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View Full Version : Does writing letters to senators do anything?


gitfiddle
02-07-2006, 06:03 AM
I'm just curious if contacting senators about things one finds to be important really makes a change.

I'm not talking about big, "sexy" issues like cancelling african debt or finding renewable energy, but things like the importance of learning foreign langauges.

gitfiddle
02-07-2006, 06:04 AM
I didn't mean to put this in General questions. sorry.

engineer_comp_geek
02-07-2006, 06:34 AM
Is your senator going to read your letter and immediately draft a bill about foreign langauges? No. But very few people write their senators, so when they do get a letter, they usually assume that there are hundreds more folks out there who feel the same way who just haven't been motivated enough to write. If yours is the only letter they get on the importance of foreign langauges, they probably won't pay much attention to it, but if they get several letters, they'll know that this is an important issue.

The same goes for cancellation of debt and renewable energy. Make your voice heard! Just because it's a "big sexy issue" doesn't meant the senator is going to ignore your opinion on it. On the contrary, for big sexy issues, the senator is probably going to be very interested in what his/her constituants have to say on the issue. When the time comes to vote on the african debt issue, you can be damn sure that someone goes through all of the letters. It may be some low level aide who was assigned the task of counting up how many letters were for the vote and how many were against it, but if you didn't write a letter, you don't even get into the count.

Liberal
02-07-2006, 07:10 AM
Anecdote:

When I lived in Charlotte, a friend of mine wrote Senator Helms a letter requesting that he, an anesthesiologist, be allowed to have a flashing red light in his car like ambulances have because he often had trouble getting through city traffic to an emergency. Helms not only wrote him back, but contacted his representative in state government and discussed the issue with him.

Long story short a few months later, NC passed a law allowing anesthetists and anesthesiologist to have the ambulance-type lights on their cars, either on the roof or on the dashboard.

racer72
02-07-2006, 08:39 AM
I spent a month working as a legislative aide for a state senator in 1990. One of my jobs was to sort through the 200 or so letters a day he received and forward to him those that he might find relevent. That would end up being about 10 a day and only on issues he was directly involved. Most of the rest would be answered with canned letters available from the staff library, we had a couple hundred available to answer a wide variety of topics. Of the 10 given to the senator he might answer 3 or 4 himself and the rest would be given back for canned responses. I have sent a couple of email recently to my state senator and all I got back were the canned responses, someone must have thought they weren't relevent for a personal response.

bouv
02-07-2006, 08:41 AM
I have sent several letters to both my (old) states senators and representative, and all three personally wrote back to me. (Well, emailed, but close enough.)

Neptunian Slug
02-07-2006, 08:53 AM
If you are serious, get some friends to write letters with you. Try to make them personal. I would doubt your Senator has a canned letter on this so you are more likely to get a real response.

To be honest, before I went to a Senator who has a larger contituency to deal with, I would deal with your member of the House. You can probably get five minutes of their time, next time they are in the district.

More than anything else, have an actual solution. So you think its important to learn foreign languages. What do you want them to do about it? Invest more money in foreign laguage teachers? Give an earmark to your School District for foreign language learning tools? Amend No Child Left Behind to require more foreign language education? Pass a resolution stressing foreign language education?

Yes, they will listen to you if you come to them intelligently with actual ideas and more than just yourself.

Maus Magill
02-07-2006, 08:55 AM
Anecdote:

When I lived in Charlotte, a friend of mine wrote Senator Helms...
I can attest that Former Senators Helms and Edwards were both very good about not only returning letters, but also following up on valid issues in letters. Several years ago I had written both of them regarding banking fees. Both Senators wrote back, and I actually got a couple calls from their offices. The issue never went anywhere, but there was some follow up.

Anyhow - It doesn't hurt to write your Senator a letter (no email - that doesn't attract the attention), and it may actually get something moving.

astorian
02-07-2006, 09:25 AM
Well, a letter CAN be a waste, if it involves a hot-button issue on which a Senator or Congressman has already made up his mind. So, forget about sending a pro-abortion letter to Henry Hyde or an anti-union letter to Ted Kennedy.

But on smaller issues, like funding for a program you favor, by all means, send letters. There's a tiny chance you'll get an individual response, and more importantly, your letter will be taken as representative of hundreds of other voters.

RealityChuck
02-07-2006, 10:09 AM
Note that congressmen usually have offices in their district, so you can call their offices.

I've noticed that whenever you write or call an elected representative, you get an reply. Sometimes they're canned (especially if you're writing on a big hot-button issue), but if your issue is unique, you'll get a personalized reply. While this may actually be written by a staffer and just signed (or autopenned) by the representative, the rep will probably have seen it, or had the gist summarized for him.

They do try to represent their constituents on issues which don't affect their fundraising.

Chronos
02-07-2006, 06:24 PM
To be honest, before I went to a Senator who has a larger contituency to deal with, I would deal with your member of the House. You can probably get five minutes of their time, next time they are in the district.Depending, of course, on what state you're in. Here in Montana, like several other low-population states, we still have the standard issue two senators, but only one rep.

Moirai
02-07-2006, 07:39 PM
I wrote several letters on an Army issue to my congresscritters and to the members of both the Senate & House Armed Services Committees a few years back.

I am disappointed to report that my own elected officials didn't bother to respond with even a form letter or email. John McCain did respond with a personal but do-nothing letter.

Here's the funny part- I got one reply that was personal and promised to follow up on my questions. I then received a second letter with a copy of a letter sent on my behalf from the senator to a senior Army official, and that official's reply. The senator in question was slightly disappointed in the Army's answer but unfortunately could do nothing further.

This was clearly a person who had been "raised right" with good manners. The surprising part? It was Senator Strom Thurmond. Yeah, not exactly the guy you want you kids growing up to emulate. Go figure.

silenus
02-07-2006, 07:48 PM
For more personal issues work through your Representative. My mother is currently having some issues with a health-care provider and insurance company, and took it to her Rep. Bingo. One week later and some "Congressional inquiries" and the problem is solved, to her satisfaction. Never underestimate the power of a Legislator to move things along if they get involved. Senators for big picture, Reps for local stuff.

gitfiddle
02-13-2006, 06:08 AM
Thanks for the responses everyone. I actually wasn't getting the email updates saying that someone had responded so I didn't know that you all had written.

I think I'm going to write.

The surprising part? It was Senator Strom Thurmond. Yeah, not exactly the guy you want you kids growing up to emulate. Go figure.

I just wanted to say that I'm from SC, and one thing about Strom Thurmond that I hear all the time (even from people who hate his guts) is that he was the best politician there ever was as far as trying to personally address all of his (white, I presume) constituents' requests. Everyone has a story about how Strom got them their visa to go abroad at the last minute or what not.

Just goes to show, even a racist hypocrite has his good qualities.

Lightnin'
02-13-2006, 09:52 AM
Several years ago, when Microbug and I first got married, we did our first joint tax filing... and found that, thanks to the "Marriage Penalty", we owed $1500 more than if we had each been able to file singly. I was a little pissed when I found that we couldn't file for the lower amount- basically, we were being punished for getting married.

So I wrote to several politicians about it. I got two responses. The letter from Lloyd Dogget said, basically, "suck it up". The other letter was from Kay Bailey Hutchins, and was much more sympathetic and promised to try to get the law changed.

Needless to say, I appreciated Hutchin's response a lot more.

A few weeks later, I got a call from the Austin-American Statesman, to see if they could interview us. Apparently, they'd sent a reporter to interview Hutchins about the Marriage Penalty, and had asked if any member of the public had written to her about their views on that particular piece of tax code. She then pointed the reporter over to us.

The reporter interviewed us over the phone, and then sent a photographer over to take our picture.

And that, dear reader, is how Lightnin' and [B]Microbug[/I] ended up on the front page of the Austin-American Statesman on April 15th.

anson2995
02-13-2006, 05:04 PM
My brother in-law worked in DC for a US Senator during the 1990s. He told me that there was a person who was responsible for screening all of the mail, and making an entry for each into a database. Along with basic demographic info, the database entry noted the issue that the writer addressed and what position the writer was taking on that issue. While I presume some of these letters were sent up the chain for a more personal response, the main purpose of this effort was to collect data about the letters in the aggregate.

I also remember him telling me that they kept track of organized campaigns, where they would get hundreds of copies of the same letter word-for-word, the only difference being the name that was signed.

So the OP asked, does writing letters to a senator do anything? I think the answer is "it depends." If you're writing to express a view on a hot topic like the war in Iraq, yours is just one of many voices they will be hearing. It's like asking whether one vote matters. It matters because you are speaking out as a member of a larger group. If you are writing about a less-popular subject, then yes, one letter may bring the issue to his or her attention.

Chronos
02-13-2006, 05:27 PM
This was clearly a person who had been "raised right" with good manners. The surprising part? It was Senator Strom Thurmond. Yeah, not exactly the guy you want you kids growing up to emulate. Go figure.Well, he was obviously doing something that people liked, to get elected and re-elected so many times. And personal responses to letters are something that voters value highly (which is, of course, why most politicians make some effort at them).

I mean, really. If you wrote letters to two politicians about some issue, and one responded and the other didn't, which one would you be more likely to vote for?

t-bonham@scc.net
02-13-2006, 09:28 PM
Just goes to show, even a racist hypocrite has his good qualities.Or good office staff.

In smaller, local offices, having a good office aide vs. a poor one can make the difference between being re-elected or not.


---------------
About organized campaigns of letters: my legislator once was passing around a letter that had come to his office.

Carefully copied into his own handwriting, the person had said:

"Dear Representative insert the legislators name here,
I am a voter in your district insert district number here and I ask you to vote against the gun control bill #H123 ...

And from the address, it was clear this voter did NOT live in the district.

This letter certainly got lots of attention from the Legislator, and many others, but I doubt very much if it influenced his vote any. After all, he was one of the sponsors of that bill.

Elendil's Heir
02-15-2006, 03:45 PM
An Ohio senator in the 1950s sent a letter back to the constituent who wrote it, after scrawling on the bottom, "Some idiot wrote me this letter and signed your name to it!"

I had two college internships on Capitol Hill with Buckeye State congressmen in the late 1980s, and Astorian and anson2995 have it right. Better one letter than no letter at all; better many letters with the same point of view than just one... but in any event, petitions tend to be given short shrift by those who review and collate constituent mail, from what I saw.

But please, do write that letter. You get to vent your spleen and/or make your views known to a legislator, and yours will be one of the many voices heard as public policy is being crafted. I think it's a too-often-neglected aspect of good citizenship.

OtakuLoki
02-15-2006, 04:40 PM
My experience with Sen. Chuck Schumer's office was that it took a direct threat to the senator's re-election campaign to get any action on a minor, piddly little detail on his webpage that pissed me off. I sent several letters to the office and called a few times, too. It was a simple, stupid error that could be fixed by an intern with minimal knowledge and HTML skills, and showed a stunning lack of concern for active-duty military personnel.

So, a lot of it is going to depend on the Senator's own inclinations, too. And where you are, compared to his or her "home" demographic.

OtakuLoki
02-15-2006, 04:52 PM
My experience with Sen. Chuck Schumer's office...

Here's a link to a description of the whole ugly story (http://otakuloki.livejournal.com/21064.html), if you care.

Neptunian Slug
02-15-2006, 09:08 PM
An Ohio senator in the 1950s sent a letter back to the constituent who wrote it, after scrawling on the bottom, "Some idiot wrote me this letter and signed your name to it!"



Funny, back in the day we had a letter code in the computer called 'crackpot'. We used to have some doozies and just assinged the individual that code so young eager types like myself wouldn't feel the urge to actually research and respond to some of these folks.

It was probably 1 in 5000 people that got the code. But some folks feel that a Member's responsbility extends from helping them get revenge on the post office to giving them a job. One poor guy wrote us every month demanding that the Boss forgo free haircuts. Unfortunately, the House barber shop isn't free.

Not that they should be discouraged from writing. Those interns need a little entertainment in between the hundreds of letters demanding that their 100% pro-choice boss change his position or vice versa.

gitfiddle
03-29-2006, 08:45 AM
I have another quick question. I wrote to my senator a couple of weeks ago (haven't heard back, but it was fairly long, and I'm in a foreign country), and I was wondering, should I send the letter to other senators that I know have taken an active interest in the subject? I know that sounds stupid, but I'm just curious if it matters if they're not from your state. We're all American right?

Kevbo
03-29-2006, 08:59 AM
I've written letters to my congress critters regarding proposed FAA and FCC regulations. The final regulations came out not as bad as the origional proposal, but who knows if that would have happened anyway.

Writing will get you on thier mailing list for propaganda(Example: "We are doing a survey: Do you think we are doing a great job, a really great job, or a really really really great job?") and solicitations for campagne contributions.

Any reply you get will be signed by the politician, but I have little doubt that nearly all are actually authored by staffers. In one case I was introduced to my congresswoman within a week after I had recieved three different letters signed by her. Zero regognition.

Johanna
03-29-2006, 10:29 AM
This was clearly a person who had been "raised right" with good manners. The surprising part? It was Senator Strom Thurmond. Yeah, not exactly the guy you want you kids growing up to emulate. Go figure.I figure that's the Old South for you: atrocious on racism, but with impeccable good manners. The "whited sepulchre" syndrome.

Neptunian Slug
03-29-2006, 12:45 PM
I have another quick question. I wrote to my senator a couple of weeks ago (haven't heard back, but it was fairly long, and I'm in a foreign country), and I was wondering, should I send the letter to other senators that I know have taken an active interest in the subject? I know that sounds stupid, but I'm just curious if it matters if they're not from your state. We're all American right?

Depends on the issue and the member. It matters since you can't vote for them. If you vote in Ohio, why should a Senator from Colorado give a damn what you think. If you were a lobbyist or donor, you would likely get your letters answered.

Usually member courtesy would dictate that they give your senators and member of congress the opportunity to address your concern. An out of state member might answer if, as you said, its an interest that they are genuinely interested in, for instance Tom Tancredo on immigration or Tammy Baldwin on gay rights issues. It'll only cost you one stamp.

Some take longer than others and some don't answer at all. For instance, if you write to a Senator who is pro-life and demand that he change his position on abortion, they might not bother. Depends on the office.

But since you have two senators and a congressman, why not try the others that represent you first?