Emily M. DeArdo

writer

How to successfully contact your elected representatives

politicsEmily DeArdoComment

(Or, Please be short and sweet)

Some of you long-time readers will remember that I worked for the state and federal government for more than a decade. In that time, I did a good share of direct work with constituents--meaning I answered the phones, read their mail, and saw the emails that poured into the office from all directions. I learned, very quickly, that some people have no idea how to properly communicate with their congressmen/women or state representatives.

In the spirit of Civic Education, I offer:

How to Communicate Well With Your Elected Representatives

1) Be polite. That's the most important. The person answering the phone is not the state representative himself. It's an aide. No matter how angry you are, or how passionate you feel, I guarantee you that the person answering the phone did not cause all your problems and is in no way responsible for them. BE NICE TO THIS PERSON. 

2) These offices are not well-staffed, especially at the state level. At the congressional level, yes, there is more staff--because there are D.C. and district offices. But even then, there are not thirty people all manning phones who have endless amounts of time to listen to constituent spiels.

So please keep your speech SHORT. As in, one succinct paragraph. Do not get on the phone with a script from your Advocacy Agency of Choice that's multiple paragraphs--especially multiple long paragraphs. The aide doesn't have time to listen to all that and she will not write everything you say down. She will probably write something like, "Against pigeon welfare bill. Says pigeon hunting is fun" on her notepad, no matter how many minutes Mr. X is talking about the joy of hunting pigeons. 

(I honestly don't know why advocacy groups give these hugely long speeches to their supporters. They're not the best way to make your case. The poor aide just starts to tune out or freak out that the person won't stop talking.) 

3) Please make it clear what you're talking about. Don't just get on the phone and start rambling. Say, "I'm a constituent of Senator Y (maybe add where you're from, which will alert the aide that yes, you have a higher change of being a real constituent), and I am against/for Legislation whatever, and this is why. Thank you." That's it! That's all you need to say!

(Yes, people call offices of representatives that do not live in that area. I don't know why. This bugs me. If you don't live in Speaker Ryan's district, for example, then why are you calling him? Call your own dang representative! Just because he's the Speaker of the House doesn't mean that his poor aides want to hear from the entire country!)  

4) If you really want to say all five paragraphs, or you have pages and pages and pages of things to say on the Joys of Pigeon Hunting, then send an email or a real letter. Mail that is received on legislative topics is indeed noted. We were always aware of how much mail was being received about legislation. Email. Send a letter. (But still be polite!)

5) Actually talk to them about something they can help you with. When I interned for my congressman, I was in one of his district offices. People would call to talk about the city's trash collection. 

That's not a federal problem. Call the city. Not us. 

In summary: Be Polite. Be Succinct. Call your actual representative/congressperson/senator. If you have a lot to say, email/use the USPS.