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HOOSER: Sending in testimony — does it work?

Does anyone really read the testimony I send in? Is it truly important that I go to the legislature’s website, log in, and submit testimony in support or opposition? Is actually showing up in person important?

Why bother? Isn’t the “fix” already in? Aren’t the decisions already made?

The answer is yes, yes, yes, absolutely yes, because it’s important, and yes sometimes, and maybe but not really.

I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again, and a thousand more times — your participation in our democracy is critically important. We, collectively must take ownership and spend the time paying attention, and yes … send in those emails, make the calls and submit the testimony.

Not every member of the committee, commission or board will read the testimony, but some do. The media reads some of it, other members of the public read it. And sometimes even the director or other staff members will read it.

Bottom line is that volume matters. The number of people in favor or opposed to an issue, as judged by the volume of testimony and the number of people in the room matters.

I believe the vast majority of policy makers, commissioners, board members, and staff, truly want to please the public and are uncomfortable when the public is overwhelmingly unhappy with their decisions.

But to sway those in positions of power, the public must show up.

Yes, most commissioners and board members probably come into a meeting predisposed to vote a certain way and/or just accommodate “staffs recommendation” and move on. Likewise most legislative or council committee members lean always to accepting the “chairs recommendation” and likewise just keep moving and not make waves.

But when the public shows up in force, when the sentiment is strong, united, and based on facts and solid reasoning — those decision-makers sometimes rethink their preset inclinations and start asking the tough direct questions themselves.

Written testimony when possible should be on time, direct, to the point, and backed with reason and facts. But truthfully … just get it in. Late is better than never and a simple straightforward few sentences for or against an item is enough. Don’t forget to include your name and the town or district where you live.

Please also send in testimony or email that‘s positive and appeals to the decision-makers “better angels.” Send support and praise when that leader does something right. All too often the loudest voices in the room are those who are upset. Sometimes harsh criticism is warranted but we must also remember to send in support and praise when deserved as well.

Showing up in person, even if you don’t speak at the meeting is important also.

Just being a body in the room with other likeminded citizens is important.

If you’ve never been to a planning commission or council meeting, or attended a legislative hearing — I encourage you to do so. It’s easy and especially as an observer, it can be enjoyable to see the people and hear the voices — live and in person.

British statesman and world leader Winston Churchill famously said, “Many forms of Government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe.

No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”

So, Democracy is what we have but it only works when people participate. So, please send in that testimony, show up at that public hearing, call your legislators and be part of our democracy.

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Gary Hooser served eight years in the state Senate, where he was majority leader. He also served for eight years on the Kaua‘i County Council. He presently writes on Hawai‘i Policy and Politics at www.garyhooser.blog.
Source: The Garden Island

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