Posted by Charity on March 25th, 2009

A friend of my husband called his representative to share his opinion on a bill.  The representative spent the entire conversation trying to convince him he was wrong!  What are we electing these people for?

What do you think?  Should a representative vote the way his constituents want him to, or should he make up his own mind and try to convince those who disagree that they are wrong, or something else?

6 Responses to “What Is a Representative?”

  1. I’ve heard it said that Vermont state representatives receive on average 5-10 phone calls each session. Is that true? If you’re talking about the recent marriage bill (approved 26-4 by the state senate), I do know that the Vermont Freedom to Marry group was encouraging citizens to tell their reps of their support for the bill. I’m sure the opponent groups were doing the same with their members. But that does not excuse the response your husband received from his rep. Yes, reps should listen to their constituents. Supporting the marriage bill in the house is a no brainer to me, but the reaction your husband got was belligerent. As elected officials, it’s part of constituent services to listen. Sounds like this guy had already made up his mind, with no deep thought about the issue. On our own city coucil, there are rude, deaf councilors. Even during public comment at city council meetings, I’ve heard (at least) one councilor rudely get up and whisper (within earshot) a haughty “I’ve heard it all before.” I find that troubling indeed. Good post, Charity. Thanks. – Jay

  2. The reason we have representatives (and what makes our government a democratic republic instead of just a democracy) is because we choose to allow a single person to use his or her judgment on government matters in the stead of a particular portion of the population. If we wanted a simple majority-rules setup, a pure democracy, it would require a full polling of the population on every matter, which would be inefficient to say the least.

    Yes, on many matters, the representative should be primarily concerned with understanding and supporting the wishes of the majority of his constituents; in others, though, the representative may have to take a broader or longer-range view of the situation and vote the way he or she deems best even if the citizens (who aren’t necessarily as involved with or fully understanding of all the issues at play in any particular situation) in general prefer otherwise.

    I think it is a representative’s duty to challenge his or her constituents to defend their opinions. Frankly, I’d be more disturbed by a representative who didn’t ask me to provide supporting arguments when I voiced an opinion, and to address the arguments made by other concerned constituents.

    And Jay, saying “Sounds like this guy had already made up his mind, with no deep thought about the issue” is unfair; he might have heard from many constituents, argued the matter extensively, done lots of research, and then come to a conclusion, and when faced with someone with a differing opinion, wanted to challenge that opinion to see how it holds up.

    Arguing one’s opinion is not a matter of blindly ignoring the other side; at its best, it’s a way to challenge your beliefs and see how they stand up against the arguments given by others. It’s how opinions should be formed, and how they change over time.

  3. Defending a position and trying to convince a person they are wrong are two different things. Yes, someone calling a rep should be able to defend their opinion, but should not be treated as if their opinion does not matter and that the rep could care otherwise.

  4. “Should a representative vote the way his constituents want him to, or should he make up his own mind and try to convince those who disagree that they are wrong, or something else?”

    Well, I don’t know about the “try to convince those who disagree that they are wrong” part, but our representatives are there to support intiatives that are in the best interests of their constituents and the locality, state, or country that they were elected from.

    Being a former representative of sorts myself, I would frequently, simply ask my “constituents” how they felt on a whole range of issues…especially if I didn’t know which way to go or didn’t personally care much about a certain issue. Many times, I would express their will at the same time that their will & my feelings were different on an issue. I’d always been honest when I did that as well. There were a few issues though that, if I cared deeply enough about them, I would express the opposite of what a majority of my “constituents” wanted because I felt very strongly that their wishes were not in their long-term interest. Sometimes representatives do this at their own risk, which most of them realize at the time.

  5. ‘Should an elected rep to what his peeps want or do what’s best for them?’ I asked this question of some of the candidates this year. It’s one of those timeless classics. I ran into it myself on the council way back when. The answer, of course is “it depends.”

  6. Great comments. Thanks, everyone.

    I think that it is important for an elected official to listen. If he already has his mind made up, then he should share his reasons, but I believe that in this case, the rep actually was argumentative. I am not sure. I heard the story second-hand from my husband.

    Ryan makes a great point, though, we are a representative democracy for a good reason and individual decisions are not made democratically.

    Obviously, for all politicians, there will be people who disagree with whatever their positions are on any given issue. All one can hope is that they take the time to actually listen and think about dissenting points-of-view.