Effectively Communicating With
Email - Fax -
Telephone - Meetings -
Additional Writing Tips by Jeff Baxla - ABATE
As a voting constituent, you have a
tremendous ability to influence the outcome of legislation. Ask any
elected official which individual's concerns are most important to
him, and chances are they all will deliver the same response: the
constituents`. All politicians are keenly aware of the fact that it
is their constituents who hold the keys to their political futures.
Therefore, constituent concerns are of the utmost concern to
politicians. The best way you can affect the outcome of legislation
is to directly communicate your views to your lawmakers. REMEMBER:
Your lawmakers work for you! Since the primary concern of all
politicians is to get re-elected, be sure you communicate your
concerns with your own elected officials first! Then, if you wish to
express your views to others who don't directly represent you, you
can do so. But make sure your legislators hear from you first!
As a Floridian, one of your greatest
responsibilities is to help elect the representatives who represent
you and the state's more than 14 million other residents. But your
role in the democratic process of government does not end at the
polls. By sharing your opinions and ideas with your representatives
and senators in Tallahassee, you help them decide what to do about
the issues and pending legislation that affect us all. They value
your suggestions and encourage you to express them.
Your representatives receive a huge amount of phone calls and mail
from their constituents. Unfortunately, their full agendas limit
their ability to personally read and respond to it all. How then,
can you be sure your voice is heard? Here are some tips to help you
get the most impact out of your communications with your
representatives in Tallahassee.
Know who your
representatives are and how to contact them. If you don't
know who represents you, you can find out by using the
online guide. Your representatives' web pages will give you
their mailing addresses, phone numbers, and e-mail
Make sure you understand the
legislative process. Even the most basic understanding of
the process will help you effectively express your ideas.
||Contact your representative
about a particular issue before the Legislature takes action
on it. Most matters coming before the Legislature are well
publicized before session.
||Use a variety of
communication methods. You might choose to telephone, write,
e-mail, fax, or visit your representative. You might also
choose to give testimony at public hearings held by the
Legislature. (To give testimony, you would need to contact
the appropriate committee secretary before the hearing to
||Tell your representative
what effect you think a particular bill, if it becomes law,
will have on you, your children, business, or community. Be
concise, but specific.
||Be polite, even if you
disagree strongly with the representative you are
addressing. Lawmakers cannot please everyone. Your
communication will be more effective if you are reasonable
in your approach.
||Suggest a course of action
and offer assistance. Don't make promises or threats.
WRITING EFFECTIVE LETTERS
One of the most often-utilized methods
of communicating with your lawmakers is by writing a letter. As a
voting constituent, a letter is an easy way for you to let lawmakers
know your views on specific issues, encourage them to vote your way,
and let them know you'll watch how they vote on particular issues
and keep those votes in mind on Election Day! Personally-written
letters allow you an opportunity to present your position to your
lawmakers without interruption. With that in mind, you'll want to
keep the letter short and to the point, with just enough facts and
figures to further enhance your statement. Never lie or make a
statement you can't back up with evidence. Always let your lawmakers
know how a specific issue will affect you personally, and make sure
he understands that you live and vote in his district or state, and
therefore, what affects you may affect your fellow constituents as
well. If you own or operate a business, use your company letterhead.
If you're a member of the PTA or other civic group, don't hesitate
to mention that. Taking these steps will enhance your message and
ensure your concerns are taken seriously. Here are three quick tips
you'll want to refer to when drafting your letter
How To Address
Your Representative. Address your letters to "The Honorable
_______," and begin the letter "Dear Senator" or "Dear
Representative." If writing to a Committee Chairman or Speaker of
the House, address him as "Mr. Chairman" or "Mr. Speaker."
The Honorable John Doe
Florida House of Representatives
Tallahassee, FL 32399-1300.
Address letters to senators this way:
Senator Jane Doe
Tallahassee, FL 32399-1100.
Identify your issue or opinion at the beginning of the
letter, don't bury your main point under trivial text.
Never write more than one page.
Concise written correspondence is more likely to grab and keep the
If you have another issue to address,
write another letter.
Back up your opinions with
supporting facts. Your letter should inform the reader.
Avoid abbreviations or acronyms,
and don't use technical jargon. Rather than impressing your reader,
such terms will only frustrate him or her.
Type or print legibly. Sign your name neatly and give your
address correctly so they can respond to your letter.
Specific, & Always Be Courteous! Letters shouldn't exceed one
page, and the purpose of your letter should be stated clearly in the
first paragraph. If your letter pertains to specific legislation,
identify it accordingly (use the bill number, if known, and the
title of the bill and/or a brief description). To make sure your
letter is as productive as possible, always be courteous, even if
you disagree with your representative's position! Never threaten or
use abusive language. This only hurts your cause.
Ask Them To
Write Back. Always ask for a response to your letter. You'll
want a hard copy of your legislator's positions on these issues for
future reference and to document their positions.
Don't send the same letter to
more than one representative. Personalized letters have more impact.
E-mail is becoming a more popular way to
communicate your views to your lawmaker. While not every lawmaker
can receive e-mail messages, most are able, and more and more
elected officials are utilizing it. Tips for transmitting an
effective e-mail message are similar to writing a letter, though
this format is usually less formal and allows you to be a bit more
brief in your message. A major advantage of e-mail versus a
personally-written letter is the speed in which your message will be
received. Be prepared for some lawmakers to "respond" to your e-mail
message with a canned reflector message that may not specifically
address your concern. Whether you receive a specific response to
your message or not, be sure that you request your lawmaker's
position in writing so you can document his position easily.
Faxing has become increasingly popular
as more and more Americans have gained access to fax machines. In
fact, nearly all U.S. Senators and Representatives have published
fax numbers. What's more, faxing allows you to send a full,
letter-length message to your representatives in a matter of minutes
for just the cost of a phone call. When preparing a fax message to a
lawmaker, follow the same basic guidelines used when mailing a
letter via regular mail. You also want to make sure your fax number
is clearly visible, in case your legislator wishes to respond to you
EFFECTIVE TELEPHONE CALLS
You will often find that, as bills move
through the legislative process, there simply isn't enough time to
write your legislators prior to a key vote. When you need to get in
touch with your lawmakers immediately to let them know of your
position on motorcycle-related issues, and if you don't have e-mail
capabilities, your telephone calls become the most effective means
for you to communicate your views. Below are several tips for you to
refer to when placing your calls.
Yourself As A Constituent. As someone who lives and votes in the
district or state of the lawmaker you are contacting, your phone
calls carry the most weight. Calls to representatives outside your
district or state can be helpful as well. However, be sure to always
contact your own legislators first.
Point Quickly And Clearly. Be sure to limit your telephone call
to one subject. Be brief but specific. Your phone call should last
at most only a couple of minutes. State the reason you are calling,
giving a brief description of the bill and bill number if possible.
REMEMBER: ALWAYS BE COURTEOUS! NEVER threaten, or use abusive
Your Legislator Follow Up Your Call With a Letter. Be sure to
give your name and home address and request that your legislator
follow up with a letter. You took the time to call, so have your
legislator take the time to respond.
You Do Not
Always Have To Identify Yourself Solely As An ABATE Member!
Unfortunately, many anti-motorcycle politicians are under the misguided
impression that ABATE members only say what ABATE tells them to say. If
you identify yourself as a voting constituent; community or business
leader; PTA, VFW, or American Legion member; or homemaker, lawmakers
will find it harder to dismiss your call.
By far, the most effective way to
articulate your views to your elected official and to affect the
outcome of legislation is to sit down and speak with your lawmakers
face-to-face. While these personal visits are extremely productive,
they also require the most amount of planning to ensure success.
When planning a personal visit, refer to the following guidelines:
Appointment. Elected officials have extremely hectic schedules.
To help increase the chance that you will have time allotted for you
to speak directly with your legislator, call in advance to set up an
appointment. In all likelihood, most of your personal meetings will
be scheduled at your lawmakers` district offices, so be sure you
contact these offices to make your appointment.
Proposed Legislation Will Directly Affect You. Use specific
examples to show your lawmaker how motorcycle-related bills will
jeopardize your rights or the lives of law-abiding citizens, and
unduly burden those engaged in lawful activities. If the proposed
measure will strengthen our rights or benefit bikers,
specifically cite examples to support this position.
Polite! Nothing is as detrimental to a visit with a lawmaker
than rudeness, vulgarity, or threats. Even if you disagree with the
position of your legislator, be courteous. Dress professionally to
convey the seriousness of your visit.
Lawmaker Is Unavailable, Meet With His Staff. Your
representative may not always be available for a meeting. In such
cases, try to schedule an appointment with the staff member
responsible for motorcycle-related issues. Legislative staff will bring
your concerns to your legislator's attention, have great influence
on legislators' voting decisions, and often have expertise on
biker issues. Send a follow-up letter to the staff member you
met with as well. Keep in mind many congressional staff members
later run for office themselves, so these relationships can be
invaluable in the future!
Materials To Share With Your Lawmaker And His Staff. These
materials will bolster you point and serve as valuable reference
materials after your meeting has concluded.
Prepare a one-page fact sheet concerning your issue to give
to your representative. This will help him or her better retain what
Follow Up Your
Visit With A Letter. Regardless of how your meeting goes, send a
letter to your legislator thanking him for his time, and reiterating
the points you discussed. This gesture will go a long way, and
possibly allow for future meetings.
ATTEND TOWN HALL MEETINGS
Lawmakers often host town hall meetings
in their districts -- especially during congressional district work
breaks -- to tout their achievements and solicit feedback from their
constituents. Such meetings are a prime opportunity for you to ask
your lawmakers to state their position on motorcycle issues for
the record, in an open and public forum. The following guidelines
should be helpful when planning to attend town hall meetings.
Get On The Invite
List And Attend The Meetings. Write your lawmakers and ask to be
put on the invitation list for the lawmaker's town hall meetings. If
they do not have such a list, ask for information on the next
meeting. When you receive word that a town hall meeting is
scheduled, be sure to make plans to attend, and share this
information with others that have your opinion.
Questions Ahead Of Time. Have specific questions in mind, such
as asking for your legislator's position on a specific bill or
Get An Answer.
Ask your question clearly, and as simply as possible, e.g., "Do you
support Stronger Right-of-Way Laws/ Do you support Helmet Choice?" If your legislator
doesn't answer your question sufficiently, politely repeat the
question. A good way of achieving this is to ask that they explain
their answer more completely to your question. If it is totally
side-stepped (a famous tactic of politicians not wanting to give
direct answers), you can re-word your question.
a Letter. Whether you had the opportunity to ask your question
or not, follow up with a letter to your lawmaker. Let him know you
attended his last town meeting. Ask your question in your letter if
you didn't have an opportunity to do so at the meeting, or address
his response to any motorcycle related questions other constituents may
have asked. This letter will ensure your lawmakers take you and your
views seriously, and will allow you to obtain a written response
addressing your concerns that you should also share with motorcycle