Can You Keep 55,000 “Bosses” Happy?

The Covington News - - SPORTS - DOUG HOLT COLUM­NIST Rep. Doug Holt, R-So­cial Cir­cle, can be reached at 404-656-0152 or

So, do you think you’ve mas­tered be­ing a “part­time” leg­is­la­tor, now that you know about voting on bills and push­ing your own leg­is­la­tion? Guess again! You’ve got 55,000 cit­i­zens in your district, and ev­ery day at least a few of them find rea­son to col­lar you. These are “con­stituent calls”, which come in in­fi­nite va­ri­ety, though they thank­fully fall into a few gen­eral cat­e­gories. Folks are fre­quently worked up about leg­is­la­tion, and want to ei­ther give you an ear­ful on a bill, put you on the spot about your vote, or both. They of­ten want to grump about crummy per­for­mance of govern­ment. They may want you to come to their event, whether to speak, or just to be seen (in other words, be a politi­cian!). Some­times, dur­ing the leg­isla­tive ses­sion, they plan on com­ing to the State Capi­tol to see their leg­is­la­ture in ac­tion, and want to visit with you while they’re in town. Or, and this is the broad­est cat­e­gory (and the most tax­ing of your abil­i­ties!), they have a prob­lem. To solve their prob­lem, they need, or at least think they need, your help.

The vast ma­jor­ity of these prob­lems are with, or caused by, GOVERN­MENT! Reg­u­la­tions are oner­ous, ex­pen­sive to com­ply with, in­flex­i­ble and some­times just wrong. Govern­ment bu­reau­crats can be ob­nox­ious, slow or are just ornery and won’t do what they’re sup­posed to do. Ben­e­fit pro­grams are con­fus­ing, hard to sign up for and may end with­out warn­ing and for no ex­pli­ca­ble rea­son. And these are just a few broad types of govern­ment prob­lems. You, as a leg­is­la­tor, are au­to­mat­i­cally a very pub­lic face of Big Govern­ment (whether you like its ex­is­tence or not!). This puts you on the front line to ab­sorb the pent-up frus­tra­tions of cit­i­zens up­set with the per­for­mance of this mas­sive ser­vice ma­chine – and then you have to solve the prob­lem, too!

Ac­cord­ing to some, as a high of­fi­cial, you are sup­posed to have a magic wand to sim­ply wave prob­lems away. But some­times the magic doesn’t work! Prob­lems can be with a facet of govern­ment you’ve never heard of be­fore (learn what it does, fast!); of­ten are with some other level of govern­ment, be it lo­cal or federal (and you’re au­to­mat­i­cally guilty of “pass­ing the buck” when you trans­fer the prob­lem to some­one at that level); are al­most in­evitably caused by an arm of govern­ment that doesn’t di­rectly re­port to the leg­is­la­ture (ex­ec­u­tive or ju­di­cial branch, or an ex­as­per­at­ing in­de­pen­dent author­ity!); or are sim­ply a mat­ter of a pro­gram not meet­ing the ex­pec­ta­tions of your con­stituent in some way, shape or form (which I’ve come to re­al­ize is, by def­i­ni­tion, a de­scrip­tion of any govern­ment pro­gram).

Of course, life can in­volve prob­lems that are not caused by, or sought to be solved by govern­ment, and you get plenty of those too! Since leg­is­la­tors deal in law, a fair num­ber of folks as­sume you must au­to­mat­i­cally be an at­tor­ney. And since hav­ing a ti­tle means you work for the people, this fur­ther im­plies that you are to pro­vide free le­gal ser­vices to help sort out some mess or an­other. Talk about a mine­field! Then there are a cer­tain num­ber of people who will con­tact you sim­ply to vent about the sorry state of things in gen­eral (usu­ally by email, but some­times by phone…). You will even see a few in­stances of some poor soul just need­ing a shoul­der to cry on, be­cause their life seems to be com­ing apart at the seams. You can try to con­sole them a bit, al­ways of­fer to pray for them, and re­spect­fully try to of­fer a few sug­ges­tions of where they might turn, but you in­evitably feel in­ad­e­quate!

No mat­ter the source of the prob­lem, you’d bet­ter fig­ure out some way to ad­dress the is­sue, be­cause this per­son’s vote is on the line, along with those of the other 10 to 20 people that sta­tis­tics in­form us they will tell if they are not sat­is­fied. Fa­mil­iar with the old phrase “the cus­tomer is al­ways right”? Con­stituents are – an­other “by def­i­ni­tion” here – in­alien­ably right!

Yet at the same time, while this all adds up to a fair amount of work and frus­tra­tion, it’s also a splen­did op­por­tu­nity. For­tu­nately, I un­der­stood this be­fore I ever signed on the dot­ted line to run for of­fice. The knowl­edge came from be­ing the New­ton County Repub­li­can Party chair­man in ear­lier years. Count­less times, I heard people grouse about some elected of­fi­cial or an­other. It of­ten took the form of “that lousy so-and-so never re­turned my call (or email)”, or “I asked him to help me with…, and he didn’t do a thing!”. And al­most as of­ten, I was aware of some­one I knew had an in­ter­est in that elected of­fice stand­ing in the back­ground, drink­ing it all in. I came to re­al­ize there was an al­most math­e­mat­i­cal pre­dictabil­ity for gen­er­at­ing pri­mary elec­tion chal­lenges at work here!

My re­sponse to this in­sight has been hy­per at­ten­tion to con­stituent work. Rule num­ber one was to re­spond, in some fash­ion or an­other, within 24 hours (though I’ve made an ex­cep­tion where the ini­tial con­tact was hos­tile, in­sult­ing, deroga­tory or all of the above!). Then, if the is­sue was more than some­thing that could be sat­is­fied with an ini­tial re­sponse, I just kept af­ter it. This gets very time in­ten­sive, and the com­mit­ment grows with the num­ber of years you’ve been in of­fice, since you are bet­ter known with the pas­sage of time. How­ever, it’s an in­vest­ment that has paid off in the num­ber of elec­tion cy­cles where I’ve en­joyed the plea­sure of hav­ing no op­po­nent. And, by con­trast, I’ve been aware of a few other leg­is­la­tors who con­sis­tently blow off their con­stituent work, and just as con­sis­tently have in­sanely ex­pen­sive cam­paign sea­sons. Maybe I just re­ally dis­like fundrais­ing!

Next week, get in the groove with some leg­is­la­tor lingo!

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