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J. KARL MILLER: Government officials will at least listen to active citizens

Wednesday, June 6, 2012 | 6:00 a.m. CDT; updated 1:35 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, June 6, 2012

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.


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Comments

Skip Yates June 6, 2012 | 7:13 p.m.

Five years as a congressional liaison inside the Beltway.... wow, that must have been a long malox moment!

(Report Comment)
Gary Straub June 7, 2012 | 10:08 a.m.

"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."

If only this were true. The saying - The squeaky wheel gets the oil. - should be changed to - The one with the oil gets the wheel to turn. The representatives of the people, in the city, county and federal levels are ignoring the masses more and more often and bend over to the rich and powerful.

(Report Comment)
hank ottinger June 7, 2012 | 10:22 a.m.

And the higher up the political food chain you go, the more money you best have in your hand to oil the wheels, gain the access and the ears of representatives.

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith June 8, 2012 | 5:41 a.m.

Former U. S. Senator from Michigan, Arthur Vandenberg[R], made an oft-quoted observation regarding people with money versus people with experience:

"When men with money meet men with experience it's my observation that the men with experience end up with the money and the men who HAD the money end up having an experience."

Isn't that timeless? We could just as easily be talking about ancient Greece or Rome.

(Report Comment)
frank christian June 8, 2012 | 7:43 a.m.

"And the higher up the political food chain you go, the more money you best have in your hand to oil the wheels, gain the access and the ears of representatives."

Long time, a problem, Hank. The solution, also, worked on, for a long time, saw some results in 2010 and more, great breakthroughs are expected this November.

Why don't you and the concerned "yours", join the angry peasants in the battle?

(Report Comment)
Rich C. June 8, 2012 | 9:37 a.m.

"The solution, also, worked on, for a long time, saw some results in 2010 and more, great breakthroughs are expected this November"

There ya go. All you have to do is vote Republican in November and all of the nation's problems will disappear overnight.

(Report Comment)
frank christian June 8, 2012 | 10:53 a.m.

How simplistic can one poster become? I started to ask you to name a Democrat with some power toward that end, that has done Anything to balance the Federal budget. That would be unfair, because the greatest economic minds in the country know that there are none.

No, "All you have to do is vote Republican in November and all of the nation's problems will" NOT disappear overnight.

Vote for Democrats, however, and those problems will enlarge and multiply, just as they have every time a Democrat controlled Congress has ruled in any of our lifetimes.

You have become a great "straight man"! Thanx a lot.

(Report Comment)
Rich C. June 8, 2012 | 11:19 a.m.

I can only hope to be as simplistic as you are self-centered.

"the greatest economic minds in the country know that there are none."

Must have taken you quite a while to call them all up and ask.

(Report Comment)
Louis Schneebaum June 8, 2012 | 12:08 p.m.

You must have forgotten that Frank is a genius.

(Report Comment)
frank christian June 8, 2012 | 12:12 p.m.

Instead of exploring my personality so thoroughly, why not "cook my goose" and name the Democrat?

(Report Comment)
Rich C. June 8, 2012 | 1:51 p.m.

Pointless. You are unwilling to consider anything but your own views. I'd like to enjoy my Friday instead of wasting it by looking for sources which you would only ignore.

(Report Comment)
frank christian June 8, 2012 | 3:18 p.m.

rc - Pointless is right. If I wrote "the sun will rise again tomorrow", you would object. Why? Because I'm conservative and you are liberal. Your teachers have told you conservatives are bad. You must object to anything written by one. Rather than consider the error in this, you write that I am "unwilling to consider anything but your own views." Think about this, I have considered the liberal "view" long enough and hard enough to determine that it is bad for me and as we have seen, bad for U.S.A. Have you done that?

(Report Comment)
Rich C. June 8, 2012 | 3:54 p.m.

"Your teachers have told you conservatives are bad."

Funny thing...I don't remember you being in my class so I'm not sure how you are able to tell me what the teachers taught at my school.

Bill Clinton. Budget Surplus.

http://www.cbo.gov/sites/default/files/c...

That data goes back to 1970. Can you find me a Republican with a budget surplus on that list?

I'll save you the trouble: No.

Predicted response: "But But But......Bill Clinton only had a surplus because of what some Republicans did about something at some point before he took office".

We had 4 Republican presidents between 1970 and when Clinton took office. Why is there no balanced budget during ANY of those years? 30-year lag and Clinton just got lucky, I suppose?

(Report Comment)
frank christian June 8, 2012 | 4:54 p.m.

If not your teachers, where did you learn to ignore anything detrimental to Democrats?

We have just gone back before 1970 to 60's and discussed the Democrat Congresses that have controlled until 1994, but you can't remember?

"But But But......Bill Clinton only had a surplus because of what some Republicans did about something at some point before he took office". Why would you write such an erroneous statement? Again, Clinton's "deficit reduction" package was in place until 1997 when R's passed two acts and finally got him to sign them. According to Gingrich that took eight months!

"Why is there no balanced budget during ANY of those years?" Except for late 40's or early 50's when R's took House for 2 years,Democrats were in control of Congress all those years! Forget Presidents, House of Representatives controls the money! I'm sure your teachers taught you that.

(Report Comment)

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