JOPLIN, Mo. —
Don Ray writes letters, sends e-mails and even makes telephone calls to those representing him in Washington. His has a mixed bag of experiences with elected leaders and their staffs.
Ray is retired and lives in Joplin. He characterizes himself as conservative, but says he votes both Republican and Democrat.
“I vote for the person who will do the best thing for us. All I ask is they weigh what’s right,” Ray said.
He says he’s troubled because he doesn’t feel like he has a relationship with political leaders in Washington. He not only wants his voice heard, but listened to as well. And he wants answers.
“All I ask for is an honest response. Not a canned letter, not a politically correct speech,” Ray said.
He’s following the 7th Congressional District race closely. There are 10 candidates — eight Republicans and 2 Democrats — on the Aug. 3 primary ballot. GOP contenders, listed in ballot order, are Jeff Wisdom, Springfield, an economics professor at Ozarks Technical Community College; Gary Nodler, Joplin, a state senator; Michael Moon, Ash Grove, a farmer and employee of St. John’s Medical Center; Darrell L. Moore, Springfield, Greene County prosecuting attorney; Jack Goodman, Mount Vernon, a state senator; Billy Long, Springfield, an auctioneer and real estate agent; Michael Wardell, Nixa, a retired veteran and businessman; and Steve Hunter, Joplin, a former state representative.
Democratic candidates are Tim Davis, Branson, an attorney and economist; and Scott Eckersley, Kimberling City, a lawyer who sued his former boss, then-Gov. Matt Blunt, after he said the office broke the law by refusing to release e-mails to the press.
The Globe, after talking to Ray, put his question to the candidates and asked them to respond in 100 words or less.
What specific steps will you take, if you are elected, to make sure you are responsive to your constituents back home?
Jeff Wisdom: One of the primary reasons we have a frustrated electorate is a breakdown in communication with elected officials. Most constituents want a representative who demonstrates a genuine interest in their concerns.
I will never forget I work for the voters and serve as their advocate. I pledge to be accessible through regular listening sessions. Further, I will hold at least two town hall meetings each quarter where citizens can speak directly to me, discussing their concerns while I openly and candidly answer their questions.
This will ensure that constituents living in Southwest Missouri have a loud voice in Washington, D.C.
Gary Nodler: Constituents communicate with legislators in many ways — phone calls, letters, e-mails and by responding to surveys.
A congressman should work hard to learn the views of his constituents. If a very large number of communications make the same or similar points, I think a standard answer is appropriate. The response should be directed to the topic covered in the correspondence. If the citizen believes that he is not being heard, he should hold the elected official accountable at the ballot box.
Sometimes hundreds or even thousands of communications are received in a week, making responding to all a challenge.
Mike Moon: Our current congressional representative’s office staff reports that in a given month several thousand requests are made for a personal visit from the congressman, hundreds of e-mail messages are received daily and hundreds of calls are answered between the three offices each week. To answer each and every request, message or call personally would require an insurmountable amount of the representative’s time and doing so may not be feasible.
I am not favorable to “canned” replies, however, I would task a trusted staff member to make a personal contact on my behalf.
Darrell Moore: I would handle constituent contacts as I do now in the prosecutor’s office. There are no “canned” responses. Either I or a staff person responds directly to each inquiry, appropriately addressing the specific issue(s) raised. This is what would happen if I am your congressman. Staff would be trained to screen all e-mail, other correspondence and phone calls and refer them to the appropriate person for a direct response.
I would set the parameters of who should respond to what inquiries, and include myself as being the person most appropriate to respond in most cases.
Jack Goodman: As a state senator, I try to respond immediately to anyone who contacts my office, acknowledging receipt of correspondence and informing the constituent a personal response will follow.
The large volume sometimes delays responses and requires staff involvement, but I do review incoming correspondence and dictate all outgoing correspondence.
If elected to Congress, communicating with constituents will remain a top priority for me. Listening to constituents is vital to doing my job well. After all, my job is to reflect my constituents’ values in crafting the laws we all live under.
Billy Long: I am fed up with career politicians who have forgotten who they work for. I will never forget that my bosses are the people of Missouri’s 7th District. I will hold meetings and travel around the district regularly once elected to hear their ideas and concerns.
I think it is very important that anyone who submits a question or concern to his representative that he receives an answer to his question, not a dismissive form letter. I am going to represent Missouri’s 7th District to Washington, not Washington to Missouri’s 7th District.
Michael Wardell: The challenge is trying to come up with a way to respond effectively with more than 500,000 people in the district. Each individual must be responded to by a human and I would have a few staff members address each concern with a non-canned response.
However, if the demands of the constituents exceeded the capability of my staff and my budget for additional members was at its limit, I will hold town hall meetings at least semi-annually, in different parts of the district to address the issues important to those who perhaps asked the same type of question.
Steve Hunter: As a state representative, we had a rule in my office to return calls from constituents within 24 hours. That will be my rule of practice if elected. I am paid by taxpayer money; the least my office should do is to respond in a timely manner.
My intent is to hire responsive staff members that will do their jobs. If they don’t, I’ll fire them and find people who will. This is not rocket science. A constituent is like a customer in private business that you as an elected official take care of.
Timothy Davis: As a congressman I would be representing my constituents. I cannot effectively represent Southwest Missouri if I lose touch with the concerns of the people here. To remain connected to voters I’ll build time in my schedule each week to respond to voters’ concerns by letter and e-mail.
Although I will be working in Washington, my home will still be in Southwest Missouri. This is where my family, my church and my friends are. I will remain active in our home church, James River Assembly in Ozark. And I will continue to live in Branson.
Scott Eckersley: The issue is whether anyone is really listening in Washington. With a 16 percent approval rating, most of us give Republicans and Democrats in Congress a failing grade. I’ve seen politicians put personal and party interests ahead of the people they should be serving. I am an independent voice willing to change that.
New media provides incredible access to elected officials and vice-versa. Through Internet, mail and phone, there is no excuse for voters not to be heard. But all the fancy new media in the world can’t replace a leader who isn’t listening. I care. I will listen. I will act.