Democracy at work: Be heard

Impacting legislation takes a bit of legwork, but simple first steps can be empowering. We asked metro Atlanta residents and advocates to share their stories, as well as advice on making a difference.

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Corey T. Boone

President of the Georgia Tech undergraduate student association last year; graduated last summer and works in Atlanta

The 2012 election cycle is in full swing. While much focus rests on who will lead our country for the next four years, our leaders under the Gold Dome have my attention.

Georgia is a state where ordinary citizens can take an active role in government. Just last year, a group of college students organized a statewide movement to oppose proposed changes to the HOPE Scholarship.

As a leading voice in that movement, I must confess that we did not get everything that we wanted in the deal, but the General Assembly heard our voices loud and clear.

In a few weeks, the General Assembly will be abuzz as the new session starts. I encourage every Georgian to contact your legislators and talk with them about the issues that matter most to you. We see the impact of their decisions on a daily basis from immigration reform to education to transportation. There is no better time than now to actively participate in our great democracy.

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Michelle Carver

Works in marketing communications and is a stay-at-home mother

Many people give back to their community. My husband serves in the Army. Others become teachers. I advocate for good government. Three ways to advocate for good government are participating in the redistricting process, ensuring the best candidate is elected and talking to legislators.

This summer, our legislators redrew our House, Senate and congressional districts. Leading up to this process, the Reapportionment Committees held hearings across the state. Many interested citizens from Buckhead joined me in testifying for districts to reflect our community of interest. I’m proud to say our efforts resulted in bipartisan congressional representation and a new Senate district in Buckhead.

Now that we have a new Senate District in Buckhead, it’s important to ensure that the best candidate is elected. I am doing my part by serving as secretary on a campaign. The most important way interested citizens can influence legislation is talking to legislators. Better ideas are always welcome. Go to www.legis.ga.gov to find bills being considered, when committees are meeting, and contact information for legislators. This session I’ll be voicing my opinion in favor of Georgia asserting its historic water rights to the Tennessee River, reforming Fulton County and school choice.

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Debbie Dooley

National coordinator of the Tea Party Patriots

It is important for average citizens to keep up with proposed legislation under the Gold Dome. There is legislation proposed every session that affects our daily lives. You can go to the Georgia Legislature website and see proposed legislation and what committee the bill is in. You can also get involved with local tea parties or other grass-roots organizations. During this past session, we found out that a bill was on its way to passage that would begin to implement the beginning stages of ObamaCare by forming a committee to set up health care exchanges. This bill was supported by Gov. Nathan Deal and House Speaker David Ralston and was a few days from passage. It was supported by very powerful lobbyists.

When Julianne Thompson and I were notified of this terrible bill, we sent out emails alerting individual activists and urged them to make phones calls to Deal’s office and the House Leadership. Their offices were flooded with phone calls from individuals and Deal requested the bill be pulled.

This was a huge victory for “We The People.”

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Neill Herring

Lobbyist for the Georgia chapter of the Sierra Club, has been keeping an eye on the Legislature for more than 30 years

Having closely observed the Georgia Legislature for far too long, I can recall several times that individuals have been able to change our laws. One woman was able to get what is now called a “medical marijuana” provision to help her husband, a cancer victim. A student was able to require the University System to require that pesticide operators put up signs when they are spreading their poison on campus, after she developed a chronic allergy from exposure.

These individuals, and others who have obtained similar satisfaction from their legislators, have always had at least one strong legislative champion. Finding that legislator is the key to success at making a difference. Some have pursued a patient course of individual contact, talking with legislators until one is impressed enough to act. Others have been successful with a dramatic presentation of their problem to a legislative committee, finding an advocate among its members.

In each case, the individual’s persistence, even stubbornness, was vital in their final success, when they obtained it. In most instances, someone is going to oppose what the advocate desires. Every bill hurts someone. Prevailing means convincing an opponent that not going along will prove more painful than compromising, and then making certain that compromise is not lost in the last-minute rush of each session, when almost all bills are finally allowed to pass, or fail.

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Lance Lamberton

President, Cobb County Taxpayers Association

In a representative democracy, the only way citizens can hold their elected representatives accountable is to get directly involved in the legislative process. Otherwise there is no restraint on legislators to tax and spend.

While citizens can get involved by writing, calling and meeting with their representatives, a more effective tactic is to join with taxpayer organizations dedicated to reining in government, thereby magnifying their voice and increasing their effectiveness.

To that end, I formed the Cobb Taxpayers Association (CTA) in 2005 to oppose passage of the 2005 Cobb County SPLOST, and renewed our opposition to the 2011 SPLOST. While both measures passed by minuscule majorities, the fact that we came so close after being outspent 100 to 1 is a testament to the kind of clout taxpayers can wield when united.

In fact, thanks to the outspoken opposition of CTA, the Georgia Tea Party and other organizations, we applied enough pressure on the Cobb County commission that they whittled down the 2011 SPLOST from a six- to a five- to, finally, a four-year proposal, resulting in the elimination of many unwanted and unneeded projects.

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Elisabeth MacNamara

National president of the League of Women Voters and a resident of DeKalb County for more than 30 years

Tired of politics as usual? Considering your New Year’s Resolutions? Here is one for you: Resolve to make a difference in 2012.

Start in January by looking up the votes of your state representative and senator. Take a little time and let your representatives know how you feel, good or bad, about a vote you care about. Check your voter registration in time for the Presidential primary and then make sure to vote. Attend at least one political event next year such as a debate or town hall meeting. Before the state primary and general election, go to lwvga.org or ajc.com and get the voter guide that will help you choose a candidate by the issues that matter to you and then, vote. Follow the election results and don’t let those elected officials forget you, even if your candidate didn’t win.

Next January, start all over again knowing how your elected officials are voting and letting them hear from you.

Government of the people, by the people, and for the people works when the people are involved. We, the people, have a job to do and it doesn’t take money, it just takes a little time.

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Joe McCutchen

Ellijay retiree, political newsletter publisher, cable TV talk show host

It is not that difficult for any one person to make a difference in politics; you just have to be willing to spend a little time studying the issues. A person can write a letter to the editor of their local newspaper or call a talk show.

It would also be a good idea to attend a town hall meeting or write or call your elected leaders. You could even visit with them.

You need to always remember that government should be the servant of the people, not the master, and that the politicians work for you as you pay their salaries.

Some of the things I am doing to make a difference are a television show and a segment on a radio talk show, and I have written a political newsletter for almost 30 years.

With a $15 trillion national debt and many towns and states in financial difficulty, it is essential that local, state and federal leaders be pressured to reduce both spending and taxes.

You can make a difference. My goal has always been to be a taxpayer champion, and you can become a taxpayer champion, too.