With the elections over let’s take a look at the future. It’s hard to believe that it was 16 years ago that I was first elected to the legislature. It some ways it seems another lifetime and in some ways it seems like yesterday. As we get older that makes more sense than when we were young.
We are now beginning the second generation of legislators since I was term limited. My old district no longer exists and they even changed the numbers. But, the duties of State Representative remain the same and the solemn responsibility to the people they represent is still paramount in the performance of those duties.
As our new legislators take the reins of office in January let me remind the public what those duties are and challenge the new State Reps on the responsibilities they have agreed to. First of all, a state legislator is not a member of Congress and they don’t make $175,000 a year and have a full staff to serve their district.
Nope, our state reps and senators make $36,000 a year and sometimes don’t even have one paid staff member. I know that some of our local folks are going to share an assistant so that they can save the state some money so thank them for that.
So for that $36,000 a year they will be away from their family 4 days a week 5 months out of the year and when at home will get lots of calls and lots of invitations to attend events. If they are like me, most of my days during session started at 8 in the morning and lasted usually until 11 pm. And that was pretty typical for the 8 years I was in Jefferson City.
I also shared an apartment with 2 other legislators and the living accommodations were pretty spartan. Luxurious living as not part of the job. But I spent so little time there it didn’t really wasn’t that big a deal.
It sounds like I’m whining about the 8 years I spent but quite the opposite. That period was the most rewarding of my life because I was able to impact people’s lives in so many positive ways. I thank God that I was given the opportunity to represent the people of Southwest Missouri.
So for the public, understand that your state legislators can do a lot but they can’t do everything you might want. When it comes to voting on issues, they are one vote of 163 in the House and one of 34 in the Senate and it takes a majority in both chambers to pass legislation. So, while they can champion certain causes, they can’t single handedly do anything legislatively. And they can’t change things that don’t seem fair just because you call them and complain.
Now, here is what they can and should do – they can listen to you, take your concerns seriously and be honest with you when you call. Some people think that passing legislation is the most important part of being a legislator and it is what they are elected to do. But, just as important is being a voice for the constituents who have problems navigating the sea of state agencies and all the regulations that they oversee.
It is neat to sponsor a bill that ends up getting passed. Sometimes it can be a big deal and the governor even invites you to a bill signing ceremony. And, it’s personally rewarding to be a committee chairman. But, to the people you represent these things aren’t that big a deal.
What is important is that you treat them with the respect they deserve when they call with a problem and you do everything within your power to help them. That is the real rewarding part of being a state legislator and why you have been put in that place.
For the last eight years our local legislators have lived up to that model and I have all confidence that our new ones will do so as well. I wish them the best and look forward to great things from them during their tenure in Jefferson City.
Thanksgiving is upon us and Christmas will be here before we know it. This time of year has become so commercialized with the focus on spending more and more on “things” that we sometimes forget what is most important – our family, friends and community and our relationships.
Please do not get so caught up in serving the God of “things” that you forget the real God and the great things He has given us. Don’t have everything you want? That’s not the important question to focus on. Do you have everything you truly need? That’s what is what is most important.
“Things” are transitory but the relationships you have and what you do for others last forever. This season focus not on material things but on serving others. And be thankful always for what you have.
-Retired Missouri state representative Kevin Wilson writes a weekly column for The Neosho Daily News.