The state legislature has a toll-free general number–compliments, of course, of Wisconsin taxpayers. In this case, up to this point anyway, it’s been a really good use of our money. It used to be rightly called a “hotline.” Not a good term anymore.
Up until this session, for at least the last 12 years, when a citizen called the number, 800-362-9472, the operator would take the person’s name, address and message and then send it directly to that person’s legislators. If the message was intended, say, for the chair of a committee who wasn’t that person’s legislator, the citizen’s position on the issue would be noted. Then, once a week, reports were generated and distributed showing all calls that came in, what issues people called about, and whether they were in support of or opposed to a particular bill, initiaitve, etc. Handling this legislative hotline this way worked beautifully and gave the legislators an idea on where the people they represent were on a given issue.
But not anymore. When the Democrats took over the Assembly this past January, the final step for them for full legislative control, apparently their leadership decided to change how the toll-free hotline works. In doing so, they took the “hot” out of the hotline. Now when you call, the operator says when you tell him/her you want to get a message to your legislator(s) on a particular issue, “I can tell you who your legislators are and give you their contact information.” Now this toll-free line is simply an information number–not a hotline.
This is a subtle attempt by those who currently make the rules to avoid getting input from the people who elect them, to make it harder on citizens. They know if it takes more work to contact their legislators, people are less likely to do it. It also takes away from groups such as Wisconsin Family Action (our legislative action arm) the ability to give out one number and streamline the process for people.
While this may be a small move, make no mistake–it’s a strategic one–and a costly one in terms of encouraging and helping people connect with and convey opinions to their elected officials. And it’s yet another reminder that those in power get to make the rules on how our money is spent and how we play the game.