Too many times when someone gets elected to office, it seems as though they go to Washington or Harrisburg and forget about the people they were elected to represent.
Why does this happen? Here’s one big reason. When in the capital city, lobbyists constantly vie for your attention and special interest groups try to rope you in to their line of thinking — with the idea being that there will be cash at the end of the rainbow in the form of campaign donations. The big money in politics from labor unions, donors, and other lobbyists can lure politicians away from what really matters: serving the people they’re elected to represent!
I believe the best “protection” an elected official can have from the overbearing influence of special interests is being well-connected to those whom I represent. When I was elected in November, I started to discuss the best way to have community outreach programs to inform, and most importantly, listen to, constituents. The goal is to gather ideas on how to improve how their government operates and determine ways to make government as efficient and cost-effective as possible. To be effective in this, my team has put together events like town hall meetings, listening sessions, and job fairs. And along with that, I try to be at every community event possible.
Some representatives have told me “town hall meetings can be difficult as there are people there who don’t agree with you.” My simple answer is — don’t we work for them? Isn’t the point of this job to listen to folks who may not always agree with me? Don’t we serve them, not the other way around? It seems like I get a lot of blank stares when I ask those types of questions.
No elected official should live in an echo chamber. Instead, I make it a priority to spend as much time as possible out in the community to learn what my staff and I can do better. We have set up six town hall meetings across the district (with more to come). We have set up information sessions for on specific topics of interest to constituents, like hunting, agriculture, fishing, and job fairs. We send monthly emails on a variety of informative topics, and we have developed an aggressive social media program. All of these are virtually of no cost to taxpayers, as I know that every dollar I spend comes out of your pocket.
At the town hall meetings I’ve had since taken office, some who attended did not always agree with my position. But after each conversation I had with these folks, I learned something about their point of view. On social media, I sometimes get comments that I don’t agree with, but I personally follow up with these constituents and ask for clarification — and I learn something from them. At our job fairs, I speak to people who are seeking employment get their input on how I can advocate for better training programs to help them. I am able to take information from each of these opportunities to better serve the people who elected me.
My job is to be the voice of the residents of the 10th Legislative District in Harrisburg. I’m committed to never losing touch with my constituents’ opinions – whether they agree with mine or not.
Please continue to share your ideas and vision of how we can work together to make government work best for you by connecting on my Facebook page at Facebook.com/RepBernstine, contacting me through RepBernstine.com, or calling my office at (724) 752-2120.
(Aaron Bernstine represents Beaver, Butler and Lawrence counties in the state House in Harrisburg.)