“Politicians don’t read minds” – so speak up!
Remember last December, when Governor Christie asked for special legislation allowing him to profit from a book deal while in office?
Initially, the bill looked like it would sail swiftly through the Legislature. “The legislators figured, ‘Who cares?’ ” recalled Bill Kibler, Raritan Headwaters’ policy director.
As it turned out, New Jersey citizens did care – very much. When news of the book deal broke, it went viral. Angry residents jammed their legislators’ phone lines and flooded their email inboxes. Most expressed the opinion that it would be improper for the governor to write a book for profit while on the public payroll.
Legislators instantly pulled their support. “They killed the bill because people were up in arms about it,” said Bill, who was at the State House in Trenton that day. “It blew up, and the legislators never, ever saw that coming.”
Bill tells this story to illustrate why it’s important for citizens to let their elected officials know what they think on matters of public interest.
“Politicians don’t read minds,” he noted. “If they don’t hear from their constituents, they don’t know what their constituents are thinking. They’ll have to guess or assume.”
On June 15, Bill led two workshops for local residents interested in learning how to contact their elected officials at all levels of government. About 30 people attended; all sent messages to elected officials during the workshops.
Bill’s advice to those who’d like to give politicians a piece of their mind: Just do it.
“There’s no right way or wrong way,” he said. “The best way to contact an elected official is to do whatever gets you writing. If you feel most comfortable tweeting, tweet. If you feel comfortable emailing, email.”
Sometimes the most direct way to communicate is to pick up the telephone and call your elected official. If it’s your town’s mayor or a county freeholder, there’s a good chance you’ll be able to speak to them in person. If you’re calling a U.S. Senator, Congressional representative or state legislator, you’ll probably talk with a staff member instead.
If you’re feeling intimidated about discussing policy issues with staff members, call after 9 p.m. when offices are empty and leave a voicemail. Be sure to provide your full name and the town you live in, and briefly state your opinion on the issue you’re calling about.
And if you really want to stand out from the crowd, Bill recommends a handwritten letter: “One way to get a politician’s attention is to do something nobody else is doing. Not many people write handwritten notes anymore, so that’s going to get to the top of the pile.”
Here are some sample letters for texting/emailing/writing your elected officials, along with a list of critical issues in 2017 you may want to stress. If you don’t know who to contact, Bill Kibler or Jody Marcus can help.