August in Idaho is never pretty. Well, some people think it is. Beach people. White water aficionados. People who could just as happily survive living under the heat and smoke of an active volcano may think that August in Idaho is grand. But I—having grown into my land legs in a valley above 7,000 feet, where summer temps rarely rise above 85°—I slip into the summer doldrums in August. I hunker in the backyard with the cat and the hummingbirds until the morning cool evaporates and then I migrate inside and gnash my teeth at the thrum of the air-conditioner. I become anti-social, uninterested, and uninteresting.
So it is quite remarkable that my state legislative representative has managed to cajole me into the blazing heat and smoky Boise air to canvass my neighbors. Representative Sue Chew is like that. Serving in the Idaho House of Representatives for the past 10 years, this quiet, diminutive woman has a way of gently probing her constituency for ideas and help in turning those ideas into realities.
I am not willing to go so far as to be her mouthpiece. I don’t own her people skills or her broad knowledge and understanding of the deeply dividing issues that high-center this state’s progress. But she claims her spirits are lifted and her confidence reinforced by my simple presence. Ok. Whadeva! Observing her poise and grace is reward enough for the buckets of sweat that trickle down my back as we stand in front of a shiny metal screen door, the sun barbecuing us front and back.
People are understandably mistrustful and grumpy about answering the door to find two strangers looking up at them and juggling clipboards, papers, and phones. We could be mistaken for the dreaded church ladies who periodically infest the neighborhood. Sue quickly launches her introductory spiel, emphasizing that she is their citizen representative for the neighborhood. I think this terminology confuses some people, but she is proactively pointing out that she is not a professional politician. Her next line is usually this: “What one thing would you most love to see the legislature accomplish in the coming session?” Most people are perplexed and unprepared for this. I would be too. Often this is the point when a string of near-profanities reveals deep anger at and mistrust of “the government.”
Here is where I would shove some literature into the resident’s hand and say sayonara. But Sue stands humbly before them, nodding her head and validating their frustration. Then she begins the process of gently steering them off their federal fixation and back into the realm of Idaho politics, where individuals really can have an impact.
If necessary, she employs some pat scenario to entice conversation. “Pizza restaurateur X, down the street, tells me that, although all his full-time employees are already making more than minimum wage, if he increased their pay by $2, they would have an extra $4,000 in their pockets each year. That is money that would be spent here, in our community, on things like cars, housing, groceries, and entertainment. He ran the numbers and discovered this would require a per plate increase of 35¢, which his clientele would barely notice. How would you feel about raising the state minimum wage by $2 so that all employers would be working on a level playing field?” This verbal graphic gets people’s attention.
Once they begin talking and thinking creatively, people often come up with other issues that trouble them. Sue listens intently, takes notes (or I try to take notes) and graciously thanks them for their input. Sue knocks on every door (that doesn’t have a ‘beware of dog’ sign in front of a snarling set of teeth). Many of the people we speak with are Republicans, some are flaming Tea Partiers—this is Idaho, after all. But her mission is to represent the people, as many of her constituency as she possibly can. She is serious about finding workable solutions to vexing problems.
In this season of political turmoil, vicious verbal abuse, canned answers to complicated problems, and overarching feelings of disenfranchisement, I am encouraged by my legislator’s commitment to representative government, of the people, and for the people.
If you, like many of us, are overwhelmed but the nutsy political rhetoric ravaging the media during this hot election cycle, don’t turn inward. Don’t throw up your hands and tell yourself there are no good choices. I guarantee if you examine your local government representatives, you will find someone to believe in and to support. Don’t let crazies take over your city or your state. Some of these local races are decided by the slimmest of margins and there is no Electoral College to override your personal vote. Be the solution.
PS: I was planning on including a selfie of yours truly juggling at the door. But that was the straw that broke this donkey’s back. I couldn’t handle one more thing!