Local News

You Make the Call, But Which Elected Officials Call Back?

Posted November 3, 1998

— Nearly every candidate in this year's election promised to do the best job serving voter's needs. But what if the voters want to talk to their elected representative personally? WRAL'sMark Robertstakes a look at who is likely to respond when you call.

Jeranna Cannady is a salesperson, mother and, most important for our effort, a registered voter.

To find out how our elected officials would respond to a call from the average voter, we started in Washington, D.C.

"Thank you for calling Senator Helms' office. Can you hold please?"

"Yes, ma'am," Ms. Cannady responds.

The pitch was the same for each call we made. A registered voter, with a question, who wanted to speak to the elected official personally.

Jeranna Cannady persisted with a Helms aide who had taken the call.

"Well, it's nice to speak to you, sir, but I did want to speak to the senator myself. Is that possible?"

"Ummmm, the senator is in a meeting right now. Ummm, I'll be happy to help you," the aide said.

"Does he return phone calls?"

The response? "Ummmm. Ahhhhh...."

The aide did try to help, and Sen. Helms does represent a lot of people. But that was the last our voter heard from the senator's office.

"Hello, may I speak to Congressman Price, please?

"I'm sorry, he's not in. Would you like to leave a message?"

"I would."

One of Rep. David Price's aides called our voter back in less than an hour. But she never heard from the congressman himself.

In a subsequent interview, Price was pleased with his staff, but said it's not practical to always expect a call back from Washington.

"There are 700,000 residents in the district. That's why we have staff, to try to get back to people quickly so that things don't get bottled up. For me trying to do them personally, I get to people personally when I can, but I appreciate people's understanding," Price said.

We set a time limit of one week for each elected representative to get in touch with our average voter. The responses varied greatly, but some of the people who work in the Legislative Building fared pretty well.

Our voter's state senator, Allen Wellons, took her call directly.

State Rep. Billy Creech called back personally three business days later.

A call to Raleigh Mayor Tom Fetzer was never returned.

Our voter says the whole process raises a few questions.

"I wonder... if I had a real legitimate problem how hard would it be to get through to someone and then would they have time for me," Cannady said.

They say every vote counts, but you can't always count on a call back.

If you think it's frustrating trying to get a politician on the phone, just think what it's like when you can't get a person at all.

Thursday on WRAL's 5 O'Clock News, we'll take a look at how tough it can be to get through voice mail, the worst violators, and what's being done about it.


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