I’m neither a gullible nor particularly trusting individual when it comes to strangers, sales pitches or concepts outside of my comfort zone. On the other hand, I do have wholehearted faith in my God, my country and my family. I buy into the concept of democracy hook, line and sinker. I do not question whether the system works, but I do question the motives of many of the politicians. Yet, at the same time, I truly want to believe that every politician, even Republicans, have the greater good of the American people at the heart of every action, statement, bill and vote. I know that isn’t always the case, but I want to believe it. I’m a romantic and a believer in happy endings.
Over the last month or so, I have conducted a very informal experiment. The results of this so-called experiment have left me equally disappointed and pleased. In planning this series, I contacted a small number of my state and federal lawmakers.
I picked a few members of the Minnesota House of Representatives and a few of Minnesota’s U.S. Senators and Congressmen and randomly decided who in this list I would email and who I would call. I chose legislators I support, believe in and vote for.
The Email Route
In the email, I explained who I was and that I was planning this series for my blog on constituency services. I invited each legislator to participate in this discussion by writing a guest post or providing any other information. The point of this experiment was to see who responded and how quickly, regardless of why I was contacting them, but simply because I was a constituent. In my opinion, the people, the constituents of an elected official, should be able to contact that person and expect to hear back whether by email, phone call or traditional mail; whether it’s the legislator or a member of his or her staff. The single most important point is to respond.
My emails went unheeded. I was extremely disappointed by this. I even emailed one MN State Representative, Paul Thissen, twice. I really like what Rep. Thissen has to say. He’s a husband, an attorney and a father. So, I thought he would find a good audience with my readers and provide an interesting guest post. Alas, I never heard back from him at all; not even an automated form email.
Also, on the email list was U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar. Again, I sent the same kind of email explaining who I am and what I was asking of her. This time I heard back immediately. Yeah! My belief in the legislators was restored. Oh, wait…nope; just a form letter saying my email had been received. Generally, these types of emails say don’t respond to this email address because no one checks it, but don’t worry we’ll get back to you eventually. Hers doesn’t say she will ever get back to me, but instead suggests I visit her website and contact her that way. Hmmm, that’s what I did, and I got this:
Here is the form email from Sen. Klobuchar:
Replying to your message
Add to Contacts
Thank you for taking the time to e-mail me. This is a confirmation that we have received your message. One of the most important parts of my job is listening to what the people of Minnesota have to say to me. I am here in our nation’s capital to do the public’s business on behalf of the people of our state.
Please continue to visit my website at http://www.klobuchar.senate.gov to follow what I am working on, both in Washington and Minnesota. It is frequently updated with current news and events regarding my work in the U.S. Senate.
Additionally, many constituents ask about tracking the progress of legislation. One useful tool is to regularly check my website. Another resource I recommend is the Library of Congress legislative information website, http://thomas.loc.gov. I hope you find this information helpful.
Please do not reply to this email address. The best way to contact me is through my website at http://www.klobuchar.senate.gov. Thank you!
Yes, I realize I could have called Thissen’s office or Klobuchar’s office or driven down to their metro offices to speak with someone in person, but that was not the point. If legislators provide various ways of getting in touch with them on their websites, newsletters, etc. I should be able to make contact with someone in their offices via email. Besides she was on my email list; remember this was an experiment. This email was sent to my on Feb. 2nd and I have yet to hear another word from anyone in her office.
The Phone Route
Included on my call list was U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison, my representative, and MN State Rep. Linda Slocum. I had to leave messages at both locations, but heard back from both within a day of calling. I spoke with a staff member in Rep. Ellison’s office and he agreed to do a guest post; I’ll post that tomorrow. Rep. Slocum did return my call right away, but then we proceeded to play phone tag over the course of a week with the last contact yesterday. Rep. Slocum was trying to reach me and didn’t take long to return my call; she gets points for that. Again, the point was to get a response, and I did.
A phone message isn’t much different from an email. You aren’t forced to reply to either if you so choose. I, personally, find an email so much more convenient because it can be replied to any time of the day, any day of the week. However, clearly there is a difference when it comes to getting a response from a legislator’s office. So, if you are trying to get an answer about something from a lawmaker and aren’t just making a comment or suggestion, I recommend that you call your legislator.
I did not physically go to anyone’s office. I don’t have much time available for running such errands, especially without kiddos in tow. I also feel that a constituent shouldn’t have to physically go to an elected official’s office to get a response. So, that method of contact was not included in my “control groups.”
In discussing my experiment with friends, one friend argued that the lawmakers are busy people and don’t have time to respond to everyone who contacts them. I agree with her argument that legislators are busy, especially while in session, but these people have staff whose job it is to reply to emails and phone calls. My friend continued her argument based on a business point of view. I countered this with my argument that elected officials are not in the same category as a business.
They are elected by the people and their job is to serve the people that elected them and whom they represent regardless of political views. And by serve I mean: respond to emails, phone calls and other methods of contact; get to know the people they represent and their needs and views; author, support and vote on legislation that will in some way better the quality of life of the people in his or her district, state and/or country.
Have you had contact with your state and federal legislators? What has been your experience? How did you contact them?
*I want to stress that I contacted legislators who I like, believe in and vote for. I can’t say whether these results are the norm for these offices, but I am open to discussion of this matter if anyone has evidence of a differing result. I also welcome late responses from these legislators, as well. Thanks to all who did reply to my emails and phone calls.