Kathy Johnson is a politically moderate Midwesterner who now calls DC home and works in the U.S. House of Representatives. She speaks fluent sarcasm (thanks mom!) and most days needs two things to function: grace and coffee.
I recently took a trip up to Philadelphia to visit some friends from my college days. Every couple of months or so I spend a weekend with them, and in doing so I’ve become familiar with their circles. On this last visit, a handful of us were enjoying a local brewery and one of the guys started asking me about DC. “I’ve called my Congressman only once,” he said, “because I felt like I had to do it at least once, even though I know my call doesn’t matter.”
This was not the first time I had heard a statement like that, nor do I suspect it will be the last. There’s a perception that Congress is only swayed by big money; visions of well-funded donors contributing to campaigns in exchange for legislation that favors their interests come to mind. In my experience, this is not entirely true.
Yes, Members of Congress need donors to fund their political campaigns. You can’t win an election without visibility, and you don’t gain visibility if you can’t afford to film TV ads, print flyers, or rent event space to hold rallies. Elections are expensive, and while most people don’t like to hear that fundraising is a huge part of elections, well, the truth is that it is an inevitable consequence of the political beast. And an even more unfortunate truth is that, yes, it can lead to legislation that favors the interests of those that contribute.
However, the interests of Average Joe voters more often than not balance out the interests of fundraisers and donors. Those who show up to primaries and general elections, those who call in to their Senator’s or Member’s offices, and those who make their opinions known have a huge impact on the decisions of elected officials. Always remember that you are the ones who are deciding who represents you in Congress, and while constituencies might not be homogenous, you are choosing the individual who you believe will best represent your interests, your values, and your point of view.
Before the elections for Speaker of the House that were scheduled to take place at noon on October 8, I received a phone call from my boss asking why he couldn’t access our call logs. “The app isn’t working,” he whispered, in the middle of a committee hearing, “and I want to review all of the calls before Conference. It’s important.”
Our office tracks all of our constituent (and non-constituent) calls thought a computer program that is accessible via app when we’re not at our computers. Regularly, my boss reviews the call logs so that he can gain an understanding of what the sentiment is in the district, especially before major votes. But even before seemingly inconsequential votes—things that don’t directly impact the district or our constituents as much—my boss insists on reviewing the call logs, knowing that we will have constituents calling in about these issues.
I’m not just saying this for the sake of this article. in fact, I tried to get rid of the program we use to track this stuff, and migrate the information to another program that, unfortunately, didn’t have an app that could be accessed from anywhere. That transition, however, caused more grief with the boss than it was worth: We reactivated the app a few months after turning it off, simply because he wanted to be able to know what our constituents thought no matter where he was.
My boss is not the exception to the rule. While many Members need to keep donors happy, especially in election years, the voice that carries a heavier weight is usually the constituent. You as a constituent are responsible for casting a vote. You are the one whose opinion matters, because you ultimately are responsible for giving your Member a subsequent term. At the back of every Member’s mind, when it comes to any and all decisions, is the question, “How will this play out in my district?”
When my friend in Philly mentioned that he had only called his Congressman once, simply because he didn’t think that it mattered, I quickly rebuked him. “Your voice carries more weight than you realize,” I told him. You, as constituents, are the ones we on Capitol Hill are here to represent. It’s your ideas, your views, and your values that we are fighting for in DC. While it might not always feel like your personal ideologies are represented as well as you’d like, please remember that not all constituencies are homogenous—just as all people are not homogenous—and elected officials have to do their best to balance the varying ideals and opinions of those they’ve been elected to serve. Please also remember that navigating these waters is incredibly challenging, and when you get frustrated with your elected officials or fed up with the process, instead of reacting out of anger or frustration, please pray for those of us working in government. We are responsible for representing your interests, but we ask for patience, love, and prayer in return.