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The political power you don’t know you have

Every day it seems I get an email or call from someone who wants to get involved with legislative advocacy, but they want the process “simpler.”

Many just want to “point and click,” send in their testimony and then get back to their life, knowing and feeling good about doing their civic duty. I say “mahalo” to you all for being willing to give even a small amount of your time for this work. Even short testimonies and brief emails can be impactful when done strategically.

As a member of the public I’m hoping you will embrace and utilize the political power many of you don’t even know you have. You are not powerless. It may feel that way sometimes, but in the world of politics where one vote really does matter, the power is in fact yours to wield — or not.

Every legislator loves serving, and wants to continue doing so as long as is humanly possible. This is not necessarily a bad thing. If someone is doing their job properly, loves their job and wants to keep doing that job, this is a natural and positive inclination.

The most important person to any legislator is the person who can help them get elected.

Yes, of course, I am over-simplifying things. Yes, of course, issues matter, facts and data matter, and doing the right thing matters. But at the end of the day the question every elected official asks themselves, whether consciously or unconsciously, is “Is this decision/vote going to help or hurt my re-election?”

The vast majority of votes cast daily by legislators are routine, mundane, tedious and housekeeping in nature.

However, many inevitably rise to a level of community importance so as to become political hot potatoes. Some legislators embrace and live for these moments, and others fear and hide from them. This is when the voice and testimony of constituents who live in the district carry the most weight.

To be absolutely clear: The opinions of people offering testimony or sending in email on an issue who live in the legislator’s district matter more than people writing the same exact words who live elsewhere.

To take it a step further, if you live in the legislator’s district and if you are active in politics and campaigns, you have more influence than almost anyone else. The legislator needs and wants your vote, and he/she definitely does not need or want your opposition, whether it be you running for office against him/her or you helping someone do the same.

All testimony is important, but not all testimony is equal. If you happen to live in a district represented by a legislator who is also speaker of the House, Senate president, majority leader or the chair of a major committee — then your voice is even more impactful than others.

But in order to use your power, you must first know who your district senator or representative is! More importantly, they must know who you are. To accomplish this, you must begin a dialogue with them. And there is no better time to start than now.

This is the place anyone who aspires to affect the public-policy process should start. Find out who your district senator or representative are, send them an email introducing yourself, and let them know what issues/bills are important to you. Ask about their position on bills and gently but specifically request a reply.

If they fail to reply, send them a follow-up, and make sure they know that you live in the district. Of course, all communications should be polite and professional, and you probably should acknowledge that you know how busy they are, but that you would appreciate a response. This is where it all starts. This is how a relationship with YOUR senator and representative begins.

So if you are too busy to follow the process and read all the bills, just start by emailing YOUR legislator requesting they support/oppose whatever bill that might be important to you. They may or may not sit on the committee that will hear the bill, but they still must/should have a position on the measure and will likely have to vote on it at some point in the process.

To find out who exactly YOUR district senator and representative is AND to get their email and phone number, use this handy tool provided on the Capitol website: Just put in your address and voila! The information you need will appear.

AFTER communicating with YOUR legislator, please also submit formal testimony on the bills when they are scheduled. It’s easy, and if you need help just ask YOUR legislator’s staff for guidance!


Gary Hooser is the former vice-chair of the Democratic Party of Hawai‘i and served eight years in the state Senate, where he was majority leader. He also served for eight years on the Kaua‘i County Council, and was the former director of the state Office of Environmental Quality Control. He serves presently in a volunteer capacity as board president of the Hawai‘i Alliance for Progressive Action and is executive director of the Pono Hawai‘i Initiative.
Source: The Garden Island

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