By Steve Brawner
© 2015 by Steve Brawner Communications, Inc.
A new governor has assumed office, and legislators have begun the 2015 legislative session, but if you’re like most interested Arkansas citizens, you probably care more about what’s happening in Washington, D.C., than about what’s happening in Little Rock.
That’s understandable. The issues are bigger and the stakes higher in our nation’s capital. National politics lends itself better to story lines, heroes and villains. It’s the American flag to which we pledge allegiance.
Of course you should care about national politics, and you should try to change it for the better. But if that’s all you care about, and state politics is just an afterthought, I encourage you to focus more of your thoughts a little closer to home, for two reasons.
One is that in our state capital, democracy still works, and in Washington, it doesn’t – not the way it’s supposed to work, anyway. Washington politics these days is about pleasing special interests, scoring political points, and maintaining power. Republicans and Democrats have dug into their trenches and are mostly shooting at each other across no man’s land, and that’s not likely to change regardless of how much you or I yell at the TV.
In Little Rock, meanwhile, Gov. Asa Hutchinson and legislators will engage in civil discourse about important issues during this legislative session. How civil? House Speaker Jeremy Gillam, R-Judsonia, appointed Democrats to chair four of the House committees, which would never happen in Washington. And how important? Over three months, legislators will cut taxes and decide if the state should build a new $100 million prison or instead change the laws so that fewer people are incarcerated. While elected officials in Washington will bicker endlessly about health care, elected officials in Little Rock eventually will come to a decision regarding the private option and the 200,000 people it serves.
The other reason to focus a little more on state politics and a little less on Washington? Let’s turn to the late Dr. Stephen Covey, author of “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.” Covey taught that we all reside in the middle of two concentric circles, a larger “circle of concern” and a smaller “circle of influence.” The circle of concern is what we care about but can’t affect. The circle of influence, we can affect. Invest your energies in the circle of influence, Covey taught.
Very few of us non-billionaires can influence what happens in Washington. Very few of us will ever meet President Obama.
But Arkansas governors are highly accessible. Hutchinson probably will appear at some event in your community or in a nearby one before too long, and you can approach him to share a concern or just ask him about his grandchildren.
State legislators, moreover, are regular people with limited staffs. They consider thousands of bills in three months’ time. On some issues they receive lots of constituent input, but on others not so much, so the words of a few carry a lot of weight. Sen. Jake Files, R-Fort Smith, thought of two instances off the top of his head where he sponsored and passed a bill based on the urging of a single constituent – one that changed a restitution law after someone’s four-wheeler was stolen, and one allowing police to administer a saliva test to suspected drunk drivers.
“Literally one or two phone calls can make a big difference in a yes vote or a no vote,” he said.
So Mr. Regular Arkansan, if you can make your case to your legislator, and if you’re a little persistent, you can change public policy in your circle of influence, which is the state of Arkansas.
Isn’t that better than yelling at the TV?