The other day, I covered a meeting of folks at Erie Shore Network, the local mental health agency. The point of the meeting was to try to head off legislation in Columbus that would eliminate funding for Erie Shore. I was surprised to realize that most of the people in the room appeared not to even know who their local lawmakers were.
Even if you don't like politics, even if you avoid dealing with the government, there are times when you may have to ask for help.
A bill that abolishes funding for your favorite agency is one of those times.
You are also likely to find yourself, sooner or later, in a dispute with a government agency. Maybe someone in your family is having trouble with veterans benefits, or you can't figure out how to apply for a government program, and the bureaucrats in the agency aren't being helpful. Don't keep beating your head against the wall. Ask your local lawmaker for help.
If you live in Sandusky or Perkins Township, your representatives in Columbus are state Rep. Chris Redfern, D-Catawba Island, and state Sen. Randy Gardner, R-Bowling Green. Your lawmakers in Washington, D.C., are U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur, D-Toledo, U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, a Democrat, and U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, a Republican. Obviously, whom you call depends upon whether you're having problems with the state government or federal government.
I won't try to list the elected representatives for everyone in our coverage area. The home pages for the Ohio Senate and Ohio House have search boxes; enter your ZIP code and you'll learn who your lawmaker is. The U.S. House website has a search box, too. Everybody in Ohio has the same two U.S. senators. You knew that, right?
When you have figured out who your lawmakers are, Google their names. This is 2014, so every elected official will have a website with all of the contact information you need. Typically, they will list a toll-free phone number.
State lawmakers are busy people. All of them have day jobs. Chris Redfern, for example, runs an outfit called the Ohio Democratic Party. But they all make an effort to be accessible, and if you are persistent, you can get them on the phone. They also periodically hold "town meetings" when you can meet them and bend their ears. Call their offices for details.
Speaking of that, all state lawmakers have an aide who answers their calls. Be nice to them. They can answer many of your questions and will help you get in touch with the boss.
All members of Congress count constituent service as one of their jobs. They have people who spend most of their time helping people with problems. Kaptur in particular has a reputation for having a big heart and for trying to help everyone. If you live in her district, call her, even if you are a Republican.
There are certain services that all members of Congress provide. If you are taking a trip to Washington, D.C., they can get you free tickets for a White House or U.S. Capitol tour. You can use their websites to buy a U.S. flag that has flown over the U.S. Capitol Building. Many common services can be obtained by simply going to their websites.
If you do happen to be a political junkie — if you actually spend your free time watching Fox News or MSNBC — remember that all federal lawmakers have email newsletters and are on Facebook, Twitter etc. You can get a lot of good information following them.
If I haven't answered one of your questions here, call your local election board and ask for help.
I don't know if this is generally understood, but by law, local election boards and the folks who work in election board offices are staffed, 50/50, by a balance of Democratic and Republican political operatives. (When they get off work, they go to their partisan political meetings and hatch plots to get the other guys thrown out of office.) They know a lot about local and state politics. They are a great resource, so put their political hack expertise at work for you!
Please add your own favorite tips in the comments.