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Advice from a Citizen Legislator

Advice from a Citizen Legislator

Bill-Risk-bylineby Dr. William B. Risk, Lafayette, IN


A short time after the Indiana Dental Association’s annual meeting, I had a conversation with State Representative Randy Truitt. Representative Truitt has served District 26 in the Indiana House (made up of Wabash and Union townships in Tippecanoe County, including the city of West Lafayette) for four terms and is not seeking reelection this year. He had an interesting observation about not running again.

Representative Truitt likes the idea of a citizen’s legislature but he thinks that elected policymakers should only serve a certain finite number of years. In his case that is eight years. At that point, he believes the lawmaker should step aside and let someone else with his/her own unique perspectives come to Indianapolis and continue to mold the legislative solutions to the ever changing needs of Hoosiers. Another pleasing aspect of a citizens legislature for Rep Truitt is that the legislator has to go home during the week or on the weekends and receive immediate feedback, hear the ramifications, and see the reactions to what was accomplished on the various topics debated at the statehouse.

During our 45-minute conversation, Representative Truitt’s ongoing message was how important it is for members of the dental community to get involved and make sure they have a voice. It is essential for dentists to support the dental association because the association has staff, board members and volunteers who consistently lobby on issues important to dentistry. Individual dentists can write checks and get actively involved. Contact your legislator, testify, serve on a committee, but don’t just sit on the sideline and complain.

“The worst type of bill for me to vote on is one I’ve heard from no one on,” Rep Truitt told me. “When I’m down there [the Statehouse] I hate dealing with a bill that I don’t know what my constituency… feels. So the only way you can really make a difference is if you are being a strong advocate on issues that are important to you.” Rep Truitt added that every dentist should reach out to their state senator and their state representative to make contact and start building a relationship.

When asked the best way to get in touch with your legislator, Rep Truitt’s number one piece of advice was to attend district events; but beyond that, it is important to contact your legislators in any way possible. Use email, send a hand written note, or make a phone call to your legislators. They will respond because they need the expert information you possess by being a dentist. Being citizen legislators, our lawmakers need to have input from their constituents so they can make decisions that reflect the needs and desires of the communities they serve.

According to Rep. Truitt, other than Dr. Denny Zent (IDA member and State Representative), most legislators have no idea of the issues important to the dental community. He said that it is our, dentistry’s, responsibility to inform the legislature of our concerns and possible consequences.

Rep Truitt went on to say that it is very important to vote, not only to participate in the election process, but also so you can present yourself to your legislator as a voter. When contacted, the legislators not only check to see if you are a constituent, but they also check to see if you are a registered voter. These lawmakers want to know if you are an active participant in the system at even the most rudimentary level.

The biggest take away from my conversation with Rep Truitt is that state legislators need our expertise, our
advice, and our experience in order to properly address dental issues in Indiana. It is never too late to start being an advocate for the dental profession. The best part of having a citizens legislature is that policymakers rely on expert input from us so the best solutions can be achieved.

Interview Highlights:

How can dentists make a difference in the political process?

What is the best way for dentists to meet their legislators?

What is the best way for dentists to communicate with their legislators?

Do legislators really want to hear from their dentist constituents?

Why is it important for dentists to build relationships with their legislators?

If a dentist has never met his legislator before, what should he do?

Why is it important for dentists to voice their opinions to elective leaders?

Should dentists be intimidated by meeting their legislators?

Why is it important for a dentist to vote?

If a dentist wants to get involved, what should he do?


Watch the interview in its entirety