Staff Columnist

Popping protective bubbles

Visitors take a rest inside a bubble at the terrace at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. Albert Gea/Reuters
Visitors take a rest inside a bubble at the terrace at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. Albert Gea/Reuters

When the nation or the state is allowed to operate in a bubble, we all lose.

At the Pints and Politics event last month, an audience member asked whether it does any good to continue to reach out to elected officials. Specifically, the audience member wanted to know whether reaching out to U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley is a waste of time.

Another member of the panel — one of my co-workers, although I don’t remember exactly which one — answered that he knew what he was supposed to say, to encourage people to contact lawmakers, but the reality is doing so likely wouldn’t make a difference.

As I said that night, democracy isn’t a spectator sport. We should all do what is within us to do, especially if writing a letter or making a phone call is the political release we need in order to continue to be civil to neighbors and family members who may feel differently.

What I didn’t say, but wish I had, is that continuing to offer differing viewpoints to those in power — even, perhaps especially, to elected officials who hold an opposing view — is vital.

In recent years, we’ve seen many elected officials attempt to skirt the public. Not only have they refused to have conversations with reporters and editorial boards, but they’ve severely limited their general availability to the public.

Congressional electeds, when they return to their district, opt for meetings with groups perceived as friendly, understanding that even when such events are open to other members of the public, it is unlikely those who feel differently will attend. And, for those who do, it is unlikely they will feel comfortable enough to stand in a crowd and ask a tough question that others won’t like.

State lawmakers have blocked constituents from social media accounts, or have deleted critical responses. Others have refused long-standing legislative session forums, opting instead to create their own supposedly public meetings on the same date and time where they can receive “more appropriate” questions.

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During the last session in Des Moines, the public was left in the dark while lawmakers debated policy decisions behind closed doors.

Taken alone, each of these trends is concerning. They speak to lawmakers who hope to escape full public accountability; who would prefer to operate within a bubble of like-minded thought. These trends signal cowardice and an overall lack of ownership for the decisions being made on our behalf.

The last thing constituents of these lawmakers should do is acquiesce and provide silent approval for such misbehavior. Adults, acting in good faith, have conversations.

Will your phone call or letter change a lawmaker’s mind? I don’t know. More important, you don’t know either. But even if it doesn’t, you have done your part; you have penetrated that lawmaker’s preferred bubble of comfort. You have made clear that not all constituents see things in the same way, and that you are watching.

At the least, you’ve prevented that lawmaker from sending out a news release or holding a news conference to say not one constituent pushed back.

• Comments: @LyndaIowa, (319) 368-8513, lynda.waddington@thegazette.com

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