Last Wednesday I went to speak in favor of SB165, Sen. Pat Miller’s bill to require a one year “cooling off” period before a legislator can become a lobbyist. I support this bill as a means to make clear to citizens and legislators alike that elected officials should serve the interests of the people who elect them. Requiring a cooling off period would help lessen the perception that lawmakers merely serve time as our representatives so they can make lucrative connections and jump into high-paid lobbying jobs when they leave the legislature.
The initial reaction of her colleagues probably made it clear to Sen. Miller that her bill had no chance of passage. At one point, IUPUI sociology professor Margaret Wittberg, shared her motivation for appearing: When she tells her students that legislators advocate for what’s best for their constituents, her students laugh. Wittberg wants to remove the impression that elected officials serve only their own interests.
Her statement clearly touched a nerve with Committee Chair Marvin Riegsecker (R-Goshen) who interrupted her to say she was accusing him and his colleagues of being corrupt.
Afterwards, Wittberg told me she was “surprised at the antagonism and the seemingly deliberate efforts to misconstrue what we were saying.”
When Julia Vaughn spoke on behalf of Common Cause (see below), her testimony drew one light-hearted comment and no questions.
The citizens who took time out of their schedules to speak on an issue of importance to them were subjected to what seemed to be willful misunderstanding, accusatory anger, and thinly veiled sarcasm.
Sen. Vi Simpson (D-Bloomington) was perhaps the most noticeably outraged. When I’d finished my short statement, Simpson asked me for advice on how she might support herself for the year after leaving office.
In the end, Riegsecker decided that the issue needed its own cooling off period and did not put the bill to a vote — effectively killing it for this session.
Senate President David Long (R-Fort Wayne) said he was told that citizens made inappropriate comments in the hearing. But my perception was that senators treated citizens with disdain and disrespect. To a person, those speaking in support of the bill tried to make clear that their main concern was public perception, but the senators present made it clear they took everything as a personal accusation.
The first amendment to the US Constitution gives citizens the right to “petition the Government,” which means that you, too, can be a lobbyist. Exercising that right is easy: you make a phone call, write a letter, send an email, make an appointment or just show up and make your views known to your elected representative.
Find your state legislators at www.in.gov/apps/sos/legislator/search/.
You can also testify at committee meetings and legislative sessions. The state’s website at www.in.gov/legislative/session/calendars.html gives access to house, senate and committee schedules. You go to the Statehouse on Capitol at Market St., find the hearing room (the volunteers at the Information desk can help) and fill out a form saying that you’d like to speak about a certain bill. When your name is called, you go to the front of the room, speak your piece, and answer any questions. Simple!
Several non-profit, non-partisan organizations encourage citizens to get involved in government by being citizen-lobbyists, including:
Focus on rights granted in the Bill of Rights; www.aclu-in.org; 317-635-4059 ext. 230
Citizens Action Coalition
Focus on advocacy for citizens; www.citact.org; 317-205-3538
Common Cause Indiana
Focus on good governance; www.commoncause.org;
Indiana Coalition for Open Government
Focus on public access to government meetings and records;
League of Women Voters
Focus on voting rights; www.lwvin.org; email@example.com;