How to get involved
Sun., Jan. 23, 2005
Here’s a not-so-dirty little secret about politics at the state Capitol: Legislators really, truly want to hear from you. It’s true. Even in this age of big-money politics, most legislators will kick a fat-cat lobbyist out of their office in a heartbeat if a voter in their district drops by. After all, money can’t buy voter love, as several well-financed losers in last fall’s election can testify.
Private citizens can get involved in any number of ways. Easiest is calling the state’s toll-free hotline, (800) 562-6000, which will deliver your message on any topic to your three legislators and the governor. All legislators have e-mail, which many check religiously. (It gives them something to do during those long floor speeches.)
The Legislature’s Web site, www.leg.wa.gov, allows people to enter their addresses and find their legislators. It also offers weekly and daily calendars of legislative activity and allows you to search bills by number or keyword.
Those who visit Olympia in person will usually find that legislators are extremely busy – their days are scheduled in 15-minute blocks, often starting at 7 a.m. and stretching into the night – but willing to talk with voters in their districts. Calling ahead to schedule a meeting is preferred, of course, but you can always stop by their offices.
Citizen lobbyists are advised to keep their messages short and simple. While it’s great to have lots of background information, make sure you can deliver your message in 60 to 90 seconds – because that might be all you get.
Committee hearings are where most of the meat-and-potatoes work of the Legislature happens. That’s where lawmakers discuss bills and determine whether they’ll make it to the floor of the House or Senate. Anyone can testify at committee hearings. Check the weekly schedule to find out when and where they are.
This year the Legislature is back in the Capitol dome, after two years of renovations. Citizens can watch the action in the House and Senate from the public galleries.
And, of course, anyone with basic cable can watch from home thanks to TVW, the state’s version of C-SPAN. TVW also broadcasts all hearings and legislative sessions on the Web, at www.tvw.org.
– Associated Press
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