Editor\u2019s note: This is the fourth in Current\u2019s series on \u201cpublic participation.\u201d One of the cooler things my father did during his political career was to participate in a very large community meeting with Sammy Davis Jr. The audience was rocking. One of the less cool things he did was to pick up a giant pumpkin at a crowded pumpkin patch, which nearly did him in. Public involvement--painful or otherwise--is critical to political lives. Handshakes, barbecues, responding to constituents\u2019 entreaties, and heaving inanimate objects creates, maintains, and\/or increases voter loyalty. After my father left politics, he continued to respond effusively to anyone who called him \u201cSenator.\u201d During an unexpected warm exchange with a man in downtown San Francisco, my father came alive. Later, I asked my dad who the man was. \u201cI haven\u2019t a clue,\u201d he replied He never forgot the political capital of public relations in and outside the state capitol. Constituent relations create key connections between legislators and the public. The legislative arena is, or should be, another important venue for interactions between lawmakers and members of the public. While constituent relations remain alive and well, public involvement is in sorry shape in the legislative process, though it helps keep legislators in touch with voters. Each state senator is said to represent more than 930,000 Californians, with assemblymembers less than half that number. The increasing flow of special interest money into campaign coffers dwarfs the person-to-legislator ratio. Public voices are too often drowned out by well-paid utility, big business, and other special interest lobbyists pushing their agenda. Constituent input is further weakened by the legislative gut-and-amend process that occurs in the final days of session. In spite of hearings on the bills in both houses over several months, lawmakers strip out bill language and insert new and often unrelated verbiage when lobbyists pack the halls. The bait-and-switch leaves most legislators--and all of the public--as clueless as my dad on the street with an unknown voter. It also makes a mockery of the public hearing process where lawmakers debate legislation. Politicians take testimony from utility, business, consumer and renewable advocates, with the public last in line. In my years covering the Legislature, I\u2019ve noticed that appearances by members of the public at energy bill hearings have dwindled significantly. There are a multitude of reasons, including the challenging nature of the topic and complexity of the legislative process. Constituents have to be able to translate legislative legalese, know the names of committees and hearing dates, as well as the number of a given piece of legislation. Except for Tea Partiers, Code Pink, and other extremists, democracy generally becomes a contact sport only during emergencies During the 2000-01 energy crisis, for example, the halls and hearing rooms were filled with members of the public. Some even composed and sang songs, including Christmas Carols lampooning the 1996 deregulation scheme. There are other reasons for skimpy public participation over the last several years, including that there has only been a handful of dramatic bills. Those few include the climate protection bill and legislation requiring utilities to procure one-third of their electricity supplies from renewable sources. It takes a lot of gumption and time to get involved. People are overloaded and scrambling to make ends meet. Overextension is exacerbated by the major loss of talented and skilled energy journalists to inform the public about energy matters at the state capitol. Nearly all of the energy reporters I worked along side in 2000-01 are history. There are few easy answers to increasing public participation in the legislative process. Significant changes are unlikely until the flood of corporate money into politics is stanched. But steps can be taken to increase public participation, including making the process more accessible and transparent. In a search for public input and equality, lawmakers should: -Dedicate staff to engaging their constituents in the legislative process on par with staff dedicated to handling constituent\u2019s personal complaints. -Spend equal amounts of time with paid lobbyists and members of the public, although admittedly challenging given the huge pressure to raise funds. -Define terms used in presentations and debates on energy bills. The use of acronyms and terms of \u201cart,\u201d be it \u201cfirst deliverer\u201d of electricity, \u201cprocurement,\u201d or \u201cRPS,\u201d should be eliminated. -Don\u2019t wait until the end of a hearing for public input nor include unreasonable restrictions. The California Public Utilities Commission, for example, starts its meetings with public feedback. That allows those who take the time to testify to not wait around for hours. -Allow remote public testimony. These steps are small, but could provide momentum. Ignoring the problem could cause far more harm than that of stepping forward to lift a massive pumpkin.