Ah, it’s that time of the decade again! As you know, every ten years states undergo a redrawing of districts that affects the make-up and boundaries of each district – and will impact your boss’ constituency in the coming Congress. In some districts the population might not be altered very much, but in others the Member’s constituency could be completely different. You may end up representing a new ethnic population or add a military post. Whatever the results may be, it is important for you and your new constituents to get to know one another so that your office can provide the best possible service. CMF has outlined five areas you should keep in mind while learning about and supporting your boss’ new constituency.
1. Assessing Your Office Management System
Here at CMF we strongly suggest a regular assessment of your office management system, especially at a time like this where your whole staff may have to change how they work. Your office’s Chief of Staff and District Director should have a discussion on what this change will impact how the office currently functions. Asking questions specifically about: (1) your communication system, (2) staff capabilities to deal with new issues (3) adopting new cases and giving cases to other offices, and (4) new legislation and leadership opportunities for the Member will help to adapt your management system to your new district’s needs. This list is not exhaustive, but it can get you started.
Come January, you know that you will have some brand new constituents. Unfortunately, the constituents you lost and the new ones you have gained most likely will not be aware of that. Active communication during these transitional months will be key and it is important to remain vigilant throughout the process so that you don’t drop the ball.
Your offices will get calls, emails, and letters that no longer will be your responsibility. To deal with this, have your staff create a transition plan that outlines exactly how you want to handle the miscommunication. If you have a plan in place, it will be a much more streamlined and less stressful process to point people in the right direction.
It will also help to add a message about the transition on your Member’s website. Increasingly, people look up who their representative is online before contacting them. If you have a message front and center on your website describing who you now represent and where your previous constituents should go, it will remove a lot of initial confusion.
3. New Issue Areas
As mentioned before, it is likely your district will now contain new populations with various issues that previously weren’t a key part of your work. It is extremely helpful to talk to the office who previously worked in these issue areas to get some background information. This can be an exciting development for you and your staff. During your next office wide staff meeting, divide up the new issue areas to your staff so that they can begin researching the topic’s background, existing or proposed legislation, caucuses, and other Members involved.
4. Staffing Requirements
As you acquire new and different populations in the district, it is important to assess how prepared your current staff is. In some circumstances, you may consider adding a new specialist caseworker or training your existing staff to handle the new constituents you will now service. One way to see if you and your staff are prepared is to look at the structure of the office who previously represented your new area. This should be a major discussion during your office management system assessment.
5. Casework Transition
As we have mentioned before, the best way to learn about your new district is to talk with those who have been representing those constituents up until this point. While some offices will only see minor changes, your district may be completely new and comprised of three or four previously separate districts. Whether you only need to meet with one other office or four, it is key for your staff to take the time and sit down with their counterparts in the departing office to discuss the following: a) how cases were managed, b) high level cases that will need to be monitored at a greater level, c) greatest challenges and opportunities to help the district, and d) any general advice.
Transitioning to a new district can be a challenge, much like when your boss first became a Member of Congress. Nevertheless, it is essential to remember what is most important through this process -- serving your constituents and your country to the best of your ability. Help those offices that are taking over some of your old district. Reach out to those who have worked for those you now represent. This is an ideal time to put aside partisanship, get to know your colleagues, and continue to help those in need.