After the 2016 election, Arkansas Rep. Greg Leding noticed “a sudden spike in people compelled to do something” in politics. As a someone who oined the political scene who was compelled to get more involved after national politics hit close to home‚—namely when his representative, Bill Clinton, ran and won the race for the presidency—Leding has made a concerted effort to make an impact in his home state by bringing more people into the loop on state issues.
However, Leding acknowledges that sometimes helping constituents become informed about state government can be a challenge. With a simple cause and effect, the argument for why you need to pay attention to your state legislature is clear: it is easier to impact state legislatures, and decisions made at the state level have a larger impact on your life.
With smaller districts than your legislators at the federal level and shorter legislative sessions, legislators have more time to meet with constituents, and fewer constituents that they have to interact with. For Greg Leding, this means finding ways to foster face-to-face meetings with constituents.
One way that Leding seeks to meet his constituents and engage in conversation is at his constituent coffee hours. These coffee chats give Leding a chance to hear from voters about their concerns. While this isn’t necessarily an uncommon practice for legislators, Leding has sought ways to take these meetings out-of-the-box by also running “Constituents on Tap” at local bars and organizing times to meet outside working hours for those who aren’t available to meet him at a coffee shop during the day. Additionally, he has Campus Coffees to engage students at the University of Arkansas.
“[Each coffee] has anywhere from two to a dozen people,” Leding said. “People are always cordial, even though I know that not every vote I cast makes everyone happy.”
If your local official has a chance for you to meet face-to-face to discuss the issues of the day, you should take advantage and use your time to voice your opinions or make legislators aware of an issue you care about.
“State legislation affects more people, but they pay less attention,” Leding told Quorum.
While hot button issues like guns on the University of Arkansas campus have sparked involvement in state politics, there are a plethora of issues that are handled at the state level that don’t necessarily get significant attention. For example, a high school student approached Leding about working to get Native American languages offered in Arkansas schools. With the initiative of this high school student, Leding was able to help put together a proposal for the Arkansas Department of Education to consider.
Leding noted that the action you take at the state level can impact what goes on at the federal level, suggesting one’s involvement in state politics can have an outsized impact.
“It’s especially important to pay attention If you’re a conservative aligned against the federal government,” Leding told Quorum. “If you’re in a progressive state, states can be labs for innovation before it makes it to the federal level.”
Regardless of what state you are in and where your ideology aligns with that of the chamber, there is a lot to be gained from activity in state politics with easier access to legislators. For Greg Leding, it is important to get more Arkansans involved in what’s happening in Little Rock, especially in a time of chaotic national discourse. Constituents feel a greater impact by what happens in their home state, and with easier access to make your voice heard, it’s important to keep tabs on state politics.