Voters don’t like Congress. Only about 40 percent of the country approves of the job our president is doing. And, because of the hundreds of millions of dollars spent on elections, people feel like their voice doesn’t count as much as a large campaign donation.
That sentiment may explain the question we got from Molly Vladyka of Kyle for our TXDecides project, which asks folks across Texas what questions they have about state government:
I know lawmakers are voted in by us, the voters, but is there any REAL way to influence their decision and make my voice heard?
To answer that question, let’s take a trip to the Capitol for a look at the different ways you can actually talk to lawmakers.
Outsource Your Efforts
On the east side of the Capitol grounds one morning last week, Cindee Sharp runs back and forth between about six tables set up with hundreds of red tote bags. Sharp is with the Texas Retired Teachers Association. Last week was their legislative day at the Capitol. Those bags were being picked up by hundreds of people, all in red shirts, and all heading into the Capitol to deliver the bags to state lawmakers. What’s in the bag?
“Oh we have snacks and we have water,” Sharp said. “But, more importantly, we have some information to give to our legislators about different bills that we’re in favor of. And different ways that they could certainly help our retired teachers this session, especially with their health insurance plan.”
So, joining an activist organization is one way to go about influencing lawmakers. The group does the heavy lifting, and you can get the benefit of having someone promote your opinion. But even a well-coordinated group of citizen activists are still just visitors. They fight for attention with the professional class at the Capitol.
Lobbyists are often blamed for why politicians don’t listen to regular people. And the stereotype – a three-piece suit with money and free lunches to hand out – doesn’t help. But longtime lobbyist Beaman Floyd, who is not wearing a suit when I meet him at the Capitol, says lobbyists don’t automatically have a monopoly on grabbing lawmakers’ attention.
“What I have is institutional knowledge and longevity in the Capitol. That is probably the most important currency for anybody down here,” Floyd said. “What you discover, when you walk around down here, is a lot of citizen activists have the same kind of institutional longevity and institutional knowledge.”
And those regular people with institutional knowledge can get just as much time with lawmakers.