Legislators, show engaged citizens some common courtesy

During the caucus campaign, one of my pet peeves was the tendency for Iowa voters to complain about all those phone calls and knocks on the door. When volunteers care enough about the direction of this country to advocate for their candidates, and all they are trying to do is engage you politically, the least you can do is be courteous. People in many other states would love to have as much influence over the presidential nominating process as Iowans have.

Similarly, politicians who sought out the opportunity to represent Iowans in the state legislature should not complain when engaged citizens contact them for a cause they believe in.

The Iowa legislature’s “funnel deadline” is approaching, and with very few exceptions, bills that have not been voted out of a committee will be dead within a few days. So, many Iowans are calling or e-mailing legislators regarding this or that bill.

I have friends who are passionate about a particular bill and are mobilizing a lot of people in favor of it. They don’t have money to hire a lobbyist or run advertisements. (Slight correction: Although my friends who are getting involved don’t have spare cash for lobbying or political donations, an organization has hired a lobbyist to help pass this bill.) It’s not a high-profile issue getting a lot of media attention. All these people have is the ability to ask friends to write legislators directly. They’ve been sending out contact information for the people on the relevant committee. They feel they need a lot of grassroots support to counteract the efforts of at least one well-funded interest group that is actively opposing the bill.

I received an urgent message from an acquaintance saying that no one should write to one particular legislator. This person responded to a message by saying he or she supports the bill but will change his or her mind if he or she continues to receive numerous messages about it.

Threatening to change your vote on a good bill because you are hearing from a lot of its supporters is immature and unprofessional. Show some understanding, legislators. A bunch of ordinary people are doing their best to get involved in a positive way. The funnel deadline will pass soon, and you will stop getting so many e-mails.

If you don’t like hearing from citizens about pending bills during a few busy weeks out of the year, may I suggest that you not run for re-election. Plenty of other people would be happy to take your place at the statehouse.

UPDATE: Someone who works at the statehouse suggested to me that the offensive e-mail my acquaintance received may have been written by a clerk without the legislator’s knowledge. Many clerks routinely respond to e-mail correspondence on behalf of the Iowa House representative they work for. My point still stands–representatives should be respectful in their communication with engaged citizens.

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  • Wow, that saddens me...

    to hear that a legislator would say that about hearing from folks on an issue.  

    You’re absolutely right, dmd, if you don’t want to deliver at least the minimum on constituent services, including hearing from folks on specific legislation, time to pack it up and go home.

    • I couldn't agree more

      I was outraged when we received this response. What a horribly immature and parental message to send to constituents. “Run along and play now while Daddy does his legislation. If you bother me again, you won’t get any candy.” WHAT!!!!!!!!!!!!!

      • it's not as if people were writing the wrong person

        or using foul language in their e-mails.

        Serving in the legislature brings a lot of prestige and status. People who can’t handle hearing from citizens about a bill pending in their committee should find something else to do with their time.

  • I had heard

    I had heard a rumor that Dawn Pettengill had asked people to stop emailing her about scope of practice legislation for registered midwives…is that what you are talking about?

  • grr

    I can see citizens getting a little tired of constant phone calls (particularly from out of state organizations unable to properly pronounce Des Moines) during election time, but legislators VOLUNTEERED for that job. Shouldn’t they WANT people to contact them about bills? Aren’t they supposed to be doing what THE PEOPLE want? How will they know what the people want, unless the people contact them?


    • especially since the intense period is limited

      to a few weeks during the session.


      • To play devil's advocate...

        When the state is $500 million in the hole, unemployment is rising every month, and the state is trying to figure out how to recover from one of the worst natural disasters in its history…they don’t really have the time to field calls about midwives and dove hunting.  

        • I totally disagree

          First of all, expanding access to midwifery care is likely to reduce state dollars spent on health care by reducing the number of unnecessary medical interventions at birth (especially cesarean sections). The bill also has implications for letting patients choose their own health care providers, so I think that’s a lot more important than dove-hunting.

          State legislators only have to work a few months of the year. I don’t think it’s too much to ask them to multitask during that time. The budget bills aren’t even ready for consideration yet, as far as I know. A lot of bills may affect many Iowans’ lives, even if they don’t directly impact the budget.

          Whether it’s midwives or distracted driving or even dove hunting, if you seek the privilege of representing Iowans in the legislature, you better not whine and complain when Iowans contact you about pending bills.

          Whoever doesn’t like it can get out of the statehouse.