Let me know what you think!

“Will Senators please take your seats?” With a wrap of the gavel, Senator Fred Risser called the 100th Session of the Wisconsin State Senate to order.

Senator Risser is the longest serving State Legislator in the country. He comes from a long line of public servants. His mother once remarked she was the daughter, the granddaughter, the wife and the mother of a State Legislator. Although the clan represented roughly the same geographic area, none of them served in the same political party.

As President of the Senate, Risser presided over the swearing in of the new Republican officers of the Senate. He then handed the gavel over to the new Senate President Mike Ellis before returning to his seat. That action ushered in a shift of political party control as Republicans took over as the Majority in both houses of the State Legislature; something Senator Risser has seen happen nine times since he was first elected in 1956.

With the pomp and circumstance of Inauguration Day over, Legislators face the challenges of a budget deficit and a painfully slow economic recovery. Governor Walker vowed to tackle job growth as his first priority and the flurry of activity this week speaks to Legislators intention to do the same.

As the new Legislative Session begins and new bills are introduced every day, I urge you to share your opinions. How bills will affect you and your neighbors is what I will be looking at as I review prospective legislation.

Please write or call. Let me know what you think! Democracy works best when we all get involved. You may have an opinion that 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.

Every opinion is valuable. Every person’s voice needs to be heard.

The state faces difficult issues. Too often political rancor dominates public policy discussion. Keeping conversations civil is important and helps us find common ground.

When you write or call, make sure you have taken time to let your passion cool enough to clearly and respectfully discuss your concerns. Carefully compose your thoughts and be sure to give me details I need but as succinct as possible. Focused letters keep me focused on your main points.

People think Senators spend a lot of time writing and debating bills. While this is an important part of the job, equally important is helping people navigate the state’s bureaucracy.

People ask for assistance with hundreds of problems from signing up for a state program, getting a permit, obtaining aid for a disabled relative or assistance in starting a new business.

Learning where to find help is an on-going challenge and one that sometimes takes time. If you need help with state government, contact me early in the process. Often people struggle on their own only to find out deadlines were missed or necessary paperwork can’t be completed in time. 

A business owner called asking for help.  In order to keep his business open he needed immediate financial assistance. With state resources so tight, it takes time to determine if any assistance is available.

Foreclosures are another difficult problem to solve. But getting my office involved after the bank sale is too late.

When you call or write be sure and give me your name, address and phone number. Over New Year’s weekend a man called to complain about the Badger game only being on ESPN. He left a message saying Wisconsin has a drinking problem and yet the only place he could see the game was at the bar.

Unfortunately, he didn’t leave his name or address. I think he just really wanted to complain and that’s OK. If you don’t tell me who you are, when we actually make progress on the concerns you expressed, there is no way I can let you know how things turned out.

Many times people call to argue with me, only to find out that I actually agree with them. 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 gal and had been working hard to change the problem. The woman assumed I opposed her but actually she and I shared the same concerns.

I may disagree with what is happening in Madison just as strongly as you do - but you may not know this unless we communicate.

I look forward to hearing from you. Please call toll free at 877-763-6636, email at sen.vinehout@legis.wisconsin.gov or send a letter to State Capitol PO Box 7882 Madison, Wisconsin 53707-7882.