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Published: Friday, 1/9/2004

Michigan senator wants volunteers

It would take 21/2 hours to drive across Michigan s 16th Senate District and nearly a quarter-million handshakes to meet everyone.

State Sen. Cameron Brown, (R., Fawn River) has a different idea.

Like many officials who are sent to Lansing, Mr. Brown said he s trying to ignite interest in state government among his constituents. His method includes attempts at recruiting volunteers in each of the four counties he represents to act as links between the public and the capitol.

So far he s had no takers.

Political scientists long have said that public involvement in government is low. Senator Brown said this is just one attempt to change that.

“It s a little open-ended, but they would be just what we re calling them, community liaisons, the liaisons between the community and the state office, their state office,” he said. “I want them to have a greater sense of engagement with their government.”

The senator said he has not yet received any feedback about the program and admits its somewhat of an experiment. Ideally, he said, he d like to have several residents who will “monitor community news, report on local events,” and inform the senator of events he should be aware of.

The idea of generating interest is certainly not a new one. Other state lawmakers, including State Rep. Doug Spade (D., Adrian), who organizes regular informal meetings with constituents, have tried to bring Lansing to their voters.

Lawmakers have taken individuals and school groups to see how state government works. Mr. Brown said although it s a useful tool, he d like to see more involvement within his district. District 16 encompasses Lenawee, Hillsdale, St. Joseph, and Branch counties.

Kenneth Ross is a political scientist and retired Adrian College professor. He believes many of the successful attempts at getting residents involved are at the school-age level.

“There s a great need for public awareness,” he said. “I think having schoolchildren visit the capital is a good thing but you don t attack a problem like this at only one place.”

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