JEFFERSON — Sheila Plotkin might seem like an unlikely expert on the constituent communication data of Wisconsin’s legislators. But since 2015, she’s been a tireless advocate for transparency and government accountability.
Plotkin shared her story at a meeting of Indivisible Jefferson County at the Jefferson Public Library Thursday, Oct. 17.
A retired deaf education teacher and founder of We, The Irrelevant, Plotkin spends her days sending open records requests to legislators around the state. What’s she asking for? The communications citizens sent those representatives on hot-button political issues.
“It’s what I do these days,” Plotkin, of Madison, said.
Plotkin said she wanted to see if the state’s politicians were listening to the people who put them in office. She’s got the data on how voters felt about dismantling the Government Accountability Board, public education, environmental regulations and the 2018 lame duck session.
Plotkin has found that overwhelmingly, legislators voted for these measures despite an outcry of public condemnation. For example, her data shows that 98 percent of the nearly 48,000 communications with legislators opposed the lame duck session.
“In what world do elected representatives ignore 47,094 contacts from citizens?” Plotkin asked. “In my opinion, this goes to the heart of our current despair.”
But it wasn’t always easy for Plotkin. She had to sue a number of representatives in order to get the communications in an electronic format so it would be easier to analyze.
“I really wanted their data,” Plotkin, 81, said.
Plotkin’s data, which she says “documents” politicians ignoring the wishes of their voters, includes representatives from Jefferson County.
Jefferson County’s representatives matched the rest of the state when it comes to communications from voters on the lame duck session: 98 percent of communications to Jefferson County legislators opposed the session, Plotkin’s data shows.
But more than holding powerful state leaders to account, Plotkin said she wants to show people around the state — including Indivisible Jefferson County — that anyone can effect change.
“One person does make a difference,” Plotkin said. “If I didn’t believe that, I wouldn’t be here. But I do believe that that’s the case and that’s what democracy teaches us: that we do matter, that one person makes a difference. So whatever solution you find, go for it. Do it.”
Plotkin speaks to a lot of groups like Indivisible Jefferson County and she does it because, she said, she knows her data matters and inspiration matters.
“I think, No. 1, this data is very important to know about,” Plotkin said. “As a teacher, I know the value of inspiration. If I can inspire just one more person, it’s worth it.”