NMA Email Newsletter: Issue #8

Why write a real letter?

This time of the year many state legislatures are cranking out proposals for solving all manner of problems; some real and some imagined. More often than not these proposals are not based on sound experience or reasoned consultation and they will do more harm than good if passed into law.

Believe it or not, constituent opinions do matter, true some constituents matter more than others, but that doesn’t diminish the importance of making your opinion known.

You can send an e-mail, an aid will scan it and probably arrange for a canned reply. However, they will tally your opinion as for or against the legislation being considered. You can make a phone call, again likely to be taken by an aid, and you will have their attention for at least the space of time you have them on the phone. They may or may not record the fact you called and the issue you called about. You could also make a personal visit and if the legislator is in his office he will try to take a little time to talk to you, more so if he knows you. You may make an impression on him and if you bring along supporting materials they are likely to be placed in the file with other materials related to the legislation you are interested in. Unfortunately, a personal visit takes a lot of time, involves some stress and expense, and there’s a fair chance the person you want to talk to may not be available.

Or, you can write a short personal letter, include information that supports your position, and mail it with an old fashioned stamp and envelope. When it arrives in the legislator’s office it can’t just be deleted by a 19 year old staffer that isn’t interested in what you have said. It could happen, but sending back a form letter in response to a personal letter is bad form and suggests the legislator is “too busy” or disinterested in what concerns his/her constituent, especially if the constituent has asked a reasonable question. At worst the letter will be answered with an acknowledgment that it was received and it will be placed in the file that will be reviewed when the legislator is preparing to vote on this specific issue. Or, it may end up on the legislators desk for his or her review and response, before being placed in the file.

A personal letter implies effort and thought were invested in its preparation. Its physical presence makes it difficult to easily disregard or ignore its content. It has staying power. Sure, it could be just scanned and tossed away, but that would be the exception. And, when the bill comes up for a vote, there it is, sitting in the file, reminding your state representative or state senator of how one of his/her constituents feels about this issue.

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