Tag Archive | "General Assembly"

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How to Get Your Lawmakers to Listen

By Cynthia Gordy Giwa

Hello from the otherrr siiiiide…

You did it! In this month’s midterm election, you and a whole lot of your fellow voters turned out to the polls to make your voices heard. But you’re not done yet. Voting is just the beginning!

The User’s Guide to Democracy has always wanted to help you become not only a more informed voter, but also a more engaged citizen. So, with the winners declared, how do you get your elected representatives in Washington to listen to your voice now?

At a live event on Nov. 13 with the New York Public Library, Derek Willis (my colleague here at ProPublica) and Paul Kane (an ace Congressional reporter for The Washington Post) tackled this question with the help of a panel of Capitol Hill insiders. The event, called “Irregular Order: How Congress Really Works,” was moderated by comedian/actor/writer Wyatt Cenac.

James Wallner, senior fellow for the think tank R Street (and a former Republican Senate staff member); Lindsey Cormack, Stevens Institute of Technology assistant professor of political science; and Stephanie L. Young, communications director for When We All Vote (also a former Democratic House staffer); explained how to get lawmakers to listen to you and act on the issues you care about.

Courtesy of The New York Public Library

Even as Congress seems stuck, there are still things that you can do to influence your lawmakers. Here are a few suggestions from the panel:

  • Vote. Often. “We literally have the power,” Young said of the clout that comes with voting. “I think we forget that, and sometimes you feel powerless. … This is one opportunity for you to go out and make your voices heard, but you have to do it *every time*, and you have to encourage those that you care about, and the people who are influenced by you, to do the exact same. There’s no one who has greater influence than you do.”Even if voting sometimes feels like shouting into the void, the panel also stressed that your elected officials are actually paying attention to who their voting constituents are. “If you email or write something, and they have your address and your name, they’re going to look up your voter file,” Willis said. “The fact that they’re tracking that information should tell you that they’re concerned about hearing from their constituents, and that you’re important.”
  • Visit your district office. Young continued by emphasizing that every member of Congress has a district office you can go to. “There are staff that are there to hear from you. You can write letters. They actually read them; there is someone who is assigned just to do that, and they have to respond to you. I worked for members who were very keen on knowing their constituents — how they felt, what they thought, and they want to read those letters. … Don’t miss those opportunities that we all have because they actually matter. They actually work.”Town halls were raised as another opportunity where you can talk to your legislators in person. Kane recounted the example of Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, who was moved by individual interaction with her constituents during the “repeal Obamacare” period of 2017. “She described how, throughout that spring and summer, she would have town halls when she got back to Alaska. Over and over again, people would tell their stories about a pre-existing condition they feared they were going to lose [coverage for], or a husband or wife battling cancer who was afraid to lose health care,” Kane said. “By the end, that won her over, and she voted no.”
  • Write op-eds in your local newspaper. “Senators and members of the house really care about their local newspapers,” Cormack said. “If you write an op-ed that describes why you disagree with what your member did, that freaks them out. That’s where they want their press releases to land. They want that space, and if they have constituents within their own district saying they have a problem with that, that’s a really big red flag for them that they need to come back to the district and figure it out, or they’re going to need to focus on whatever that issue is a lot more, or address it differently.”
  • Work with advocacy groups you agree with.Traveling all the way to D.C., possibly taking time off from work, or putting in the time to write and pitch a newspaper op-ed might feel like a daunting amount of investment to be heard by people who are supposed to work for you. Wallner recommended making use of advocacy groups (i.e. organizations like the Sierra Club or the National Federation of Independent Business).

“We talk about advocacy groups like they’re a bad thing, but it’s usually just the ones we disagree with,” he said. “They have people who care about the same issues, who focus [on them] and are paid to go down to D.C. They make life difficult for members; sometimes they help members. … See what they’re doing and try to participate with them. Their voice is going to amplify your voice, and it’s going to make it harder for Congress to ignore the issues that you care about.”

One thing many advocacy groups do is lobby Congress, both by encouraging members to visit their representatives and by hiring their own lobbyists. You can find advocacy organizations working on issues you’re interested in using Represent’s database of lobbying arrangements.

You can watch the full discussion here, thanks to the New York Public Library, or listen to it on NYPL’s Library Talks podcast. I promise, not only will you learn something, you’ll laugh too.

We’ve come to the end of the User’s Guide to Democracy — but, hopefully, this marks the start of your increased participation in our system of government. From Representto the Facebook Political Ad Collector, you have tools to track what your representatives are actually doing, as well as tactics to hold them accountable. Don’t hesitate to use them. And, remember: Congress works for you.

This was first published on Propublica.org. Cynthia Gordy Giwa is ProPublica’s marketing director.

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Large Cities’ Population Comeback Could Influence Redistricting

By Caitlin Emma

HARTFORD — Connecticut’s largest cities–Hartford, New Haven and Bridgeport–have lost residents for decades, but 2010 Census data shows a slight turnaround in these urban populations and it could influence the ongoing redistricting process.

Since the 2000 Census, Bridgeport grew by 3.4 percent, Hartford by 2.6 percent and New Haven by 5 percent. The state’s population overall increased by 4.9 percent.

Connecticut’s urban areas have long lost population to suburban and rural communities. Hartford lost 13 percent of its residents from 1990 to 2000 and hadn’t reported any significant positive growth since 1960. Bridgeport saw its first increase this year since 1950. New Haven lost 5 percent of its population from 1990 to 2000.

Jim Finley, executive director and CEO for the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities, said the urban population growth stems from a number of factors and a new appreciation for Connecticut’s urban centers.

“Each of these cities has a unique dynamic,” he said. “New Haven has attracted more empty-nesters and home buyers. There’s been a considerable effort in increasing housing there and it’s really paid off. Hartford is a similar story. People have been attracted to the new condo developments, the arts, the culture and the hospitals close by.”

He said Bridgeport makes for a slightly different case.

“Bridgeport is interesting because they have some of the most stable urban neighborhoods in the state, especially in the Black Rock neighborhood of the city. More and more young people have been attracted to the area.”

The new Census figures will be the basis of redrawing state House and Senate and Congressional district lines by a Reapportionment Committee currently working toward a Sept. 15 deadline. The committee’s plan must be approved by two thirds of the House and Senate; otherwise the job goes to a panel of judges.

In the past, population decline cost the cities some representation in the General Assembly, as suburban areas were added to urban districts to make up for lost residents. In 1980, Hartford, New Haven and Bridgeport each had two residents in the state Senate; now Hartford and Bridgeport each have just one. Similarly, Hartford and Bridgeport had eight residents in the House of Representatives, while New Haven had seven; now each city has six.

State Sen. Martin Looney, D-New Haven, serves as a member of the Reapportionment Committee. He said the urban growth will most likely preserve representation in Connecticut’s cities, but redistricting often proves an unpredictable process.

“The relative gains in urban population are a positive sign,” he said. “But there’s a domino effect so you really can’t say what’s going to happen. The population in one place can change and have a domino effect of change in another area.”

Connecticut grew by about 1.4 million people over the past 10 years and as a result, the ideal population of each state House and Senate district increased. The Reapportionment Committee will need to redraw the General Assembly lines so that each district’s population falls within 5 percent of 99,280 people in each state Senate district and 23,669 people in each state House district.

Looney said the current population shifts, compared with the shifts ten years ago, prove less dramatic, making any necessary changes less significant. The 2nd Congressional District stands out as the district with the largest population of 729,771, but each district will need redrawing to meet an ideal average population of 714,819. On the General Assembly side, many of the state Senate districts fall close to the ideal population range.

“Looking at maps of state Senate districts, there aren’t any that stand out as need dramatic change,” he said.

Democratic state Sen. Toni Harp also represents part of New Haven, a city that grew at the same rate as the state over the past 10 years.

“This has been extraordinary growth for New Haven,” she said. “I found this to be really surprising. I used to not pay much attention to the Census data and at first I didn’t know what to make of it.”

She agrees that the state Senate districts may not change greatly, but the state House districts present greater disparities.

“The Senate probably won’t be affected, but the House may be a different matter,” she said.

Although Hartford and New Haven experienced population hikes, the growth in each city wasn’t evenly distributed. Four state House districts in Hartford and two state House districts in New Haven are still among the ten state House districts with the lowest populations.

For example, New Haven saw a net growth of 5 percent, but the eastern half of New Haven grew at a little over 7 percent and the western half grew at a little under 3 percent.

“The growth is most likely due to new housing growth and immigration into the eastern half of the city, in addition to economic expansion with Yale and people attending the university,” Looney said. “It will affect how the lines are drawn.”

Both Looney and Harp agree that, in addition to new housing developments, increases in urban population can partially be attributed to better, more accurate counting methods.

This story originally appeared at www.CTMirror.org, an independent, non-profit news organization covering government, politics and public policy in the state


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