Getting to know your elected officials, part one of three

Getting to Know Your Elected Officials

The first in a series on how to put your elected officials to work for you.

Nina Babiarz, Public Watchdogs Board of Directors

This is your jumping off point – This series of three short articles to  show you how to take one bite at a time out of the “elected official elephant.”

The first step in kicking butt is taking names

To understand the local, state or federal legislative process as related to our corrupt Public Utilities Commission and our Federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission, you must first know who your  elected officials are (click to open a list in a new window).

I’m often surprised to find that, when discussing important issues whether around the dinner table, many of us are unsure of  who our elected official are let alone where they may stand on critical issues like the burial of toxic radioactive waste on our public beaches.

Politicians are your employees

The next time you deposit your pay check take a look at what you are paying in taxes. You pay their salaries. They are your employees. If you are independently employed and pay estimated quarterly taxes, think about the fact that the revenue you are generating goes to pay for all levels of government. As a home owner, take a peek at your property taxes; it all adds up to a significant chunk of change. Do you ever hand over that kind of cash without knowing exactly what you are getting?   I seriously doubt it.

When I ask people why they don’t have a regular communication with their elected officials there are usually a range of responses: First, they find the whole process rather intimidating, second, they doubt that their input will have an impact. Often we get angry or frustrated about an issue and want to call, but don’t know how to do it.

Look up the term ‘constituent’ and you will find that, as a noun it is: ‘a person who appoints another to act as an agent or representative,’ and as an adjective it is defined as: ‘necessary in forming or making up a whole component.’ So for this exercise, ‘constituent’ is who you are and it also describes what you do in being one part of the whole Legislative process.

Find out what makes them tick

Once you’ve identified your representatives, the most important first step to beginning a relationship is doing some research on who they are and what they stand for.  Take a look at their biographical material. You may find it interesting as to where they went to college (are you an alumni?) or what professions they worked in prior to running for office.  Look for common ground. This is also where you will find some common denominators which always helps when you are trying to open up an initial dialogue.

It is always the perfect time to find out how your Congressional representative voted on the issues important to you and the reasons behind their vote. If the information is not offered on their website, call their district office and ask.  You will be pleasantly surprised at the information the staff will share on your elected official’s position and the follow-up that they will provide to you (usually you will get a formal letter within a few days).

Now that you’ve opened the door to getting to know your elected officials let’s talk about an open communication about those issues that matter to you and how you can share your opinions and ideas with your elected officials.

Part Two: How to initiate communication

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