When I first started getting involved in politics, I was terrified! My voice cracked if I had to speak to a legislator in the hall, let alone testify in committee meeting. I had this image in my head that they – the legislators – were different than me and almost unapproachable.
I am glad to say that I was mistaken. They are approachable real people, with real lives, real concerns and a genuine desire to do a good job for the people they represent.
If you worry about approaching a legislator, remember, they live in the same communities we do. Their kids go to the same schools. They are not full-time legislators, so they have “real jobs,” from stay-at-home moms, to attorneys, to farmers, to truckers, to teachers, to small business owners and everything in between. They have to budget and pay taxes, just like the rest of us. Some “grew up” in politics while others never thought they’d end up involved. Some have been involved for years, others are relative new-comers. Some come from the very conservative right, others from the very liberal left and many somewhere in the middle.
One thing they almost all have in common is that they really do want to hear from you, their constituents. But, they can also get hundreds to a thousand-plus emails a day during the legislative session. If you want your message to be heard, here are some tips on using email effectively.
1. Make your subject line as descriptive as possible. “Vote NO!” is not actually descriptive. In addition to the bill number, include either the title or a description of the bill. With hundreds of bills to track, it’s hard to identify them by just a number. “Please vote yes on HB15, the Victims Rights Amendments bill” is better.
2. Identify yourself at the beginning of the email/letter – Name, address (including city), phone right at the top. If you are a constituent, please note that.
3. Don’t mass email. Take the time to send a personalized letter to each senator/representative. It does not take that much extra time. And, mass emails are a good way to guarantee your email does not get read.
4. Please take the time to find out just a little about who you are emailing. Mistakes happen, but calling a female legislator “Him” or calling a senator “Representative,” or vice versa, makes legislators think that you’re probably just mass-emailing everyone.
5. Remember the adage about winning friends and influencing people. Or maybe the one about looking for a win/win. Ripping on a legislator for four paragraphs and then demanding they vote the way you want them to is not usually a winning argument.
6. Your issue is important to you and your legislators want to hear about it. Really. They do. They are also hearing from hundreds of others who have important issues too. Be patient but persistent. (That does not mean spam them, by the way.)
7. If they vote differently than you would like them to, it does not mean they haven’t listened. Go back to tip #6.
8. Related to tips 5, 6, and 7, burning bridges is generally a bad idea. You may not be able to convince them this year, but if you don’t burn bridges, you might next year. Also, disagreeing on one issue does not mean you will disagree on all issues. Disagreeing respectfully is a good way to gain an ally.
9. For face-to-face time, come to the Hill anytime during the session and send in a note letting your legislator know that you, a constituent, would like to speak to them. Showing up carries a lot of weight.
10. Bonus Tip: Remember that your emails are subject to GRAMA and may end up on the transparency website. Don’t write what you don’t want to read on the front page of The Salt Lake Tribune.
Holly Richardson, a regular contributor to The Salt Lake Tribune, salutes those 104 souls in the arena for the next six weeks.