Have you ever called your representative or senator in D.C.?
I did a few of times back in the day. On every occasion, the experience went something like this:
A disinterested intern answered the phone. I made whatever important point I called to make. The intern dispassionately thanked me for my call and said my opinion was very important to congress-critter so-and-so. The intern took my name and address. A few weeks later, I got a form-letter that had no relation to my call. Requests for campaign donations from congress-critter so-and-so multiplied.
That’s pretty much it.
Needless to say, I don’t really feel like those phone calls made any difference whatsoever.
If you’ve had similar experiences, you may think getting involved at the state level is equally fruitless. I promise you, it isn’t.
I was reminded of this fact earlier this week when an Arizona Senate committee unanimously passed a bill to reform the state’s asset forfeiture laws. The legislation has already passed the House. Now for context, you need to understand an important reality in Arizona. Law enforcement has an extraordinary amount of influence in the state. I’ve watched police lobbyists kill numerous good bills. And as you can imagine, they aren’t real thrilled about reining in their “policing for profit” cash cow. So, how is this bill moving forward? Because there is a small but well-organized group of grassroots activists in the state pushing hard to get the bill passed. This handful of tireless people have called representatives and senators, pressured committee chairs, attended hearings, coordinated supporting testimony and generally pushed the bill forward. After the most recent hearing, one of the committee members commented that the grassroots supporters were much better prepared than the professional lobbying opponents.
You see, in state legislatures, everyday people can make a difference. Even a relatively small number of people can create enough pressure to change votes. State legislators aren’t used to getting a lot of attention from constituents, so a little action goes a long way.
Keep that in mind next time you see a TAC action alert for your state. The 10 minutes it takes you to follow the steps and make a few phone calls really can make a difference!