituent clearly had no idea who his legislator actually was, let alone that he was already speaking with … her.
If you don’t know who your local legislators are, I pass no judgment. But since most agree that the decisions made by our elected leaders can impact on our lives and livelihoods, I encourage you to do two things: Find out who your representatives are and interact with them.
Now is the perfect time. On Monday, the Iowa Legislature began its annual session in Des Moines. Through at least mid-April, they’ll debate and pass bills regarding issues like taxes and education that many of us feel strongly about.
To pass good legislation, your legislators need to hear from you. Despite what the pessimists will tell you, they want to hear from you.
Iowans can look up their state legislators online at legis.iowa.gov/legislators, under “Find Your Legislator.” They can also sign up to receive newsletters from both their state senator and state representative. Keep in mind that when legislative redistricting takes effect, many Iowans will be drawn into districts different from that of their current legislators and will have new representation next year.
Public forums, usually announced in newsletters and online, are an excellent way to see your legislators in person when they return to their districts on weekends. One need not be an expert in political matters or even have a particular issue to discuss. If all you do is shake their hand and introduce yourself as a constituent, you’ve still given your legislator a face and a name for the next time they see you, when you might have a more specific issue in mind.
Don’t let differing politics preclude your ability to interact with your legislators. In House District 66, I’m represented by Art Staed, a Democrat whose viewpoint sharply contrasts mine. Art has met with me every time I’ve gone to Des Moines and listened to whatever spiel I have for him, even when I’m there with an advocacy group his party despises. Even the most partisan of legislators are usually willing to give an opposing view a moment of their time for cordial dialogue.
Remember that your legislators are human, and that the legislative process is just that: a process. To legislate is to make law, but to be a legislator is to write and scrutinize carefully worded bills, sit on committees, get input from every stakeholder and compromise if necessary to gather enough support to pass those bills.
It can be quite an ordeal. And if constituents don’t make their voices heard through their legislators, all that remains are the special interests and their paid lobbyists, of which there are many — even the Iowa Conference of the Methodist Church sends lobbyists to the Capitol.
Iowans can be their own advocates. Connecting with your legislator is an integral part of participating in the government that exists to serve you.
Althea Cole is a Gazette editorial fellow. Comments: firstname.lastname@example.org