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Sunday, March 20, 2011


I have noticed in recent years the Republicans in our state legislature have developed a new tradition.  Avoiding constituents.

I first noticed it shortly after I came into office.  A large corporation wanted to come in and take water from the headwaters of the Muskegon River.  People were wildly upset about this, so they called together a forum.  They invited 13 legislators from the area to talk about water.  Our precious, life-giving water.  I was the only legislator to show up.

Then, a few years later, when the legislature was about to make massive cuts in education, a group of citizens -- superintendents, principals and parents -- went to the capital to meet with their State Senator, Senator Mike Bishop.  He wouldn't come out to meet them.  So they sent notes in to him -- approximately 200 notes.  Usually legislators get one or two notes a week.  He received 200 of them within just a few moments.  Did he come out to meet with his constituents?  No.  He walked out the back door.

Last spring a citizen, Melissa, was determined to use the tools of our democracy to learn about the education budget.  She checked with the legislators to see what dates would work for them.  Representative Hansen, Senator VanWoerkom and myself -- and a few other Republican legislators -- were scheduled to meet with these constituents.  A crowd of about 80 people showed up that night.  But not the Republican legislators.  I talked with those constituents by myself that night.

More recently, a group of us went to a lobby day in Lansing.  When we went to see Senator Hansen, he was "in caucus all day long."  When a group from Muskegon went down to visit with their legislators, they sent a note in to see Holly Hughes.  She left by the back door.  We wanted to talk to Representative Ray Franz.  He was scheduled with "back-to-back" meetings all day.  I know enough about the system to know that there is no meeting more important than the meetings with your constituents.  We are the boss, after all,  the ones who pay them.  But this year, with all the tough legislation they are cramming through the legislature, they don't want to hear what we have to say.

I recently heard another example of that grand old Republican tradition of avoiding the people you represent.  A group of citizens wanted to meet with Representative Holly Hughes about the legislation that is essentially being crammed through the legislature at lightning speed -- and into law.  They wanted to meet with her before all of this legislation has already been voted on.

So they set up two meetings with her.  When the guy setting them up called back to verify, she heard there would be a group of citizens there, rather than just one.  Suddenly, she was too wrapped up with March is Reading Month and family obligations  to meet with her constituents.  This gentleman tried several times to get her agree to those meetings.  She refused.  Instead, she made up a story about how those meetings had never been set up in the first place.  It would have only taken a few hours out of her busy schedule to perform the duties she is being paid for.

You may have seen the flier he has posted around the district, asking the following question.  Where is Holly Hughes?  This flier further comments that Senator Hansen has already held two public meetings with his constituents.  Representative Marcia Hovey-Wright has met publicly with hers six times and has another meeting planned.  It is a very good question.  Where is State Representative Holly Hughes? 

I hope the representative will answer that question by scheduling a meeting with her constituents right now -- before all the voting has been completed. That, after all, is her job and how she earns her paycheck.  And that is what our democracy is all about.

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