Good Question: How closely do people follow the Legislature?
This week’s question comes from Facebook: “I would actually like to know how many Idahoans are actually aware of the things that are going on in the current legislative session — or are the majority of us just trusting them to do what we think they’re doing?”
This is a tricky one to answer. What does “aware” even mean? How much do I need to know about what the Legislature’s doing to be considered informed? And how do we gauge this awareness? By clicks on news websites? By comments on social media?
I ultimately decided the best way to measure interest in the goings-on in Boise was to ask the legislators themselves.
The responses I got back from east Idaho lawmakers were interesting. The general consensus seems to be that many voters are well informed about a variety of topics, while others only care about individual issues.
“I believe there are quite a few constituents that pay attention at a high level, but many only pay attention if there is a major headline, or a lot of people are talking about a story.” — Rep. Dustin Manwaring, R-Pocatello
“(Voters) are paying much more attention than I ever imagined. I get correspondence every day about something that I voted on. In fact, sometimes I get comments before I even leave the Chamber floor. The constituents are very engaged, informed and active.” — Rep. Randy Armstrong, R-Inkom
“My experience teaches me that many folks are very engaged. They watch legislative sessions online, send emails to their legislator and occasionally write. When I return home, I am pleased to hear my constituents talk about legislative issues and actions. It is apparent that, on the most part, they are informed and engaged.” — Sen. Bart M. Davis, R-Idaho Falls, Senate Majority Leader
“Two percent follow, perhaps. Others may follow a single issue, maybe a couple. Most will watch the evening news or hear about an unusual matter.” — Sen. Mark Nye, D-Pocatello
“I get some feedback and contact on some bills, but I think this process is confusing to people, so they often don’t stay involved in this. … If it is personal to a citizen, they care about that one thing!” — Rep. Karey Hanks, R-St. Anthony
“This year has been a good year for constituent input and comments.” — Sen. Dean Mortimer, R-Idaho Falls
“I think more people are paying attention to our legislative session this year — both because of the recent national election changes and because there are more legislators reaching out to their constituents.” — Rep. Kelley Packer, R-McCammon
So how do you become more involved? In addition to closely following the news, you can follow many of the legislators in traditional ways, like town halls or newsletters, or online.
Most of the legislators I reached said they are active on social media. And at least one (Packer) has a podcast as well.
You probably don’t need to follow every move the Legislature makes, 24/7, to be considered an informed voter — there’s a reason we have people there representing us, after all! But you should have a reasonable awareness of what stances your representatives are taking and not be afraid to get in contact with them. It’s pretty difficult for them to know what you think if you never tell them.
“When citizens speak up, legislators have a better idea of what the people want,” says Rep. Ron Nate, R-Rexburg. “Otherwise, legislators get feedback from lobbyists and special interests. … Legislators are representatives of the people, and so citizen input is the key to getting the good government Idaho wants.”