Get Involved!

“Just thought I would share this story with you as I am sure you hear many. Thank you for taking the time to read this.” The man wrote over the holiday sharing a health care story.

The story he sent helps me make the case to my colleagues for health care reform.

I spent the holiday break reading emails folks sent me. I carefully review each one and keep them in mind as the issues move through the Legislature.  Last year, I received more than twenty-one hundred contacts from people in our Senate District.

The vast majority of people writing me are composing in their own words how they feel about a topic. I am very grateful for the time people spend letting me know their opinions.

In the spirit of New Year’s resolutions, I offer a little unsolicited advice on getting involved in the legislative process.

Remember, you can make a difference. Advocacy experts say only 20% of voters contact their Legislator. It takes only about a dozen contacts to get the attention of a legislator. (For me all it takes is one!) Only 4 to 7 votes are needed for a committee to pass a bill. And when it comes to the full Senate, only 50% plus one is required to pass the bill.

You may have an opinion no one has expressed or know about an issue that is completely new to me. You may have experience in an area that I need to know about when I am voting.

Many times I carried letters or emails to hearings and read portions of the person’s own words to my colleagues during a debate on a bill. Many times, the correspondence I received was so important to the discussion that the bill was changed or a rule was sent back for revision.

Just this past month, several local social workers contacted me with information about a rule that would harm social worker’s independent practice. Their message became part of a letter I and others wrote requesting modifications in the rules. As a result, some of these modifications were made.

When contacting your Legislator, remember they are all people too. Polite wins points. Be open to talking with staff – they are knowledgeable and can be very helpful. There are days I talk with my staff more than my family – so it’s a great way to get my ear.   

People write me about many different issues – this past year I received letters on over 600 different topics. Keeping your letter to your main concern helps me stay focused. I encourage you to share personal examples. Some of the most helpful letters I received included personal examples about how a proposed law would affect someone.

Finally, don’t assume I think one way or the other on an issue until we have a chance to communicate. I remember a rather lengthy letter chastising me for some state action when in reality I agreed with the author and had been working hard to change the problem. The woman assumed I opposed her but actually she and I shared the same concerns.

In this upcoming session – with the state’s current fiscal crisis - difficult decisions will need to be made. In the coming months, when the Governor brings forth his budget proposal, we will see the details of these difficult choices. And then the Legislature will begin an earnest debate on how to balance the state’s budget.

We need to find a solution acceptable not only to the Governor and the Legislature, but most importantly to the people of this state. It’s during this time your input is critically needed.

The problems we face are going to be solved by the people of the state - when we all get involved.  If the walls of the Capitol could speak, the story told would be about the importance of civic involvement.  It is our responsibility to carry on that tradition and show future generations that we, the people, worked together to make Wisconsin flourish.

State Senator Kathleen Vinehout serves the 31st Senate District. She can be contacted at  Senator Kathleen Vinehout State Capitol P.O. Box 7882 Madison, Wisconsin 53707-7882 or 877-763-6636 (toll free) or email at Sen.Vinehout@legis.wisconsin.gov