One-on-one time with constituents important for legislator

I speak often to students, of ages ranging from elementary to high school.

I love hanging out with kids and have found them to be more willing to engage in their government than many adults. I hope, by speaking to students, that they will become interested, as adults, in being engaged civically in their communities.

Every speaking opportunity includes a bit of a rundown of what I do as your legislator. However, there is often that kid who wants more information and inquires a little deeper, so I give them a more detailed explanation of what my job entails.

That’s when I confess to them what I really do: I go to coffee a lot.

Some state representatives, in addition to the time they spend at their capitol offices, have a district office closer to home in which they do much of their business when we are not in session. This makes sense particularly if you live in Medford, Ontario, or other far-off places.

I have chosen not to spend the money on a district office or staff.

I choose to meet constituents in their homes, businesses, or coffee shops and restaurants. Although my house district is rather large, geographically, I want to meet people where they are.

This is probably why I have put more than 40,000 miles on my car in 18 months. I have found that my effectiveness is largely dependent on the relationships I build. I find sharing a meal or coffee with someone is a much better way to build a relationship than a formal office setting.

I have discovered that the role of a state representative is as much as a problem solver as a lawmaker. In fact, I work to solve problems without a law.

Laws are carved in stone. The process to repeal a law or change it is just as arduous as making a new law. Sometimes a problem doesn’t need a new law to be solved.

Unfortunately, state government is sometimes challenging to navigate. My position affords me the opportunity to connect constituents with the right resources. Over the years I have cultivated many relationships that oftentimes prove to benefit those that reach out to me with concerns.

I remember the constituent who asked for help with a county property tax issue. I reached out to one of the county commissioners whom I knew and the issue was promptly resolved.

Let me be clear: My role does not give me the right to pull strings. We do not want state legislators operating in that capacity.

But just like any job, as we build relationships, based on respect and trust, we increase our ability to be effective.

I value the opportunity I have to advocate for my constituents. It is a privilege to have the role of problem solver for my friends and neighbors.

– Sherrie Sprenger represents most of Linn County, including Lebanon, as part of her 17th District of the Oregon House of Representatives, where she has served since 2008.  Prior to her service in the legislature, she chaired the Lebanon School Board.