Commentary: Does your representative really represent you?

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) People hand hold cell phones while driving in the Salt Lake Valley in early 2019. The Legislature is considering a bill banning hand held phone use.

During this past legislative session, we lobbied hard to pass House Bill 13, the Hands Free Cell Phone Bill, by Rep. Carol Spackman Moss, which would have made it a primary offense to use a hand-held device while driving.

Such a law has been passed in 22 other states, and is has shown a 13% to 22% decrease in distracted-driving fatalities. The latest Utah poll showed 76% of voters favored such a bill. We had tragic stories of people hit by distracted drivers, and we gave reasons parents obviously should not use phones with children in the car. The bill had sailed through a committee during interim and through another in the session.

On the House floor, we had 42 committed yes votes the day before the vote. Nevertheless, 12 of the yes votes flipped, and the bill failed by a vote of 41 to 32. We were devastated. How could they not represent the people’s will and again defeat the bill on its third try?

I’ve spent many years up at the Legislature lobbying as a pediatrician, learning about how the system works and gaining respect for our legislators. I hear people say, “They’re a bunch of crooks,” the whole thing is “Mickey Mouse,” and “It doesn’t make any difference if I vote or not.”

I say, to the contrary, legislators work hard at their elective jobs, and they are poorly paid for their extensive work in the 45-day session and during the rest of the year in monthly Interim sessions. Nearly all are doing the best job they can, often in contrary circumstances, and faced with the conflicting input they receive, to arrive at votes with which they can feel comfortable.

We really do have a representative Legislature. It’s simply that our representatives and senators are asked to listen to and represent a number of different interests on a given issue -- their constituents, polls of their districts, the public at-large, paid lobbyists representing commercial interests which may contribute to the legislator’s re-election campaign, volunteer lobbyists, their party’s leadership, other legislators they listen to and, finally, each legislator’s own ideology, opinions, beliefs and interests.

So cut these folks some slack! But only some slack. After all, they campaigned for the job. And, if you disagree with enough of their votes for or against issues you supported or opposed, then your real power is to try to vote them out of office in the 2020 election, a year and a half from now, instead of just going along with the opinions of your friends and neighbors, or your party.

Now, not long after the legislative session, is the time for you to dig into your senator’s and representative’s voting records on the issue or issues you cared about, and decide whether you want to re-elect that person.

If you don’t already know, here’s how to find out. First, you have to know who your state senator and representative are, and the number of the bill or bills in question. Then you go to “le.utah.gov”; to “Bills,” to “2019 General Session,” to “House or Senate Bill Number,” to “Status” to see the votes on the bill and, finally, to the list of senators and representatives who voted yes and no to find yours.

Whew! But worth it.

Write your results down so you can remember it way over in the campaign of November, 2020. Your vote will count – believe it!

Tom Metcalf is a retired pediatrician and community activist living in Murray.