Session began last Monday, and there are hundreds of new bills that are being added every day. It is a long session which means there is time to draft, introduce, hear, and pass a lot of damaging policies.
While we have a saying that your pocketbook is in danger anytime the legislature is in session, this year it’s especially true and especially angering, because “we the people” have been locked out of the process. I know that the argument made by the Democratic majority is that they have “expanded access” to the legislature by allowing people to testify from home, but that is pretty disingenuous – especially when it’s Republicans who have been pressing for more remote testimony for years. The problem this year is that when you have remote only hearings, the Chair (which this year is always going to be a Democrat) can control who gets to be seen and heard. They able to then restrict the access of those who oppose their bills. They could control who could testify when the committees were live, as well, but they could not stop the many hundreds of people from showing up and packing their hearing rooms to express their anger and opposition.
So now that your hands have been tied as far as public access to your legislature, what can you do? Fire up that email-writing machine and set up networks of people to write to your legislators!
You may wish to ask your legislator to support a bill allowing businesses to open earlier. There’s a bill for that – SB 5114. Or how about a bill that gets our kids back into school – SB 5037? Restricting the Governor’s ability to have an indefinite emergency proclamation? SB 5039. There are many very good bills like those three. How about some bills you may not like – SB 5096 will impose a 9% income tax on capital gains. HB 1046 will use your tax dollars to subsidize “community solar”, and it likely increase costs on your power bill. And there are many 2A bills, racial equity bills (for that, you can read the more truthful words “racial inequity bills), and bills that will hamstring our police departments.
But when you find that bill number, what is the best way to let your legislator know how you feel? What can make your letter more effective, and how do you keep your letter from being ignored. Below are some guidelines that will be helpful when writing letters to voice your opinion.
Write a letter –
- If you don’t know your representatives names or contact information, click here – https://app.leg.wa.gov/DistrictFinder/ and enter your home address. The name of your senator and two representatives will pop up. Click on one name and it will take you to the rep’s information which includes a link you can click on to send an email. Just send to one – the others are cc’d on the letter.
- Keep it short. I know you might be angry and frustrated, but I want you to do a little math here. A legislator gets several hundred emails a day. Let’s use a very small number of 200 (reality is that it could be as much as 1000). If you get 200 emails in a day and take 5 minutes to look at each one, it will take you 16 hours to read them all. But then you have to add in the time it takes to answer. Basically 200 emails takes one person all day to process. Keep your letter short and to the point, offering your view on the issue. Some people just click “oppose” or “support” – or they might put the bill number and the word oppose or support in the subject line, adding they don’t need a response. That will get your message across, as well.
- Be civil – even if you are passionate or angry. Your point is to get your view across to your legislator, and I can guarantee that if you use foul language or call your legislator names in your email, you are not likely to change anyone’s mind. My grandma’s saying, “You catch more flies with honey than vinegar” applies here.
- Send only one letter. I think there may be an impression that sending several letters to express your view on a bill is a good idea. Most offices keep a spreadsheet to keep track of constituent emails on different issues – you won’t be added twice just because you wrote two letters (or four or ten). After the 4th or 5th letter, you may not even be heard anymore. That’s isn’t an effective way to utilize your time.
- Write only to your own representatives (one senator and two representatives), and make sure your name and address are included. People who tell you to write to every legislator are steering you in a very wrong direction. I ask you to remember the math from step two above. In today’s world of being able to forward messages and emails with links to make it easy to communicate, we often get letters with just a name. There is no way to tell if that is a constituent or not. Emails without any indication of where the writer is from are often ignored. There is a good reason for that. I remember one year, we had a bill that generated letters from people all over the U.S. We even got one from as far away as Dubai. A legislator is a representative of his or her constituents in the district where they live. Not California, Dubai, or even another part of the state. As citizens, we deserve representation in Olympia. As a constituent in Lewis County, I do not want my legislator to bow to the views of King County. My legislators’ job is to represent me and my values. If an office gets 500 emails in a day and 200 of those have no indication of where they are from, they will be the last to be considered and maybe even be deleted. When it is not humanly possible to process the volume, you have to pay attention to your constituents first, and the only way to know is if they identify their address in their email.
- One exception to rule #5. If a bill is in committee, and you wish to influence those members, you should write a note to each individual member and identify in your first sentence that you are writing because they are on the committee hearing the bill. The biggest mistake you can make on any letter is to have a bunch of names on the “to” line.
People ask me why I encourage people to write to their legislators, even when they know the legislator agrees with them. That’s a good question. Encouraging people to write, adding hundreds of emails to the office workload seems like a self-defeating idea. But there are three reasons. The main one is that everyone has friends in other counties and districts that they could influence to contact their legislator. My personal comment in an email or on Facebook may reach someone in another district that has a Democratic legislator, so by posting my suggestion that everyone write, I’ve influenced voters that are possibly outside my district. The second reason is informational. People who write in want to be assured that the legislator is still on their side, and constituent letters help legislators know what is foremost in their constituents’ minds. There is a third reason. If an office gets hundreds or even thousands of emails that agree with the legislators’ view, he or she can use them as an example in debate.
One last note from someone who has had to process thousands of emails. Bear in mind that when an office gets hundreds of emails every day, they have to be prioritized. Unknown people go to the bottom of the list. People from other districts or states are at the bottom, as well – these are often easy to spot because they write to every single legislator and usually don’t provide their address. People who use foul language are not a priority, and someone who writes every day about the same thing will eventually be put at the bottom of the priority list – not out of lack of care for the constituent, but just because of the sheer volume of letters. If you have written about a particular subject and you know your legislator is on the same side as you, you really don’t have to write again. For example, if you know your legislator is a Second Amendment supporter, you don’t have to write about every single firearms bill (and there are a lot of them!). You also need to understand that you will get what some people call a form letter – one that responds to the issue but may not respond to the exact wording you use. Again, go back to the math equation above, but change the amount of time it would take to form a unique answer to an email and write a response. You are now looking at 15 minutes per email at a minimum – that triples the time it takes to respond. You are now looking 50 hours to respond to the 200 emails. The legislator writes one response to each issue and that single response has to be the answer for every email on that issue.
Use your resources effectively. We can make a difference, but after we have contacted our legislators, we must use our remaining time to get the word out and inform the people in our sphere of influence. We multiply our efforts by encouraging others to write, as well.
If you would like to receive these as emails, please send your request to email@example.com, and I will get you on the list!