(1) A word originating in the classical Greek city states, and meaning the rule of the demos, the citizen body: the right of all to decide what are matters of general concern. The size of modern nation states has meant that (apart from those which include provision for a referendum in their constitutions) democracy is no longer direct but indirect, i.e., through the election of representatives; hence the term representative democracy.
The CRITERIA of democracy are therefore:
(a) whether such elections are free: i.e., whether they are held frequently and periodically, whether candidates and parties are free to campaign in opposition to the government of the day, and whether the voter is protected again intimidation by the secrecy of the ballot;
(b) whether such elections provide an effective choice: i.e. whether the choice of the electors is not limited to a single party, and whether a majority vote against the government in power leads to a change of government.
(c) whether the elected body of representatives -- variously known as parliament, congress, national assembly -- has the right of legislation, the right to vote taxes and control the budget (deciding such matters by majority vote), and the right publicly to question, discuss, criticize, and oppose government measures without being subject to threats of interference of arrest.
The citizen body rules the indirectly through a 'representative democracy' which is based on elected officials. Right about now you are probably wondering where am I going with this line of thought. In the last post, I discussed the restriction on the federal agencies to a 'media freeze out' which limits the results of tax-payer funded research from being presented on the agencies respective websites.
I want to inform the public that there is still respect for writing your elected representative of either house of Congress if you feel an injustice is being voted upon. Some people with whom I discuss this matter with reply to me: "Mike, what is the use. They never read the letter or reply ... anyway??" In the paragraphs below, I show two examples of that line of thought being proven wrong.
Why Write Politicians?
There are many reasons why you should write to your elected official. The most important is to express your opinion on a matter. If an elected official does not hear from any constituents, the manner in which they will cast their vote will be based on their own morals and values. Presumably, you have already vetted the elected official before electing them. If you agree 100% with their views, then you might not feel the need to write them. Secondly, elected officials are glad to hear from their constituents -- think of your letter like a 'report card'. Everyone enjoys receiving praise.
What if the letter is not about praise, but concern about an important stance on an issue?
That is important too. As I previously stated in a blog on the President restricting the public learning about tax-payer funded research, you have a right to reach out to your elected representative and object to such restrictions. If your money is spent on scientific advances, you should be able to access the scientific results which might be of importance to you.
At this point, you might be wondering how to write such a letter of concern. There are different views on this aspect. On one hand, the more personal a letter is the more effective the letter is. That is a commonly held view. Whereas, the other side tends to enjoy sending out a 'mass e-mail or letter' signed by a bunch of constituents.
The second view is the most common. Attaching your name to a letter written by an organization is very easy to do. I show a couple of letters as examples below regarding critical issues facing our current Trump Administration.
Letter #1 League of Conservation Voters: on Department of Energy Secretary Rick Perry
Dear Senator:On behalf of our millions of members, the League of Conservation Voters (LCV) works to turn environmental values into national, state, and local priorities. Each year, LCV publishes the National Environmental Scorecard, which details the voting records of members of Congress on environmental legislation. The Scorecard is distributed to LCV members, concerned voters nationwide, and the media.We urge you to oppose the nomination of Governor Rick Perry for Secretary of Energy. Perry has continually denied the science of climate change and is unqualified to serve as Secretary of Energy. In fact, it is inconceivable that he is being asked to run the very agency he once irresponsibly said should be abolished.The Department of Energy’s mission is “to ensure America’s security and prosperity by addressing its energy, environmental and nuclear challenges through transformative science and technology solutions.” With climate change threatening the environment, economy and public health, our nation needs a Secretary of Energy who recognizes the urgency to act and believes in the underlying science.As Governor of Texas, Perry appointed climate science denier Bryan Shaw as Chair of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), which has been shown to have censored mentions of climate change from at least one official report. Perry unsuccessfully sought to fast-track permit applications for new coal power plants and repeatedly sued the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) over Clean Air Act enforcement and proposed limits on carbon pollution.Perry’s record of putting fossil fuel industry interests ahead of public health and environmental protections disqualifies him for the critical position of Secretary of Energy. We urge you to oppose his nomination and will consider including this vote in the 2017 Scorecard. If you need more information, please call my office at (202) 785-8683 and ask to speak with a member of our Government Relations team.Sincerely,Gene KarpinskiPresident
Letter#2 League of Conservation Voters: regarding nomination for the Director of the Office of Management and Budget - Mick Mulvaney.
On behalf of our millions of members, the League of Conservation Voters (LCV) works to turn environmental values into national, state, and local priorities. Each year, LCV publishes the National Environmental Scorecard, which details the voting records of members of Congress on environmental legislation. The Scorecard is distributed to LCV members, concerned voters nationwide, and the media.
We urge you to oppose the nomination of Mick Mulvaney for Director of the Office of Management and Budget. Mulvaney denies the scientific consensus on climate change and has repeatedly voted against environmental safeguards, earning an appalling 7% lifetime score on LCV’s National Environmental Scorecard. He repeated his denial about climate science in his confirmation hearing and stated that he did not see the relevance between climate science and the position of OMB director. Mulvaney has also rejected the scientific consensus on other issues such as the link between the Zika virus and birth defects.
In addition to his extremely poor environmental record, Mulvaney has radical views about the role of government. As a founding member of the House Freedom Caucus, Mulvaney has questioned the need for government funded scientific research and supported gutting government initiatives that aim to reduce carbon pollution and ensure adequate clean air standards. As Director of OMB, Mulvaney would have the power to dramatically weaken environmental and public health safeguards at a time when it could not be more critical that we have an OMB director who values science and will stand up for them. What’s more, Mulvaney declared that shutting down the government in 2013 was “good policy,” which harmed the environment in myriad ways, including closing our national parks and wildlife refuges and halting the enforcement of rules to protect the public’s drinking water and air.
Mulvaney’s hostility toward science, public health and the environment and his extreme anti-government views are disqualifying for a position with significant authority over our system of public protections and the federal budget. We urge you to oppose his nomination, and we will strongly consider including this confirmation vote in the 2017 Scorecard. If you need more information, please call my office at (202) 785-8683 and ask to speak with a member of our government relations team.
The letters above are just one example of letters that can be sent on your behalf to politicians. More can be found at a wide range of organizations from the Sierra Club to Environmental Working Group. I would encourage you to check out the websites and get involved in starting a dialogue with your elected representative. Otherwise, you might read about a decision and wonder to yourself: Where did he/she get the idea that his/her constituents would want them to vote a certain way.
These are just two examples. The interesting aspect of corresponding with the politicians is to receive letters stating their views/positions and future direction. This information might help you make your decision for the upcoming election (in this case is 2018).
Do They Ever Respond?
Below are a collection of responses I have received in just two weeks from Senator Diane Feinstein in response to my letters sent.
Letter #1 Response Letter: in regards to Climate Change:
Dear Mike:Thank you for writing to share your concerns and sense of urgency regarding climate change. I share your support for the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan, and I welcome the opportunity to respond.I am deeply concerned about the negative environmental and public health effects of power plant emissions – which include climate change, acid rain, smog, haze, respiratory and heart diseases, cancer, and other health-related problems. I strongly support the Obama Administration’s efforts to reduce harmful pollution from power plants, which constitutes nearly 40% of our nation’s energy-related emissions.The Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan, published in its final form on August 3, 2015, requires a reduction in carbon emissions from the electricity sector to 32% below 2005 levels by 2030. States will have the flexibility to develop their own plans for achieving emissions goals tailored to the unique situation of each region. Although the Clean Power Plan is focused primarily on addressing climate change, its pollution reductions will also prevent an estimated 3,600 premature deaths, 90,000 asthma attacks in children, and 300,000 missed work or school days. For additional information about the final rule, I encourage you to visit www.epa.gov/cleanpowerplan.We must act to reduce our nation’s greenhouse gas emissions and shift our economy toward renewable energy and energy efficient technologies. I authored the Ten-in-Ten Fuel Economy Act (Public Law 110-140) to help facilitate this transition and strengthen fuel economy standards by increasing gas mileage by 10 miles per gallon over 10 years, culminating in a 54.5 mile per gallon standard by 2025. I have also pushed to eliminate federal subsidies for large oil companies while championing improved incentives for wind, geothermal, solar, and other forms of domestic renewable energy production, which have helped to double the nation’s renewable energy production over the past four years.Despite Congressional efforts to undermine the Clean Power Plan by passing a resolution of disapproval (S.J. Res. 24), the President has vetoed the resolution, which lacks sufficient support in Congress to sustain a veto override.Please know that I will continue to work with my colleagues to address climate change and fight to uphold the Environmental Protection Agency’s authority to regulate and reduce dangerous greenhouse gas emissions.Again, thank you for your letter. Should you have any further questions or comments, please contact my Washington, D.C., office at (202) 224-3841 or visit my website at http://feinstein.senate.gov. Best regards.Sincerely yours,Dianne FeinsteinUnited States Senator
Letter #2 Response letter: regarding our nation's dependence on fossil fuels:
Dear Mike:Thank you for writing to express your concern about our nation's dependence on fossil fuels and share your support for expanding the use of renewable energy. I appreciate hearing from you and welcome the opportunity to respond.I agree that in order to prevent potentially catastrophic climate change, protect our environment, and increase our energy independence, the United States must take swift action to invest in the infrastructure and workforce necessary to make a permanent shift toward renewable energy and energy efficient technologies.I believe that the carbon content of our fuel supply must be decreased by substituting fossil fuels with lower carbon fuels – such as biodiesel, cellulosic ethanol, hydrogen, and electricity – and I have consistently supported efforts to promote such fuels and increase the share of electricity produced from renewable energy sources.For many years, I have worked to revise the tax code to incentivize renewable energy production. On numerous occasions, I have voted to extend and expand federal tax incentives for the production of wind, geothermal, and other forms of renewable electricity. Extending business and residential solar investment tax credits as well as the clean energy production tax credit is critical to the economic viability of renewable energy projects. I strongly support the renewable electricity production tax credit (Internal Revenue Code Section 45), the solar energy investment tax credit (Internal Revenue Code Section 48), and other efforts to increase the production of renewable energy in the United States.Please know that I share your support for expanding the use of renewable energy. I will be sure to keep your thoughts in mind as I continue working with my colleagues in the Senate to advocate for clean energy.Again, thank you for writing. If you have any further questions or comments, please contact my office in Washington, D.C., at (202) 224-3841 or visit my website at http://feinstein.senate.gov. Best regards.Sincerely yours,Dianne FeinsteinUnited States Senator
Letter #3 Response letter: on Water Quality
Dear Mike:Thank you for writing to me about the drinking water and public health crisis in Flint, Michigan. I appreciate hearing from you on this important issue, and I welcome the opportunity to respond.I am extremely concerned about the crisis affecting Flint residents, especially young children exposed to lead-contaminated drinking water. Former President Obama declared a national emergency and mobilized federal assistance for Flint in January 2016 at the request of the governor of Michigan. Presidents can only declare a national emergency to deploy federal resources upon the request of a state’s governor, as required by law. All Americans have the right to expect safe, reliable drinking water, and the sad truth is that the lead-contamination crises affecting Flint and other communities like Sebring, Ohio, were preventable.In December 2016, Congress enacted two new laws that collectively provide critical federal funding to help fix Flint’s water infrastructure and provide important public health funding for children exposed to lead. The Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation (WIIN) Act (Public Law 114-322) and the law funding the federal government until late April 2017 (Public Law 114-254) provide approximately $170 million in aid for Flint.In addition, the WIIN Act authorizes significant federal funding for projects that modernize water infrastructure nationwide, including upgrading water utility systems and protecting natural sources of drinking water. Critically, this new law reasserts the federal government’s role in safeguarding American communities from dangerous drinking water contaminants like lead and copper, especially in instances where local and state governments simply fail to act. You may be interested to know that this new law finally mandates public notification when tests reveal elevated levels of toxic contaminants, like lead, in drinking water.I was proud to work with my Democratic colleagues, including Michigan Senators Debbie Stabenow (D) and Gary Peters (D), to secure important provisions in the new law that:1) Redouble “remediation” efforts to remove sources of lead contamination;2)Strengthen Safe Drinking Water Act (Public Law 93-523) regulations; and,3)Give the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) the authority to enforce mandatory testing and reporting requirements, especially for possible lead and copper contamination in drinking water and pipes.Please know that I continue working to protect our nation’s drinking water supplies and modernize California’s water infrastructure. I hope that this information is helpful.Again, thank you for taking the time to contact me. I hope you will continue to keep me informed on issues of importance to you. If you have any additional questions or comments, please feel free to contact my Washington, D.C., office at (202) 224-3841 or visit my website at feinstein.senate.gov. Best regards.Sincerely yours,Dianne FeinsteinUnited States Senator
Letter #4 Response letter: Political Nominees
Dear Mike:Thank you for sharing your concerns about presidential nominees for federal departments and agencies. Your correspondence informs my work in the Senate, and I welcome the opportunity to respond.Many Californians have expressed their concerns to me about the individuals President Trump has selected to lead federal agencies responsible for enforcing critical laws that protect the environment and public health. Like you, I believe that the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, and other foundational environmental laws must be duly enforced. I also agree that the federal government should hold those who pollute our land, air, and water accountable for the costs associated with that pollution, not American taxpayers.As a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, I work each year to secure funding for core federal regulatory programs that safeguard American communities, consumers, and the environment from toxic pollutants. I therefore believe that federal regulators must be led by well-qualified appointees with a demonstrated commitment to public service.The U.S. Constitution requires presidential nominees to secure the “advice and consent of the Senate” during a fair but thorough vetting process. Non-Supreme Court presidential nominees only require a simple majority to be confirmed by the Senate. As the senior United States Senator for California, I promise to scrutinize rigorously any nominee put before the Senate by President Trump. In my view, those who serve the public—especially in senior roles within the federal government—should be held to the highest possible standards for personal ethics and competency.Furthermore, federal agencies and environmental regulations should be guided by the best available science. I hope that President Trump will nominate individuals who understand the importance of science-based analysis in decision-making and will lead federal agencies with integrity in the best interests of the country. President Trump should avoid nominating individuals with clear personal conflicts of interest or those beholden to special interests. The American people deserve no less.President Trump nominated state Attorney General Scott Pruitt (R-OK) to serve as the Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). In his capacity as the elected Attorney General for Oklahoma, Mr. Pruitt has sued the federal government repeatedly in attempts to block EPA regulations under the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, and other critical environmental laws. Mr. Pruitt has also expressed skepticism toward the overwhelming scientific consensus on man-made climate change. In my view, accepting the science demonstrating man-made climate change is essential for any nominee who aspires to lead a federal environmental agency.President Trump also nominated Congressman Ryan Zinke (R-MT) to serve as Secretary of the Interior. As you may know, the U.S. Department of the Interior has jurisdiction over many federal land management agencies, including those responsible for making permitting decisions for oil, natural gas, and mining leases on federally owned public land. Our public lands are a sacred trust that must be protected. As such, I believe strongly that any permitting or leasing decision affecting federally managed lands must serve the best interests of the American people.Please know that I have made note of your concerns about President Trump’s nominees to lead important environmental regulatory and federal land management agencies. During my time in the Senate, I have worked tirelessly to uphold protections that safeguard American communities from toxic pollutants and minimize environmental degradation. I have also worked to preserve California’s pristine natural areas and iconic wildlife for future generations to enjoy. Rest assured that I will keep the issues you raised in mind as the Senate considers President Trump’s nominees.Again, thank you for taking the time to write. I hope you will continue to keep me informed on issues of importance to you. If you have any additional questions or comments, please feel free to contact my Washington, D.C., office at (202) 224-3841 or visit my website at feinstein.senate.gov. Best regards.Sincerely yours,Dianne FeinsteinUnited States Senator
Pretty simple right?
As I mentioned, getting the word to your local representatives is extremely important and matters. Opening up a line of communication with your elected representatives helps guide them along. Having a large amount of feedback allows the elected representative to say "confidently" that their position is reflective of the community's needs, values, and morals.
After reading the above letters, I hope that you will start a line of communication with your elected representatives. The process of establishing your voice in a democracy is vital to democracy surviving. We are not a nation of stagnant citizens. We should be a nation of active participants in the democratic process. I encourage you to reach out to your representative today. Either through the groups hyperlinked above or on your own.
Until next time, have a wonderful day.