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Archive for Sunday, October 27, 1991

LISTENING TO THE FOLKS BACK HOME

October 27, 1991

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The swearing-in last week of Clarence Thomas as the 106th Supreme Court justice didn't end complaints by Kansans to their U.S. senators.

Some local residents who tried to make telephone calls to their senators during Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas's confirmation proceedings were frustrated the phone lines were jammed.

"My feelings of helplessness infuriated me," wrote Amy Clark Beal, 1123 Ind., in a recent letter to the Journal-World.

Beal wrote that she tried to reach the office of Sen. Nancy Kassebaum, R-Kan., for three days and all she could get was a ringing telephone.

"After the vote I heard on a radio broadcast that Republican senators were not taking calls from constituents. Just who are they representing?" Beal wrote.

INTERVIEWS last week with Kassebaum, Rep. Jim Slattery, D-Kan., and with an aide for Sen. Bob Dole, R-Kan., indicated that telephone calls and letters weigh heavily in helping members of Congress make their decisions on votes.

However, individual input from citizens can become lost in a sea of mail and calls congressional offices receive especially on controversial issues such as the Thomas confirmation, they said.

During a telephone interview Friday, Kassebaum said she had noticed Beal's letter to the editor and hadn't been able to get in contact with Beal by telephone since the Senate voted to confirm Thomas.

"On an issue like this, the calls were tremendous and had been for several days," Kassebaum said. "I was in Kansas that weekend and tried to call in on Columbus Day. I couldn't get through to my own office because the lines to the Capitol were all busy. The phone systems here were just deluged."

KASSEBAUM, who announced her support of Thomas before Anita Hill made sexual harassment charges against him, said her mail and telephone calls on the issue were split for and against the nominee.

"I got a lot of mail, and you factor in that a lot of mail is generated by the interest groups on both sides," she said.

Kassebaum said she was also deluged by calls during the Persian Gulf build-up.

"I care about the mail . . . particularly handwritten letters. They are obviously from people who care a great deal," she said. "I think what I have to do is not only weigh the general feeling of the public but I have to exercise some general decision-making on my own."

Walt Riker, Dole's press secretary, said because Dole is one of the most influential leaders in Congress, he probably gets more mail and telephone calls than anyone else on Capitol Hill.

DOLE RECEIVES calls and letters from five offices in Kansas, his senate office in Washington, D.C., and at the senate minority leader's office at the Capitol. Riker said Dole probably gets 250 calls a week in his Kansas offices and about 60 issue-related calls a day at his two offices on Capitol Hill.

During the Thomas proceedings, Dole's Capitol Hill offices received about 1,200 calls and 2,000 letters in one week, Riker said.

Generally, mail and telephone calls fall into two categories easily identifiable organized correspondence from some special interest group or input from individuals, he said.

Dole pays attention to all input, Riker said.

"He's very keen on mail and phone calls. He wants to know what's happening in the state. There's no question, it's a significant factor in his determining positions on issues," Riker said. "I've been here 10 years, and there are always letters on his desk he picks out and wants to read."

RIKER SAID telephone calls and mail serve as "instant polling."

"It might not be scientific, but you get a large sample of opinion and it is taken into account," Riker said.

Slattery said he "absolutely" pays attention to telephone calls and letters and believes it is important to respond to them.

"I get over 200 phone calls and letters a day that need answering," he said. "I feel like one of the most important roles of a member of Congress is to explain why I've taken a position on an issue."

Slattery said he gets regular summaries from his staff members about the calls and letters.

"Candidly, phone messages can be a little misleading," he said. He said some issues might energize a group in a district, which in turn generates 1,000 calls to his office. But there may be 400,000 others that don't care about it, he said.

SLATTERY SAID the phone calls indicate the intensity of the feelings on the issue of both sides.

"I have to rely upon not only the input I get from my constituents that call and write, but also the contacts I have with the people in the district," he said.

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