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Missing The Good Old Days Of Interaction With Political Leaders And Their Constituents


Missing the good old days of interaction with political leaders and their constituents

  • SEPTEMBER 20, 2022

I was eight years old when I heard my grandpa call his brother a coconut head. They belonged to different political parties, and Grandpa didn’t think my great-uncle was listening to reason.

My parents also belonged to different political parties, but I never heard either of them call the other a coconut head. However, Dad teased Mom that her Republicans weren’t getting our county gravel road blacktopped very fast. She agreed and pressure to upgrade the roads led to improvements. When Dad ran for a local office, Mom made campaign cards for him. He thought they were unnecessary in a small community, but Mom knew her party outnumbered his, so he might need advertising. Still, she teased him about earning her vote since she would have to split her ticket. After he was elected, she joked that any votes for the other candidate could have been hers.

As an eighth grader, I had the opportunity to be part of a program to dedicate our town’s new post office. Since postal service had been housed at the Texaco station for years, it was a big deal to have a new brick building that actually looked like a post office. Both of Indiana’s U.S. senators, Birch Bayh and Vance Hartke, came to the dedication. They seemed like ordinary people willing to spend an afternoon with our small town.

As a high school and college student in the 1960s, I had plenty of opportunities to observe other political leaders up close. When Barry Goldwater, Eugene McCarthy and Robert Kennedy visited campus, I made sure I attended. They made eye contact; they listened.

I was excited about becoming old enough to vote, so that I could become actively involved. I quickly discovered that my congressman didn’t vote the way I wanted, so I wrote to Rep. Andy Jacobs and said that I didn’t live in his district, but I appreciated the fact that he aligned with issues as I did—so with his permission I would like to adopt him. A short time later, I received a handwritten letter from “Andy” accepting my “adoption” offer and inviting me to contact him any time.

Through the years I have received a couple of other obviously personal replies, one from the late Sen. Richard Lugar and another from former Sen. Evan Bayh. Both responded to specific questions and validated my concerns.

How different it is today. I encourage people to contact their legislators, and I continue to do so; but I have had few personal responses over the last few years. I try to be respectful and ask specific questions hoping for interaction. If I send an email, I often get a canned response seconds after I hit “send” that thanks me for my interest and assures me that my opinions are important. If I check a box requesting a response, I may get a generic email or letter that has been crafted by someone to state the legislator’s position on the issue but no attempt to address my specific questions. Sometimes the letters are condescending and may suggest that I probably don’t understand the issue.

Prior to this summer’s special session, I pleaded with my state senator to avoid a rush on legislation that could have negative consequences on many levels. There was no reply, no delay, and little discussion before a major law was passed.

People who gather the courage and commit the time to go to the Statehouse to meet with legislators or testify regarding specific bills find that hearings are limited, and legislators may demonstrate little respect, sometimes leaving the hearing even though people have waited for hours to testify.

So, what has happened during my lifetime to create this lack of interaction between legislators and the people they represent? The most obvious answer is a state so gerrymandered that politicians no longer have to listen to their constituents to stay in office. My own voting district only has a couple of contested races this fall, not an unusual circumstance statewide. Little wonder many people no longer believe they can make a difference.

My parents, who worked at the polls for decades representing their separate parties but always seeking bipartisan communication for the common good, would be appalled at the current situation. And while I’m not into name-calling, I’m pretty sure Grandpa would say that leaders who don’t listen to their constituents are coconut heads.

FOOTNOTE: Diana Hadley is a retired educator.


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