Republican State Senator Raymond Finney represents Tennessee's 8th District, which includes Blount and Sevier counties. I don't agree much with his politics, but he is doing an impressive job using internet websites as effective tools for communicating with his constituents.
His voting record website documents his votes on legislation and committee actions, sometimes with discussion of why he voted the way he did. He also explains how to find out more about any legislation before the Tennessee General Assembly.
Even more impressive is his Finney Listens website, which he calls an "online town hall meeting." Here, constituents can record their views and preferences on pending legislation and participate in an opinion survey on issues affecting the state. His "there ought to be a law" page lets you suggest your own legislation.
These sites don't have a slick, flashy design and don't employ a trendy "blog" format, but they are highly functional, well organized, loaded with information, and provide numerous opportunities for voter interaction and feedback. Whoever put this together did an excellent job, and Sen. Finney appears to invest tremendous time and effort in maintaining it.
There may be other constituent oriented websites similar to these, but I haven't seen them. These websites should be the model for elected officials at all levels of government. If he hasn't already, Sen. Finney should offer his website software as a template for any Tennessee politician who wants to establish a similar site.
Sen. Finney's websites are just part of a comprehensive "community outreach" effort that incorporates e-mail and postal mail newsletters, regularly scheduled radio show appearances, regular newspaper columns, and town hall-style meetings. Regardless of what you think about his politics, he should be commended for his efforts to stay in touch with voters.
As an editorial comment, in my view we elect our representatives to, well, represent us by voting the will of the people, which usually means the majority. We also expect them to vote their conscience on tough issues, so we elect people who we hope will best represent our values.
Unfortunately for us Democrats over here in Blount Co., the majority view is very conservative, and Sen. Finney represents that constituency with great enthusiasm. So in that respect he's doing his job and doing it well.
But our democratic republic form of government is also designed to protect against "mob rule", so I don't think we should expect our elected officials to always base their votes strictly on the majority of public opinion. The minority view deserves adequate representation, too. The best way to make sure your representative knows your views, whether in the majority or the minority, is to let them know. In Sen. Finney's case, he's made that pretty easy.
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