A day in the life of a first-time citizen lobbyist

Last week, I began my internship with the Madison County chapter of KFTC. I am currently a student at Eastern Kentucky University, where I will complete my B.A. in their Criminal Justice next semester. As I am one of a seemingly small minority in that program that does not intend to seek employment in a law enforcement career, but would rather find a more social justice focused vocation, I find that KFTC and I share a great many ideas and opinions on our current criminal justice system.

In this blog entry I hope to show exactly what the average lobbyist experiences, and what anyone can help to accomplish by joining an organization like KFTC.

Up until last Wednesday, I may have held an opinion on the subject of Voting Rights for former felons, but I believed I had no way to express it outside of the classroom and my own personal vote for state representatives. Like many people, I hold certain ideas and feelings about how our society and the law should operate, and, luckily, I have the right to vote.

The day began just before 8 a.m. when I met with others in Berea to carpool to Frankfort. I had a pleasant drive getting to know members Daniel Morgan and Dorie and Tom Hubbard and talking over key points of our voting rights bills, HB 70 and SB 15. After we arrived in Frankfort we met with more KFTC members and were given a packet full of talking points and information to help us in our lobby meetings. After a brief training with KFTC staff, we split into teams and headed to lobby.

Madison County members Tom Hubbard, Daniel Morgan, and Dorie Hubbard get trained by Heather Mahoney

Rep. Smart was extremely cordial, quickly noticing that our group contained a face she didn’t recognize: my own. After a quick introduction, we sat and quickly confirmed her support of the bill. She then gave us names of others to meet with and offered suggestions for how to approach them. My task for the meeting was taking notes so I did just that.

After our time together we thanked Representative Smart for her time and advice and left her office knowing she was in favor of restoring former felons’ right to vote.

Dorie Hubbard talks with Rep. Rita Smart during Voting Rights Lobby Day 2014Next up was a meeting with Senator Jared Carpenter. For this meeting, our group joined with another from Madison County. Sen. Carpenter is from Berea and had obviously met some of my companions before (many times probably), and there was a real sense of warmth in the way he spoke to each and every one of us. He, like Representative Smart, quickly noticed the new faces in the room, Brea, a fellow intern from Berea College, and me. After brief introductions, we got down to the mission at hand: garnering his support for House Bill 70 and Senate Bill 15.

Madison County members meeting with Sen. Carpenter during Voting Rights Lobby day 2014

Sen. Carpenter listened to each of us in turn and even took notes. He mentioned that some members of the state senate were of the “tough on crime” mentality and felt that former felons not having the right to vote fit that sentiment. We pointed out to Sen. Carpenter, among other points, that former felons who are able to vote are twice as likely to remain out of the criminal justice system and that not allowing them to fully recommit to the social contract, we were in fact alienating them.

In the end, it was a great meeting, and Sen. Carpenter confirmed his support for the bill. So we were two for two! Two meetings, two supporters!

After lunch we all gathered in the Capitol Rotunda, along with more than 100 others and heard from many different speakers about voting rights including former felons, supportive non-profits, and even a number of state representatives and senators. It was very empowering to hear firsthand from individuals who were being forced into taxation without representation by our government, some of whom have never had the opportunity to vote.

Voting Rights rally 2014 attendees pause for prayer

Following the rally, we all came together to debrief the day. Most people found their meetings encouraging and there was an overall sense of support for HB 70  from most of the representatives people met with. This was great news! Everyone seemed to feel there was real momentum and that the bill would again be passed in the House and that this is the year for it to pass the Senate. We then turned in our notes, said our goodbyes, and made our way home.

People gathered to de-brief the 2014 Voting Rights Lobby Day.I would absolutely recommend lobbying, not just to friends I know hold similar views, but to everyone in general. I think if more people were lobbying for the things they believe in it would be easier for our politicians to know how to vote on issues and represent our opinions through the law.

Lobbying should be the rebuttal argument for those in our communities who don't see the necessity or the power of voting, to all of those who I overhear say that their vote doesn't matter in the long run. I now see lobbying, by actual citizens of the community and not giant corporations, to be an invaluable part of our democratic system.

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Comments

Nice write up old friend. Glad you are fighting the fight.

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