Last week, a Mr. Carleton Spotts penned a letter to the editor of the Missourian, posing questions that I am reasonably certain many of you have asked from time to time.
While much of his subject matter referred to the pros, cons and mechanics of establishing an enhanced enterprise zone in Columbia, the writer's specific interrogative concerned whether our local and state officials were sufficiently attentive to the wishes of their constituents. That is an issue that should be of interest to all and must reach the ears of elected officials at the national level.
I won't attempt to sway this audience one way or the other regarding the EEZ — that option is one each of us must study and decide on its own merits. Nevertheless, elected legislators or City Council persons should not be expected nor enabled to decide issues without constituent input.
With this in mind, how are our elected representatives expected to know of our desires and the reasons therefore? Have we informed them and by what means? Most importantly, have we enlisted like-minded voters to assist in promoting our issues? After all, if the electorate doesn't make its wants known, how is the elected official to know to act?
All too often, citizens will gather informally for coffee, etc., and complain about the weather, the cost of living, that music, movies and children have all gone to the dogs and politics — with nary a move to solve any of them. Admittedly, the weather, cost of living, music, et al. are beyond the powers of mere mortals — but, politics is, or at least should be, everyone's business.
Mr. Spotts has made a good start. Through his letter to the editor, he has identified a problem and called attention to it among those of us who read the Missourian. The next logical step is to contact one's representative: council person, state legislator or member of Congress.
While a citizen may initiate contact with an elected representative by request for an audience, a letter or even an email, one's opportunity to be heard or seriously considered will naturally be enhanced by the number of others submitting similar ideas. Representatives, be they local, state or federal, are highly motivated to be re-elected; accordingly, most unfailingly answer their mail.
Whether your efforts to influence or to inform your elected representative of your wishes are an individual or collective effort, it makes you a (gasp) LOBBYIST. Let not your heart be troubled — contrary to popular belief, all lobbyists are not adorned with horns and tails, nor are they the personification of evil. Lobbying is included in the First Amendment right to petition the government.
Having been assigned for five years as Marine Corps liaison officer to Congress, I have not only seen but also been a part of constituent services. I cannot promise you any measure of success in your effort to influence legislation, but you will be heard, and it is the squeaky wheel that gets attention.
Some of the efforts by special interest groups to influence Congress during my Capitol Hill tour in the 1970s were quite colorful. One such extravaganza was a rally to save the family farm. There were farmers operating John Deere, Farmall, Ford, Allis-Chalmers and Minneapolis-Moline tractors on the National Mall as far as the eye could see.
My favorite, though, was a gathering of Native American tribes for what purpose I cannot readily recall. However, when I ventured from the Rayburn House Office Building for lunch and viewed the tribes in their finery, I had an inkling of how Gen. George Armstrong Custer might have felt.
One doesn't have to be a member of any political party nor does one need agree with every facet of one's political affiliation to make oneself heard and make a difference. Government is far too important to be left to the offices of politicians. Good government requires active citizen participation.
Remember the words of Abraham Lincoln: "The people will save their government if the government itself will do its part only indifferently well."
J. Karl Miller retired as a colonel in the Marine Corps. He is a Columbia resident and can be reached via email at JKarlUSMC@aol.com. Questions? Contact Opinion editor Elizabeth Conner.