Channel 2 Investigates responds to complaints about contacting legislators
How accessible are lawmakers to their constituents?
HOUSTON – Hello? Is anyone there?
Channel 2 listeners wrote and called in to let us know you were fed up with your local lawmakers not being accessible to you. You told us, you called, emailed, Facebooked and even showed up to congressional and Senate offices in person, but often received no reply.
Constituents were especially frustrated that while Congress was on recess recently from Washington for one week, there were virtually no public town halls where voters could interact with their elected representatives. There was no opportunity to ask questions and to interact with the folks you elected (or didn't) to represent you.
Channel 2 attended local rallies and talked to voters about their experiences. At a protest outside of Sen. Ted Cruz's Houston office, Christina Hughes told KPRC 2, "I have no idea where Sen. Cruz is, but I do know he's not here."
Craig Hubbard, another protestor, agreed.
"I think Sen. Cruz should make himself available to us here in Houston," Hubbard said. "He didn't plan any events here. This is one of the largest municipalities in the country."
Outside a country club where Rep. John Culberson was attending an event closed off to the public, Channel 2 met supporters and protestors.
"I've been trying to get ahold of Culberson for two months," one protestor, Maxine, told Channel 2. "I've left messages. I've left Facebook notes. I have mailed him physically, and the only response we get is a post about a telephone town hall and it's not acceptable. He's my rep and I want Culberson to hold a town hall. That is his job."
Just a few feet away across the street stood a Culberson supporter who told Channel 2 he easily gets in touch with the congressman.
“John Culberson has already communicated with me and we plan to meet before the week is out ... I consider him a friend," Bob Hall told Channel 2. When asked what tips he'd give to get in touch with the office, he replied, "It's all about your attitude and approach. You can't go wrong with a friendly attitude."
Over at Axelrad beer garden, Channel 2 ran into Rep. Al Green, who was the sole legislator to show up for a Women's March Town Hall Meeting. He gave his personal cellphone number to the crowd and had this advice for making yourself known to your local representative: "Separate yourself from the masses by having a letter that appears to be from you about your concerns."
Houstonian and voter Nashilla Alibhai had her own theory for why lawmakers weren't showing their faces at town halls or answering their constituents.
"I think most of them are afraid to meet the people who voted for them or who are not going to vote for them again," Alibhai said. "So that's why they aren't showing up or they don't have any good answers."
Again and again, Houstonians told Channel 2 they were fed up with their lawmakers. So we set out to see for ourselves just how accessible lawmakers are to their constituents.
One afternoon, while the cameras were rolling, Channel 2 called the published local office numbers for 9 U.S. representatives from the Houston area and our two U.S. senators.
Here's what we found:
-72 percent of the time a real live person answered
-28 percent of our calls went to answering machines
-On average, it took 26 seconds to connect to someone or something
-27 percent of the time we were told to use email to schedule a conversation
-1 time we were assured by a staffer that the actual lawmaker would call us back. That was in Congressman Gene Green's office.
Dr. Mark Jones, a political science fellow at the Baker Institute at Rice University offered this. "We still have the same number of reps that we've had for almost 100 years. Each member of Congress now represents approximately 900,000 people. It's tough to have a face-to-face relationship with 900,000 people who live in your district."
That’s an unsatisfying answer when you're itching to be heard. Jones said be persistent and by some degree, be unique. Telling a short poignant story about how you're personally affected by a decision in Washington usually gets more attention than a cut-and-paste email.
With another congressional recess fast-approaching, stay with Channel 2 for the latest on their whereabouts of your representatives.
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