During a legislative forum hosted at St. Ambrose University in Davenport on Feb. 26, many in the audience of about 400 people directed their pent-up frustration at the Republican lawmakers on the panel. A forum is intended to be a discussion between an audience and a panel, but sadly, that didn’t happen last Saturday. Emotions got in the way of constructive dialogue.
Before the forum began, moderator Maria Bribriesco announced reasonable ground rules given the size of the audience: a one-minute time limit per question and no repeat questions on the same topic. Ground rules fell quickly by the wayside. Questioners focused largely on the state’s new collective bargaining law, which they said tramples public employees’ rights and denigrates the value of their employment. The law’s supporters say the bill will help local and state government control rising costs as the state deals with a budget deficit.
Because Republicans represent the majority in both houses of the Iowa Legislature this year, they were able to rewrite and replace the state’s 43-year-old collective bargaining bill in short time. It took just 10 days to move the bill from introduction to being signed into law. The bill impacts a lot of lives. The Iowa Policy Project reports that of the 1.6 million nonfarm payroll jobs in Iowa, about 1 in seven jobs – 238,500 — are in state and local government (http://tinyurl.com/z2wtjh2). No wonder this issue was front and center at the forum.
Other topics were addressed briefly: education spending, a voting procedures bill that would require voter IDs, firearms legislation, and a broader bill for medicinal cannabis. Just a few questioners limited their questions to one minute; some didn’t ask a question, but shouted their grievances at Republican lawmakers. The Democratic lawmakers faced no such fury and were sympathetic to audience members’ frustration. After being interrupted and booed, State Rep. Gary Mohr, R-Bettendorf, told Bribriesco he would stop talking if the audience continued to interrupt him.
By the end of the hour-and-half forum, it did not appear that anyone’s mind was changed or that hearts were converted. In this era of escalating divisiveness, it’s time to think outside the box when participating in legislative forums. How about putting on the hat of a sales person trying to make a sale? Successful sales people use skills of persuasion. They speak in a calm, non-threatening tone and stop to listen to what the other person has to say. They do not shout at their prospects.
Glenn Leach, a volunteer in the Diocese of Davenport’s Social Action Office offers some additional advice about how to approach legislators on issues we’re passionate about.
• Make the call. Go to the Iowa Legislature website (http://tinyurl.com/qhh4z8w), to locate your legislators. If they list a phone number, call them and state your opinion on a particular issue. It is important to make that call to express your opinion and to balance the call with contrary comments.
• State your position civilly. If you are able to talk to your legislator, that individual may ask for additional information.
• Send an email. Not all legislators list their phone numbers, but all list their official email addresses. Follow up calls with an email identifying your issue and position. You can also send a message to your legislator by visiting the Iowa Catholic Conference Action Center at votervoice.net/icc/home.
• Talk up the issue with your fellow parishioners and friends and encourage them to call their legislators.
• Consider making an appointment to meet in person with your state legislators when they are in town or if you have time, go to the state capital in Des Moines.
• Be patient. Iowa legislators don’t have staffs, so it’s hard to reach them because they’re either on the floor of the State Capitol or in committee. Phone calls, emails and letters are important.
Iowa’s bishops also offer some salient advice in their Faithful Citizenship document: “Work together on legislation that addresses the structural dimension of problems and their respective solutions. … The voice of informed Catholics is needed more than ever.”
— Barb Arland-Fye, Editor