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How do I know if my elected representatives are doing a good job?
October 18, 2007 6:35 PM   Subscribe

How can I, a US citizen, be more informed about my lawmakers' decisions and whether they're doing a good job? I have an example that I wonder about intensely, today's Senate Intelligence Committee meeting.

I think the telecom companies who helped the government wiretap us without warrants should be held responsible. The Bush administration doesn't. The Senate has a bill in review that gives retroactive immunity to any criminal activity by the telecom companies.

I'm lucky that one of my senators,Bill Nelson (FL), is on the Senate Intelligence Committee, which met today "in a closed session" to review that very bill. I called his office yesterday to express my ideas and explain why it's a bad idea to let telcom off the hook.

Well the committee meeting is over and another senator managed to put a serious road-block in front of the bill, but I want to know what my senator did to stop it, if anything. But, how?

Is there some effort like what the UK has in They Work For You . com, but for US citizens? How can that huge mess at Capital Hill be less opaque to us common men? How can I know whether my representative is worthy of my vote?
posted by cmiller to Law & Government (4 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
A few resources that you may find helpful . . .

http://www.opencongress.org/

http://thomas.loc.gov/

http://jurist.law.pitt.edu/
posted by cac at 6:48 PM on October 18, 2007 [1 favorite]


Calling his office to express your views does nothing but take up the time of whoever you talked to who doesn't actually care what you think and who likely has absolutely no influence at all.

But if you call and ask "what, if anything, did Mr. Nelson do to stop the bill?" That question will yield some interesting results. Probably a whole lot of "um, uh, I can't really explain, um, why don't you write a letter . . ."

Then ask: Did he attend the closed session? Was he there the entire time? How did he vote (because they voted, whether they reported it or not)?

The person you talk to won't know the answers to those questions, either. That's when you ask to speak to the staff member who is working on that bill. That person is likely a Legislative Assistant. In fact, ask to speak to the Legislative Assistant who is working on the bill.

Ask the L.A. those questions about the senator. But then, ask what the L.A. is doing about the bill. Ask how much of his/her time is spent on that particular bill. Ask how many times a week he/she meets or talks directly to the member about that particular bill. Ask whether the boss' position on the bill has been consistent, and whether there is any need for research or materials on the issue. Volunteer to provide assistance on the issue, and follow up by sending even-handed, well-researched, and fully cited written analysis of the issue in the form of bullet points for their use. They probably won't use it, but they might, and it will save them a lot of work.

(I can't believe I'm actually suggesting that you call them back, but as long as you're not trying to just tell them what to do, it's not necessarily a bad idea. Just don't get mad, don't act crazy, and don't be unreasonable. Remember, the people you talk to are underpaid and underworked, and nobody cares what they, personally, think about the issue. Make their life easier, not harder, and you'll come out ahead.)
posted by The World Famous at 6:48 PM on October 18, 2007 [7 favorites]


How can I know whether my representative is worthy of my vote?

Just keep in mind that the entire system is constructed for the sole and complete purpose of making that determination as difficult as possible.

IMO, looking too hard at the process is pointless unless you're deeply embroiled, because so much of it isn't obvious. The Committee meeting today was almost certainly a bullshit spectacle, with the outcome preordained because of backroom deals and favors various people called in.

The best that an average citizen can do is analyze the entire process as a sort of 'black box.' Look at what goes in (candidates that you elect) and what comes out (legislation), and evaluate the former against the latter. If the output under a group of politicians sucks, then they sucked; get rid of the lot of them and try somebody else. Getting tied up in the process (and believing various claims of "but I tried" come election-time) are what keeps career shysters in business.
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:47 PM on October 18, 2007


Try Project Vote Smart.
posted by scottso17 at 7:24 PM on October 20, 2007


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