Job of people#039;s politics

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, June 29, 2004

When I was much younger, the University of Alabama was served by a President named David Mathews.

As I recall, Dr. Mathews was a very able and popular college president, and he went on to serve in the federal government as a cabinet member for one of our Presidents.

It is my understanding that he presently has the title of President of the Kettering Foundation.

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He has written a book entitled Politics for People.

In his book he makes the statement that &uot;American legislators generally agree that their constituents often feel disconnected from government.&uot;

This conclusion intrigues me, and I would like to share some thoughts about this issue and give some suggestions on how to strengthen the legislator-citizen connection.

First of all, I share the fundamental belief that the citizen and government connection needs to be nurtured and encouraged.

You only have to look at our recent statewide election which attracted less than 20 percent of the registered voters in Alabama to the polls to know that there is an apathy among our citizens about politics.

Legislators and citizens both say they want a stronger connection, but what is standing in the way?

One factor is time.

Legislators are often extremely busy during the session, and citizens have many things competing for their attention.

Another challenge is just knowing what to do in order to connect legislators and citizens in a meaningful way.

For many years of my public service, I personally answered all of my mail, returned all of my telephone calls, and attended any gathering of constituents to which I was invited.

This was before the days of fax machines and computers.

Today it is not unusual, especially while we are in session, to get over 100 e-mails each day and 20 or 30 letters faxed to our office.

This is in addition to the regular mail which will include some 35 to 50 pieces a day.

If a citizens’ organization is busy in their office sending out special alerts to members, in which they request a telephone call be made to their respective legislators, then it is also not unusual to get over 100 telephone calls each day.

You can readily see where it is becoming almost impossible to respond to every communication which we receive.

The office of State Senator and State Representative are part-time positions, and some members have only part-time staff.

In fact, some House members have no staff at all.

In recent years, I have begun writing this weekly newspaper column to communicate with constituents, and I continue to do my best to return telephone calls and answer my mail.

I would like to send out periodic newsletters, but there are no funds available to me for this purpose.

Dr. Mathews further states in his book that there needs to be a framework for citizens to discuss the pros, cons, trade-offs and other ramifications of the issues which affect them on a daily basis.

I fully concur that in order to have effective representative government in a free society that there must be effective lines of communication.

I certainly will continue to pursue this as an objective of my public service.

Until next time, remember &uot;I’ll go with you or I’ll go for you&uot; to help you solve any problem related to state government.

Senator Wendell Mitchell can

be reached at 334-242-7883, or by writing

to P.O. Box 225, Luverne, AL 36049.