Monday, Sept. 25, 2023 |
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Would you like to get more involved in the local world of policy and politics, but wondering where to start?
It’s easy really, and a good way to meet new people and make a positive contribution to your community.
Step 1: Join with like-minded people.
There are nonprofit organizations on every island who educate and advocate on various “public interests.” Whether your focus is environmental protection, business advocacy, social justice, good government, or just about anything — there’s a group working in that area.
Each and every one of these organizations welcomes new members and volunteers that will help do the work.
Google around. Ask your friends and neighbors, then join one. Get involved. These organizations often sponsor educational and other community events- from picking up litter on the beach, to political forums, to hands-on work with the houseless, the elderly, and the hungry.
These same groups often have a “legislative affairs” committee that tracks legislation and notifies the organizations membership when testimony or other action may be needed.
Step 2: Identify exactly who represents you at the county, state and federal level and begin communicating with each of them via email on issues and topics important to you.
For the Kaua‘i County Council, members are elected “at large” and each represents the entire island. Contact each of them individually and see who is most responsive.
Go to this nifty tool to determine who represents your specific district in the state legislature https://www.capitol.hawaii.gov/fyl/ .
And for the contact information for the three members of Congress who represent you go herehttps://tinyurl.com/yc3ch8ve .
In the beginning, just an email once in a while, weighing in on the issues of the day will suffice.
As a resident of their district, you are a constituent. Each elected official should respond to their constituents either directly or via their staff. It’s called “constituent services” and an essential responsibility of every elected representative (who hopes to be reelected. Many times there are staff members dedicated to this specific responsibility and it’s good to get to know them as well.
Eventually after exchanging email on issues on various state and/or county issues, reach out directly and request an in-person meeting, perhaps with a small group of constituents from the district.
Bottom line: Develop over time a positive relationship with your district legislator and their staff. You want them to recognize your name when your call or email comes in. You want them to know who you are, that you live in the district, you do your homework, and you’re not going away.
Step 3: Learn the legislative process basics, especially at the state and county level. Attend council and state legislative hearings in person when you can. Sign up to receive “hearing notices” and scan the agendas for topics that interest you. Review the County Council’s website https://www.kauai.gov/Government/Council where you can view archived past meetings and see upcoming agendas. Check out also the State Legislature’s website https://www.capitol.hawaii.gov/.
Step 4: Volunteer to help a candidate running for election or for reelection who supports your core values. Ideally this candidate is running in your district, but even if not — seek out good candidates and help them. If they win, you win as you most likely will then have an open line of communication with a County Councilmember or State Legislator.
Step 5: Repeat Step 1. Seriously. Join together with other likeminded people who care about the interests you care about. Add your energy to that of others already involved and active in making a difference. You will make new friends, you will learn and grow, and hopefully you’ll get hooked on the personal satisfaction that comes with helping make our world a better place.
Gary Hooser served eight years in the state Senate, where he was majority leader. He also served for eight years on the Kaua‘i County Counci. He presently writes on Hawaii Policy and Politics at www.garyhooser.blog.
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