RICH JAMES: Notice how lawmakers frame questions on surveys

2014-01-15T00:00:00Z RICH JAMES: Notice how lawmakers frame questions on surveysBy Rich James nwitimes.com
January 15, 2014 12:00 am  • 

You’ve probably gotten a constituent survey in the mail recently from your state representatives.

They are slick brochures, paid for and mailed at taxpayer expense.

If nothing else, they serve as public relations gimmicks for our elected officials. It is one of the advantages of being an incumbent.

Your representatives ask your opinion on issues the Legislature will be considering in the coming weeks.

The brochures are intended to make you feel like your opinion counts. On a very few isolated issues, your thoughts might impact the vote of your legislators. For the most part, it is just a warm and fuzzy, feel-good kind of thing.

I’ve seen brochures from Sen. Frank Mrvan, a Hammond Democrat, and from Hal Slager, a Schererville Republican, in the last couple of weeks.

The legislator’s questions – or lack thereof – reveal a good bit about themselves. The wording also can be indicative of how they feel on an issue.

For instance, Slager asks if you support preschool programs for low-income families. Mrvan wants to know if you support such programs for all children.

Each candidate wants to know if you support expanding Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act to more than 400,000 uninsured residents. Slager goes a step further and says it will cost Hoosiers $2 billion over seven years. Slager uses the word Obamacare. Mrvan doesn’t.

Slager asks if the constituent supports a state constitutional amendment defining marriage as a union between one man and one woman. Mrvan goes a step further and points out that current law defines marriage as a union between a man and woman. The similar but different questions are meant to evoke different answers. Mrvan’s question clearly suggests a constitutional amendment isn’t needed.

Using different, but very similar words, each asks if Indiana should legalize the retail sale of alcohol on Sunday.

And the two also ask similar questions about legalizing small amounts of marijuana, lowering the penalties or keeping the law the same.

That is where the similarities end.

Slager asks if welfare recipients should face random drug tests. Mrvan avoids the question that has been declared unconstitutional and a waste of money in other states.

Mrvan wants to know if the minimum wage should be increased from the current $7.25. Slager ignores the question.

There is another question that Slager asks but Mrvan doesn’t. Slager wants to know if you support a single county executive who would replace the current three county commissioners.

It is one of the recommendations that came out of the Kernan-Shepard study on local government under Gov. Mitch Daniels. I’m pleased to see Slager revive the proposal. It’s a good one.

Now, take a minute and go over the aforementioned questions and ask yourself how much your opinions are going to matter. Go ahead and answer anyway.

Rich James has been writing about state and local government and politics for more than 30 years. Email him at rjames@219.com. The opinions are the writer’s.

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