Our elected officials often claim to be a lot of things but they don’t claim to be psychics. They don’t inherently know what their constituents think about any given issue and they rely on contact from citizens to tell them what they think about the issues before them and to give them reasons to cast a vote one way or another. If you do not reach out to your elected representatives to tell them what you think, they will never know and they will never have the opportunity to take your stance into consideration when it is time for them to cast their vote on the issue or issues that are important to you.
With every Facebook and Twitter log-in, I see hundreds of people ranting about their opinions on everything from taxes to flags to slot machines. I have countless conversations with friends and family members who will explain to me, quite passionately, why they feel one way or another about a political issue but those social media posts and those conversations with my politically frustrated friends have one thing in common – They are largely pointless and have little no effect on the outcome of a legislative vote or on the formation of public policy. It may make you feel better to complain to your best friend about the direction of this state or this country but unless you are having the same conversation with an elected official, you are missing an opportunity to help shape the future of our state.
The vast majority of politicians want to hear from the people they are elected to represent. They want to know what you think. They want to listen to the reasons you believe the way you do. They are genuinely interested in your point of view. All too often, though, their mailboxes are empty and their phones are silent on issues of importance. Sure, lobbyists like me reach out to them and a handful of active citizens contact them frequently but the overwhelming majority of voters never take the critical and necessary step of making contact with the person who is elected to represent them. That needs to change today.
Here are a few tips for getting in touch with the people you hired to represent you in the Great State of Alabama.
1) Know who represents you.
It is very common to be unsure of who is elected to represent you. Most people know that our Governor is Robert Bentley and that our President is Barack Obama but not as many people can readily name their State Senator or State Representative. Visit the website for the legislature and click the “Find Your Legislator” button on the right side of the page. Enter your address and the list of people who represent your area will pop right up. Their phone numbers and mailing addresses are also provided.
2) Pick up the phone.
Most of us have our phones with us 24/7. Pick up your phone and make a quick call to your Representative or Senator and let them know what you think about the issue that is important to you. Be polite. Make sure they know that you live in their district and be concise. More often than not, they will be glad to hear from you.
3) Put a stamp on it.
E-mail is a great thing but emails pile up quickly and it is difficult to read through all of the bulk emails that a legislator gets in a given day. Take a few minutes and write a quick note to your legislator. Make sure that you always include your mailing address at the bottom of the letter so that they will know that you live in area that they represent. Put a stamp on it and let the United States Postal Service do the rest.
4) Use social media effectively.
Anyone who has ever sat in the gallery of the House or Senate in the Alabama State House knows that most legislators love their Facebook pages. It is not uncommon to see them checking their Facebook pages from the floor on the legislature to see if any of their voters have checked in on the issues before them. “Friend” your Representative and Senator on Facebook and post a quick note to their social media wall if there is an issue before them about which you are passionate.
Now that you know who your elected officials are and how to contact them there are a few things that you can do to ensure that your communication is effective.
DO introduce yourself and let them know where you live in their district.
DON’T be angry or rude, even if they disagree with you on this specific issue. Always be kind and respectful.
DO contact them on issues of which you are very passionate but there is no reason to express your opinion on every single issue that comes up for a legislative vote. Only contact your offical regarding issues that are very important to you.
DON’T stretch the truth or provide them with unverified facts. Make sure that you are 100% confident in the information you are providing to your elected officials. Your credibility is key in these situations and so you must be sure you are accurate.
DO contact them when they do something you agree with. So often elected officials are only contacted by those that disagree with a vote they cast. If they voted your way, drop them a note to say “Thank You” and “Good Job.”
DON’T ramble on. You are busy and so are your legislators. Keep your communication brief and to the point. It will be much more effective that way.
Your legislators work for you and they are honored to do so. They want to hear from you and they want to know what you think and what you believe. So, the next time you go on a Facebook rant against higher taxes or engage in an hour long conversation with our neighbor about economic development, follow up with your legislator and let them know your thoughts. They aren’t psychic and they won’t know what you need or what you want from them, unless you tell them.
Angi Stalnaker is an Alabama native who, as a political consultant, has worked on numerous statewide, legislative and constitutional amendment races for conservative causes and candidates. For more information about her visit Virtus Solutions.