Early Communication from New House Reps Bodes Well for Accessibility

Constituents in the flipped CA-25 House district note a BIG change in their new Representative’s accessibility.

American voters are understandably skeptical about the ability – or the determination – of newly elected officials to change the tone and the tenor of their constituent communications. We long ago inured ourselves to those weekly “see what I’ve done for you lately” newsletters in our mailboxes in the three months leading up to an election…and then hearing nothing but the sounds of silence until it was time for those “public servants” to run for re-election once more.

So it’s no surprise that constituents of California’s 25th House district, which straddles the L.A. County-Ventura County line at the northern edge of the sprawling L.A. metropolis, started tweeting and Facebook posting statements of astonishment and appreciation when their newly elected Representative Katie Hill started tweeting and posting and holding meetings and doing frequent news interviews almost immediately after her Nov. 6 election victory was confirmed.

Hill, after all, is replacing two-term Republican House Representative Steve Knight – known for restricting public meetings to friendly audiences, holding tele-Town Halls in place of public events (which he stopped conducting after he was caught planting supportive shills in the audience to be called upon by complicit staffers), locking his field office doors and calling the sheriff on Democratic constituents who sought meetings or conversations with his taxpayer-funded employees, and mailing out weekly ribbon-cutting and Chamber-of-Commerce-luncheon photo-filled newsletters only from August to November of every election year, then slipping back into mute mode until the next campaign cycle began.

Criticized during the campaign for showing interest only in photo ops with his supporters, Knight reinforced voters’ view of him as unresponsive to constituent needs when news broke a week after the election that he would no longer accept new constituent casework and was shuttering his three field offices in CA25’s geographically vast territory. His advice to constituents needing help from their (still-being-paid) elected official and his staff: call Katie Hill’s office when it opens January 3.

One of Hill’s incoming leadership team even confided to a reporter at one of many community events held in the November-to-January interregnum that they’d been trying to get information from Knight’s staff about open constituent case files, with little success – and might need to alert CA25 residents to call them in January if they had opened a case file with Knight’s team before the election.

Social media is key

As a 31-year-old first-time officeholder, Hill’s approach to constituent communications is a world apart from her predecessor’s. And, given her age, it’s no surprise that social media plays a pivotal role.

The first night of Hill’s first week in Washington, D.C., constituents got a hint of how different things will be. Local residents following Hill on Twitter were treated to a photo of their new Representative’s ID tag and the message, “Day one of freshman orientation is complete – it’s not real until you get the official lanyard!”

Each night that week, they got an update from Rep.-elect Hill – sometimes a late-night video message from her hotel, sometimes a photo of her with other incoming Representatives, sometimes just a text tweet.

A screen grab of the letter she and fellow incoming California Rep. Mike Levin sent to their fellow freshman class members, urging them to demonstrate unity and eschew infighting by supporting Nancy Pelosi for House Speaker.

A photo of her new business cards, with the note, “It’s the little things that keep catching me off guard…Pretty incredible feeling.”

A photo and note about her meeting with Rep. Peter DeFazio to discuss her district’s infrastructure and transportation needs.

A wry remark and a makeup-less selfie: “I just ran into @Nancy Pelosi while looking like this, totally exhausted, deplaning at SFO for my layover. Sometimes you just have to laugh…I respect the women who paved the way for me more every day. (Leader Pelosi looked flawless, by the way.)”

A post about her selection as the House member who would deliver the 116th Congress’ first Democratic Weekly Address on Nov. 30.

Her attendance at the Reagan National Defense Forum on December 1 at the Reagan Library in Simi Valley.

A meeting with the Palmdale city manager on December 9.

A photo of her on a conference call with House Democratic leaders in her car on the 10th, shortly after Hill’s freshman colleagues elected her as one of their two representatives to the House Democratic Leadership team.

A Chamber of Commerce forum with political ally and incoming California Assemblymember Christy Smith on Dec. 14.

And dozens more tweets, reporting on her D.C. conversations with colleagues about health care, the environment, national defense, immigration, homelessness, campaign finance reform, voter protection, gun safety and the new bump stock ban, stock market gyrations, the shutdown – all of the issues she campaigned on were now the subject of her attention as a new House member.

A tweet declaring her support for cessation of pay for top government officials and federal legislators if they shut down the government.

And a retweet of a shutdown news report from The Hill, in which she declared, “I’m done with elected leaders playing politics with real people’s lives. My new colleagues and I are ready to stand together to pass immediate legislation to reopen the government, pursue immigration reform THAT WORKS, and stop all the games. It’s time to get to work.”

Even a tweet that declared: “…for the record, you CAN call me Katie!”

Communication, millennial style

Almost overnight, residents of CA25 went from wondering what the heck a House member does to earn their paycheck, to seeing their new Representative up close and personal on almost a daily basis. Explaining what she’s up to, who she’s meeting with, what they’re talking about, what she’s working for.

What a concept.

Elected officials who communicate regularly with constituents. Who don’t fall into the old pattern of connecting only when Election Day looms, but on a frequent and regular basis. Who don’t expend staff hours – and franking dollars – to mail out grip-and-grin-photo-filled print newsletters whose “news” is anything but – but instead communicate quickly, efficiently and cost-effectively via social media about the issues they were sent to Washington to address.

Officials who show themselves as they are…tired, hungry, makeup-less, in sweats instead of business attire…looking and behaving like real people. Like the citizens for whom they work.

If this is the way that millennial members of Congress intend to stay connected with the people they represent, this boomer is all for it.

Because it’s honest. It’s immediate. And it works.

Keep it up, Katie and the New Kids in Congress. Your constituents love it!

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.