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Making the People Heard

Freshmen Invite Constituents to Share Their Stories For the Records

Ensuring that constituents have a forum for airing their concerns and their stories is a top priority for Rep. John Yarmuth (D-Ky.). So when the freshman class discussed an initiative that would encourage constituents to relate personal stories on hot-button issues and allow for the submissions to be entered into the Congressional Record, Yarmuth jumped on it.

Two weeks ago, Yarmuth’s office launched the Voices of the People project by adding a section to the Congressman’s Web site where his constituents can submit their anecdotes electronically. The office has since received about 150 messages on everything from the economy and the mortgage crisis to health care and education, said Stuart Perelmuter, Yarmuth’s press secretary.

Right now, the office is sorting through the responses to choose which ones Yarmuth will read on the House floor. The selections will be included in the Congressional Record, which contains the transcripts of everything said on the floor. And they will be broadcast live on C-SPAN to a national audience.

“I think he saw an opportunity to really return the people’s House to the people and make sure the people were literally heard on the House floor,” Perelmuter said. “That’s something that’s been very important to him.”

Rep. Paul Hodes (D-N.H.) is the other Member who has implemented the program so far. Mark Bergman, Hodes’ press secretary, said the Congressman hopes more Members will adopt the program because it gives the people a chance to have their opinions recorded.

Hodes “feels that it’s important for the people of New Hampshire to not only be able to write their Congressman, but be part of the Congressional Record and be a part of history — to have their voices heard on the floor of the House and in front of the nation,” Bergman said.

Perelmuter said that for Yarmuth, the initiative is the “extension of a theme.” It’s another way for him to keep in touch with the people he represents.

Yarmuth likes to hold events that let him personally interact with his constituents in Louisville, Ky., Perelmuter said. Although the stories Yarmuth hears don’t usually contradict his political stances, they sometimes inspire him to look at issues from a new perspective.

“The stories of Louisvillians like you will remind other Members of Congress just why we’re here and who we work for,” Yarmuth wrote on his Web site. “This is a government of the people and by the people, your voice can help ensure that it is for the people as well.”

Perelmuter said he thinks the program is important to facilitate communication between the local constituents and Washington.

“You can’t represent the people without hearing from the people directly,” Perelmuter said.

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