Feet on the Street in DC

by Richard G. Johnstone Jr., Exec. Editor

Richard Johnstone
Richard Johnstone

It’s easy — perhaps unavoidable — to be cynical in our age of irony and full disclosure and 24/7 coverage of scandals large, small and at times nonexistent. And yet … those of us of a certain age can remember a time when Civics was taught in classrooms and citizenship was practiced and praised as a community virtue. And, yes, elected officials were looked up to as role models, not down on as sleazy or oily or corrupt.

The news media that are now so constantly available to us, extract a price from us. As the number of media outlets has grown, exponentially it seems, the nature of the coverage has become more sensational and the tone more shrill, with tabloid tactics now too often the province of the mainstream, and not just the fringe, media. 

In a simpler time, viewers would take in the evening network news, and readers, the local daily paper. Now these viewers and readers have been dispersed among a huge and growing array of media outlets, both electronic and print. This of course has led to much more feverish competition among these various media, each seeking out larger scandals and more egregious wrongdoers. Such constant one-upmanship in the down-and-dirty may boost ratings, but it oftentimes deflates our opinion and distorts our view of institutions that we should scrutinize, certainly, but that we should also respect, such as law enforcement, the courts, and elected officials both local and national.

And it’s with this as a backdrop that about 3,000 electric cooperative leaders from across the country journeyed to Washington , D.C. , the second week of May, to visit with Members of Congress on issues important to your community, and your cooperative. Representing Virginia ’s 13 electric cooperatives were about 65 folks, mostly board members elected by fellow cooperative member-consumers.

Virginia ’s electric cooperative leaders visited with eight of the Commonwealth’s 11 Members of Congress and with both U.S. Senators, John Warner and Jim Webb.

Specifically, we asked these elected officials to:


Devote adequate national resources to research and develop the technologies needed to address climate change, and to offer not-for-profit electric cooperatives equitable incentives to deploy these technologies.


Maintain the traditional mission of — and provide adequate funding levels for — the federal Rural Utilities Service, which has for over 70 years provided loans to electric cooperatives to allow us to build and maintain the infrastructure needed to serve our member-consumers reliably and affordably.


Help rein in rail-transport costs.


Rehabilitate and maintain a strong federal public-power program, including the two hydropower units in Southside Virginia that provide an important part of the peak-load needs of the Commonwealth’s electric cooperatives.


Provide appropriate incentives for electric cooperatives to build power-generating facilities that use renewable fuels, on a par with incentives provided to other types of electric utilities.

(For more information on any of these issues, just drop us a note here at Cooperative Living, using the contact information in the adjoining box.)

In hallways and offices and meeting rooms all around Capitol Hill, your cooperative’s leaders practiced the old-fashioned art of face-to-face conversation and give-and-take with our elected representatives in Washington . As a constituent, it would obviously be easier to send your representative an e-mail or sign a petition or make a phone call; but for an elected official, there’s surely nothing quite as earnest or honest or impressive as having “the folks back home” sit down with you and share ideas and concerns.

Even in this hyperlinked age, it seems that there are still few messages more compelling than those delivered by the “feet on the street” of concerned citizens.


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