There are many similarities between my birth country, Australia, and the USA but there are also many differences, and they’re not always noticed at first glance. One that took a while to become obvious lies in the attitudes of politicians towards their constituents – and I’m talking about “us mortal critters here at the headwaters,” to borrow from Pogo.
Anyone who’s ever lived in Australia will tell you that pretty well every time you move house (I’m getting better, I used to say “shift”), among the first items to arrive in the new letterbox (you can’t win ’em all) would be letters of introduction from the Government Members of Parliament, both State and Federal, their equivalents on the Opposition benches, the odd one or two from political hopefuls on the fringes and usually a couple from the Shire or Municipal councillor for your district. Each letter also gives you the pollie’s contact details.
I know that the reason they send this stuff lies more in spreading propaganda than in a genuine desire to know your concerns, but it is still, in my opinion, a Good Thing. Deep in your heart of hearts you know that despite the rhetoric these coves aren’t really Working Tirelessly on Your Behalf, but at least they did you the courtesy of letting you know where they could be reached, thereby saving you the trouble of having to hunt for the information.
I’d been in Kentucky for about four months before it sunk in that I’d not received one single piece of unsolicited mail from any elected member of any level of government and it came as quite a surprise. It’s not as if I’m invisible; I have a Permanent Resident card, a Kentucky Driver’s License and my name is on the property deeds for Butterfly Bottom. I also must pay State and property taxes and am liable to the IRS for any taxes owed by me to the Federal Government. Neither do I think it has anything to do with the fact that I’m not a US citizen because my wife is, and she hasn’t heard from them. Anyway, I thought, wouldn’t permanent residency suggest that I had more than a passing interest in who my elected representatives are and what they stand for?
The information booklet I’d received along with my Permanent Resident card informed me I have limited voting rights and am entitled to almost all the other benefits enjoyed by US citizens (including gun ownership!) and for that I feel grateful and privileged – apart from the bits that scare me this is a great country in which to be a guest. However, when I tried to find out what these limited voting rights are, I hit a brick wall. I couldn’t find anything on the Federal Government’s website (though in its defense I’ll say that Australians have a different way of presenting information to the researcher) and was getting a bit frustrated until I was almost blinded by the obvious: I’d write to my Elected Representatives.
Not wanting to do things by half I sent a letter via the US Postal Service to my State Senator and another, identical, message to my Elected Senator in Washington, DC. This last was sent by email, the Senator’s postal address not being disclosed on the website.
I raised two issues, one, the matter of my voting entitlements, being a very minor thing. I am, after all, just a grain on a very big beach. The other, however, I consider to be of some importance: the appalling state of telecommunications in my area of Kentucky. This is a very productive little region, with lots of working farms turning off sheep, cattle, goats and other livestock as well as large amounts of grain, vegetables and fruits along with tobacco and so on.
You’d think that we’d be able to get decent high-speed internet here not 30 minutes by back roads from the State Capital and only 20 from a largish regional center, but not so. Very poor cell-phone coverage also. I’d also seen figures suggesting that less than half of the USA has access to high-speed internet service, so, being a country boy from way back, I pointed this out to the Senators and politely asked their opinion.
Well, about six weeks or so passed, then I got a letter from my State Senator’s office, signed by an aide, thanking me for my letter and telling me, in half a dozen lines or less, that if I went to the Federal Government’s website, there I would find out about my rights and that the Senator was aware of the need for good telecommunications (though at the time there was no email address listed for him on the State Government’s website). It’s been three months now and still no word from Our Man In Washington.
Shall I put this down as just another Cultural Difference and is it a Good Thing or a Bad Thing?