Contacting the Governor’s Office

Back in February, there was a lot of discussion about a database that the Connecticut Secretary of States’ office used to track communications with constituents. It seemed to me like it was something every state office ought to be doing, so I sought out similar data from the other constitutional offices as well as the Governor and Lt. Governor’s office.

Friday afternoon, I received the final piece of data I’ve been seeking. It came from the Governor’s office and was a spreadsheet of approximately 3500 contacts to the Governor’s office about legislative issues. It took quite a while to receive this information for a variety of reasons, including the Governor’s office concern about not revealing information, such as home addresses of state judges, that not only are they not required to supply, but in fact, are required to keep confidential.

I was told that the entire database was over 150,000 records with over 90 different fields. As I negotiated with the Governor’s office, I sought the simplest way getting a large enough sample of data to analyze. In the end, I received 3634 records with nine populated columns. It would be fascinating to get a larger set of data and I hope that someone with more time and resources will pursue this. As it is, I don’t really have enough time to fully analyze the data I’ve received.

Yet even with that, on a quick analysis, there is some fascinating information. So far this year, the Governor’s office lists around 150 contacts on legislative issues. Seventy four were about House Bills, fifty two were about Senate Bills, and the rest were not clearly related to a specific bill. Of the house bills, thirty nine were about House Bill 5545, An Act Concerning Deficit Mitigation for the Fiscal Year Ending June 30, 2010. Many aspects of this bill were highly controversial.

The bill which came in second in terms of contacts was House Bill 5473, An Act Concerning Actions to Recover Damages for the Sexual Abuse, Sexual Exploitation or Sexual Assault of a Minor. This bill would have eliminated “the statute of limitations for an action to recover damages for the sexual abuse, sexual exploitation or sexual assault of a minor” and eliminated “the homestead exemption in such cases”. Three people contacted the Governor’s office in favor of the bill, six against, and the rest had no notation.

The bill never made it to the floor of the house to be voted on, and it took me a little while before I realized why this was so contentious. The underlying issue was about Priests.

Also with twelve contacts was House Bill 5425, An Act Concerning Special Education. All twelve people contacting the Governor’s Office about this bill supported it and she signed it into law on June 8th.

There are a couple important things that I take away from this initial analysis. Elected officials do keep track of who contacts them about specific issues. This is important. People writing to an elected official should expect information about them to be kept in a database that is accessible under Freedom of Information laws. Personally, I think this is a good thing. We should be able to find out who is attempting to influence our elected officials.

More importantly, not a lot of people end up in the database. This may be a problem with record keeping at the Governor’s office, or it may be that a lot less people contact the Governor than others realize. I suspect it is a bit of both. That said, it appears as if even Governor’s do not hear from constituents as much as is necessary for a vibrant democracy. So, the next time someone asks you to contact the Governor about an issue, take a little bit of time, find out more about the issue, and send the Governor a well thought out message about the actions you believe should be taken. It just may have more of an impact than you expect.

Note:People wishing to receive a copy of the spreadsheet are encouraged to contact me directly.

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