Votes and voices count

State representatives need and encourage constituent input

By mid-November next year Texans will have voted for a new president, national and state legislators, and municipal representatives. Then what? Civic duty does not end once a ballot is cast. Whether your candidate won or lost, holding elected representatives accountable is the next task at hand.

According to two state legistlators, the first step is getting to know your government representatives, even the ones for whom you did not vote.

“You can’t hold people accountable if you don’t know them,” said Texas Rep. Scott Sanford, R-McKinney.

Fellow legislator Matt Krause, R-Fort Worth, agreed, asking, “How can I effectively represent you if I haven’t heard from you?”

When there is something to complain about or a national crisis stirs statewide concerns, the representatives hear from home. But, in the interim, interaction between elected officials and their constituents often is inconsistent.

Krause and Sanford have supported and opposed legislation based on their Christian convictions and constituent input. Their convictions are grounded and unwavering on issues of life, traditional marriage, care for the poor and religious liberty—matters that Christians should consider before offering support to a candidate. While both welcome constituent feedback on the hundreds of pieces of legislation up for consideration each session, often it is lacking.

Cindy Asmussen, SBTC’s Texas Ethics and Religious Liberty Committee (TERLC) advisor, said the prospect of calling, much less meeting with, an elected official can be overwhelming.

“Many of us feel intimidated by anything deemed ‘political.’ I know I used to, and somewhat still do,” she said. “We have to remember, though, that every person and leader working in the realm of government is human. They don’t know everything; they are prone to weaknesses and have needs like you and me.”

That’s why Krause appreciates it when one of the 180,000 residents in his district contacts him with opinions on pending bills or ideas for new ones. For example, he said a law that sought to protect minors from sexual predators who use the internet to lure their victims was struck down in court as unconstitutional. Fearful the ruling would put children at risk, one of his constituents called him with an idea—don’t dismiss the entire law, just tweak it so it will stand constitutional muster.

“That’s hugely beneficial,” Krause said. Without the call, Krause would not have known of the need. As a result, new legislation was drafted and passed with bipartisan support.

Krause and Sanford seek out their constituents at meet-and-greet sessions, especially when home in their districts between sessions. Sanford remembered the close of a 9/11 ceremony where a man wearing a t-shirt promoting the Democrat Party approached the Republican representative, gave him a hug, and said, “’I’ve got some ideas and would like to talk to you.’”

Even though they represented different political parties and, presumably, different ideas on some subjects, Sanford said the man simply “wanted a seat at the table” and an opportunity to be heard.

Krause said he appreciates hearing from constituents with opposing political viewpoints. The exchanges always give him food for thought.

Asmussen played that role often during her years as a Concerned Women of America volunteer and, since January, as the TERLC advisor. The task gets easier with each encounter, but she first built her relationships in the Texas Capitol on prayer and good will.

“In some of the offices I walk into at the Capitol, I find Bibles open on the representatives’ desks. Many, actually most, are more than willing to be prayed with, right then and there in their offices,” Asmussen said. “They take to heart the phone calls and emails in which their constituents oppose or support something they are doing.”

Sanford said a significant factor in the overwhelming passage of the Pastor Protection Act this past session was the established relationships pastors, priests and bishops had with their legislators. When the clergy spoke, en masse, the legislature listened.

And out of session the representatives are still working.

“They are on the job all the time. It’s not just a six-month term. It’s a two-year term,” said Krause.

Lawmakers are already crafting legislation for the 85th legislative session that begins January 2017. Constituents can—and should—know their representatives and offer counsel on matters that concern their cities, states and nation. 

TEXAN Correspondent
Bonnie Pritchett
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