Monday, March 20, 2017

Four Tool Legislators

Our two Senators can work across the aisle with each other, but their differences have been highlighted by the recent issue of holding town halls in person with constituents. Senator Michael Bennet (D Colorado) held five town halls in two days last week. He thanked attendees for telling their stories and made video access available on his Facebook page for those who could not attend. 

Senator Cory Gardner (R Colorado) held a telephone listening session several weeks ago with people who had signed up in advance and had provided their email addresses. He has never shown up in person to listen to voters. One town hall was convened by constituents without him present. Chants of “Do your job! fill the air when TV cameras are present. Gatherings outside his office in Denver have appeared on local and national news programs. 

Senator Bennet is becoming a “four tool legislator” by my estimation. He one of a growing number of these resourceful and responsive members of Congress. It must make perfect sense to these resourceful legislators to conduct town halls. Here’s four of the obvious advantages to be realized by showing up, listening and soliciting input from constituents: 
  1. The information received helps to make changes in existing rules and regulations that may impact or neglect some people adversely.
  2. The stories about troubling situations contributes to formulating new policies and drafting new legislation that could be more responsive, innovative and even benign.
  3. The evidence of new issues, shifting priorities and emerging coalitions can help guide the national level of the Political Party as they revise the platform, formulate budgets and recruit new candidates. 
  4. The electorate gains hard evidence that it is being listened to, respected and cared about which feeds into further civic engagement, increased voter turnout and more small campaign donors. 
These benefits can only be realized if the legislator is working on legislation. A legislator who spends time fund raising, placating large donors and blocking legislation will have no use for town halls. They don’t have the four tools to do their job of legislating and serving their public. They appear as “do nothing” politicians who give Congress such low ratings in recent years. 

Here are my ideas for how a “four tool legislator” functions:
  1. Collaborating DOWN to staff, field offices and volunteers in ways where they each feel understood, respected and supported in the work they are doing. This results in a lot of productive initiatives, loyalty and dedication to the team
  2. Collaborating UP to Party Leadership, Ranking members of Committees and Senior members of Congress in ways where each feels well informed, protected from getting blindsided and trusted to give useful guidance. 
  3. Collaborating ACROSS to colleagues on the Hill and co-sponsors of legislation realize collaborative outcomes to deliberations which improve the chances of getting enough votes for passage of legislation. 
  4. Collaborating OUTWARD to constituencies, interest groups and city or state level politicians so they feel respected, included in the latest thinking and sought after for further input. 
Senator Michael Bennet is not the only emerging “four tool legislator” in Congress. I recently listened to a Pod Save America podcast where Congressman Seth Mouton was interviewed by the Crooked Media team at SXSW in Austin. I learned how our military veterans now serving in Congress are also showing signs of functioning as “four tool legislators”. Military service prepares veterans for public service in Congress superbly:
  • Getting exposed to very dangerous situations in uniform gives “losing the next election” a better perspective where they can now function fearlessly in Congress
  • Every military tactical engagement occurs in the context of mission that applies to choosing between maneuvers on battlefields. Keeping a mission in mind while maneuvering in Congress improves decision making and prioritizes actions effectively. 
  • Each soldier learns to watch both sides and cover the back of each comrade regardless of their differences in ethnicity, religion, finances, sexual orientation or politics. Same goes for fellow MOCs’s differences in political affiliation, rural or urban constituencies or personal wealth.
  • Whenever there is a lull in the fighting action, there is always a problem to solve, equipment to maintain, housekeeping to do or research to get updated. The same applies to lulls in Congress where lots more gets done because lull times are made productive.
The emergence of these “four tool legislators” fits my forecast for a revitalization of our democracy. I previously compared this to a meadow that appears when a swamp caves in on itself or the ecosystem in Yellowstone National Park that came back to life after the elk launched a chain of disasters. 

There’s another big reason the Republican “lawmakers” cannot show up at town halls besides a tool shortage. The precepts of Free Market Capitalism prohibit making an appearance at a town hall. I’ll explore this possibility in my next post. 

Note: Revisions made 21 March 2017 9:36am

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