Monday, June 14, 2010

Great advice from Frank Torres about contacting elected officials

This is from our friend, Frank Torres, and is reprinted here with his permission.  Frank has an excellent blog at and I encourage you to check it out: lots of detailed coverage of local political races and one heck of a sense of humor. 

Frank recently wrote some advice for people wanting to know the best strategies for communicating with their elected officials.

Talkin’ To the Man (or Woman) | Frank Torres' Blog
One of my favorite parts of my job is getting citizens involved with communicating with lawmakers. They will bring up issues that they feel very strongly about and I will quiz them, make sure they have covered all of their bases, and see if they have their facts right. Then I will ask them ,“Have you called your Congressman?” or Mayor, or Commissioner, or even Senator. The look in their eyes will a lot of times be one of surprise. “Can I do that?” they will ask, and my reply will be, “Damn straight!” 

Here is the thing: a lot of times when we see our lawmakers in the paper and on the CNN or Fox News; we forget a major point. They work for us. We put them in office and we can take them out. There are a lot of citizens that are a little frightened; they have put their lawmakers on too high of a pedestal and they’re concerned that Lord Voldemort will be on the other side of the phone when they call.
Now there are plenty of reasons to call a member of government but most of the time it's one of these two things: 1. You have a personal problem that they could help with and you would like assistance or an inquiry done, or 2. You would like to voice your opinion on one of the issues affecting your district. If you’ve never called a lawmaker before, here is my short how-to guide of dos and don’ts:

Do: Make sure you're calling the right place! Staffers get about 25 calls a day about issues in another district or an area that they have no power over.

Do: Have all of your info or facts in front of you, and the steps you’ve already taken.

Do: Write down the name of the staffer to whom you’re speaking and expect them to most likely not know every single thing about your issue.  They should be professional, they’re not always friendly, they are very busy and spend the day listening to people complain. It’s a stressful job and they get a lot of crazy calls, which is why you need to be organized.

Do: Have a solution in mind. What do you want done?

Do: Be prepared to download and fill out a form for permission to use your personal info, if you have a personal claim. Ask them if you can fax it back, confirm they received it and ask for a time-line for your claim or an answer to your concerns. It's not going to get done overnight, but then again if it’s a simple request it shouldn’t take months. If it’s about an issue, make sure your call is recorded and ask for a written reply.

OK, Now the don’ts:

Don’t: Be vulgar.  If you are calling an office and swearing a thousand words per minute, you are burning your bridge with that office. If you’re angry, wait until you're not to call.

Don’t: Tolerate bad behavior from them. It doesn’t happen often but they shouldn’t lose their cool with you. Give them feedback, it's public service, guys.

Don’t: Expect mountains moved. If it’s a national issue or a large scale problem thousands are having, then believe that they are probably already working on it and a complicated legislative process is involved.

For the mid-terms I will be paying attention to constituent services. People often forget that you just don’t elect the candidate, but the people around him, as well. Peyton Manning won’t win the Superbowl if he’s playing with a high school team. Then again, he didn’t win it anyways last time around, but you get the point.
Excellent advice, Frank!  Thanks for letting us share it with our readers here.

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