The rigors of the campaign are still fresh, but for newly elected House members and senators, the hard part is just beginning. Already, they’re inundated with advice on the issues they’ll be facing: The fiscal cliff, crises overseas, how to behave in a highly partisan Congress.
All of this will take time to sort out. But there’s one task I’d advise them to tackle right away, whatever their party: learning how to do constituent services right.
Many years ago, when I was still in the House, I accompanied a senator to a public meeting. A woman approached him afterward to ask for help with a Social Security problem. Irritably, my colleague told her that he didn’t have time; he had important policy issues to deal with. I was stunned. So was the woman. I have never forgotten the look of helpless chagrin on her face.
Self-interest alone would have counseled a more helpful approach. I ran into someone from my district once who told me, “I don’t agree with you most of the time, but I’m voting for you because you take good care of your constituents.”
People notice. And they care. That senator who rebuffed the plea for help? He was defeated in the next election.
But there’s more to it than just currying favor with the electorate. Good constituent service, I believe, is crucial to being a good elected representative.
There’s no mystery why. The federal government is vast, complex and confusing; and it touches far more lives than any private company. Sometimes it’s a model of efficiency, but too often it’s agonizingly slow to get off a passport or approve a disability payment.