This past Saturday, the Emmetsburg Chamber of Commerce hosted the first of three Legislative Town Hall meetings at the Iowa Welcome Center. Our state Leigislators, State Representative Megan Jones and State Senator David Johnson were on hand to meet with constituents in what is usually considered an update on what's happening in the state capitol.
But this Saturday, things were a bit different. A room full of people, most local residents, and some from other communities in the area, were on hand to take part in that most basic form of democracy - Grassroots politics.
The audience listened as both Senator Johnson and Representative Jones outlined the state of affairs in Des Moines, but then the constituents spoke their minds.
The topic of choice revolved around the recent push by factions in state government to change the current rules regarding Collective Bargaining for public employees. Proposed changes to the law, known as Chapter 20, would eliminate most of the items that are bargained for in negotiations, leaving just a base salary as the only item public employees could negotiate with their employers.
Needless to say, the general mood of the room on Saturday morning was one not in favor of the proposed changes to Chapter 20. For Representative Jones, who supports changes to the legislation, the majority of comments were directed in her direction, urging her to cast her vote against any changes to the law.
A common theme presented by the public during the meeting was that by changing the law, there would be negative impacts on public employees - teachers, law enforcement officers and the like.
With two uniformed State Troopers in attendance to listen to the discussion, one concerned citizen pointed out that in the entire State of Iowa, between the hours of 2 a.m. and 6 a.m., there were just a handfull of State Troopers out on patrol on the state's roadways - and those troopers were usually found on the interstate highway system - a fact acknowledged by the officers themselves.
"You can't hurt the people who are out there trying to protect us." That statement was repeated several times by different citizens, who cited the low numbers of State Troopers in the state, low pay for correctional officers and shrinking budgets for school districts.
People who work in education and social services echoed the cry, asking the lawmakers to understand and support the public workers.
At one point, Representative Jones was asked point-blank if she would vote against Chapter 20 reforms if a majority of her constituents urged her to do so.
"There are about 36,000 people in the district,"?Jones said. "If a majority of them are opposed to Chapter 20, I would vote no."
Both Jones and Johnson said repeatedly that they rely on communication from their constituents in their daily efforts at the Statehouse. With that fact in mind, the obvious answer to getting any kind of change made or voted down by lawmakers is to let the voices of the constituents be heard.
Phone calls are OK - one can leave a message for their lawmaker, letters work as well, but e-mails provide both a written record of a constituent's thoughts on an issue, and they can be generated in a highly timely manner.
All too often, the grassroots electors feel as if their voices are lost in the masses on important issues - whether local, state or national. The recent Presidential election should serve as notice that the electors speak with their ballots, and lawmakers must not discount the power of the average voter.
While it is our civic duty to cast a ballot in an election, is also our duty to let our lawmakers know how we feel on an issue. Government is supposed to be for the people, by the people. Take the time, send an e-mail. Let them know how you feel on any issue. They need to hear from us.
State Representative Megan Jones:
State Senator David Johnson