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COLUMN: Congress still needs input

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TODD YOUNG, U.S. House of Representatives

When times are tough, Americans come together. In the wake of the tragic shootings in Arizona, Hoosiers across southern Indiana have extended our sympathies and prayers to the victims and their families. It is during times like these that our diverse country characteristically unites as “one nation, under God.”

Just days before the Arizona tragedy, I was sworn in as your new congressman. It certainly gave me pause to learn that one of my new colleagues, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, had been shot while fulfilling her most important duty as a U.S. representative: hearing from the very constituents she represents. In short order, that pause gave way to a resolve that my constituents will continue to be heard.

To that end, all 9th District residents should know that my staff and I have been consulting with Capitol Police and local law enforcement to ensure the safety and protection of our southern Indiana congressional offices. It is essential that Hoosiers know they can safely speak their minds as we roll up our sleeves to address pressing national challenges, from job creation to national security.

As our office determines what additional precautions we might take, I keep coming back to one central goal: We cannot – and will not – let the actions of recent days limit your ability to freely access your government, to provide valuable feedback on the services you receive, or to offer input on the issues most important to you. It is my objective to ensure that whether you are visiting our offices, attending our town hall meetings, or stopping by one of our meet-and-greets, you will always feel comfortable sharing your thoughts, concerns, and questions with me and members of my staff.

The strength of our constitutional republic depends upon the continued existence of a dynamic and free society – one where the people themselves directly choose, inform and petition our political leaders. Thanks to regular citizens engaging in the democratic process, this tradition has endured and evolved for 235 years. Along the way, we Americans have overcome many contentious debates, a Civil War, several assassinations and countless economic recessions.

But at every turn, our national character has been proven exceptional precisely because of the direct contributions of engaged individual citizens, who ultimately determine the actions of our government. The violent acts of one disturbed individual are unlikely to undermine all that makes our country great.

Though many of us were shaken by the recent shootings, it would be easy – but fundamentally wrong – for elected leaders to scale back on public appearances, or to only correspond with constituents by mail, e-mail or telephone.

Such actions would unnecessarily constrain one of the unique characteristics of our representative government that makes it truly representative: personal interaction. During tough times like these, we must not shut down the very voices that animate our public debates and inform public servants at all levels of government.

In coming weeks and months, I look forward to seeing and hearing from many of those whom I am fortunate to serve in Congress.

In the wake of the Arizona shootings, let us remember that those who were victimized were, in the finest American tradition, nobly participating in our political process. In my view, we can best honor those victims by rededicating ourselves to actively participate in the political process, too.

Young represents Perry County in the U.S. House.