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Communicating with your legislator
Your legislators need and want to hear from you, in order to better represent you, their constituents. You do not have to be an expert to write or send an email; your interest and concern is what counts. Keep in mind that if you do not write, your legislator will only hear from individuals opposed to your position. They do not hesitate to write.
Here are some tips for effective communication:
Identify yourself - Indicate if you are writing on your own behalf or as a member of an organization. Make it clear that the letter is from a constituent. Remind the legislator about any previous visits or communication, if related to the issue about which you are writing. Include your name and address on the letter/email and type or write legibly so they can quickly read your letter.
Identify your subject - State the name of the issue, program or legislation about which you are writing/emailing in the first paragraph. Include the bill number and accurate status, if known. Be friendly and give as much praise as possible. If the legislator provides you with helpful information or services, or if she or he votes as you asked her/him to, give them thanks and a "keep up the good work." This also reminds them you are watching what they do. Be as specific as possible, referring to a bill by name or number if possible. Show your familiarity with the subject and its current status.
State your position - Explain how a specific decision would affect you, your family, your program/facility, your employment, your local community, the legislator's district, or the state. Write the letter/email without copying verbatim from a form letter. Explain your position by focusing on two or three key points.
Be reasonable - Ask for the legislator's support or opposition. Do not ask for the impossible. Do not use threats. Do be firm, confident, and positive.
Keep it short - Make it a page or less and quickly get to what you want. Include or attach newspaper articles or other material to support your points.
Cover only one subject in each letter - Different staff members in the legislator's office cover different issues, so the message may not get to everyone you need. Write several letters if you want to cover more points.
Ask for a reply - Indicate to your legislator that you would appreciate a reply containing his/her position on the issue. As a constituent, you have a right to know your legislator's views.
Follow-up - If your legislator's position or vote on a bill pleases you, express your thanks. Everybody appreciates a complimentary letter. Also, you may want to express your dissatisfaction with votes that do not support your position. However, thank your legislator for his/her attention to your issue, regardless of the outcome of the vote.
Stationery - Write on personal stationery or on plain paper if your employment letterhead is not appropriate. Remember to put your return address on the letter, not just the envelope. Envelopes are often thrown away before a letter is answered.
Copies - Send a copy of your letter to your organization's governmental affairs director or lobbyist if this is appropriate. If writing to a committee chairperson that is not your legislator, send a copy of the letter to him/her.
Do not use form letters - Make it as personal as possible and state how the issues relate to you.
Suggested salutations -
The Honorable Jane Smith
City, State, Zip
Dear Senator Smith:
Dear Representative Smith:
E-mail is an effective way of communicating with legislators. The writing tips presented here apply to e-mails also.
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