Change the World
Anthropologist Margaret Mead inspired many with this famous quote: "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
Making change happen requires regular communication with elected officials at all levels. Here are some tips on the most effective ways to do it.
The Gem State has its own brand of politics, asserting at least some degree of independence from that practiced in Washington, D.C., and those who follow it speak proudly of “Idaho’s Citizen Legislature.” Idaho has a relatively short legislative session, and many members must travel some distance to the Capitol in Boise. With little time to study proposals in depth, it’s practically impossible for lawmakers to have more than a passing familiarity with one or two issues, let alone a thorough understanding of all the factors that make some of them “issues” that voters care about most. Because of that, some lawmakers are vulnerable to pressure from “influencers,” special interests, lobbying groups that include the widely discredited right-wing “bill mill” ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council), and its younger liberal counterpart, SIX (State Innovation Exchange, the even further right State Policy Network, and its counterpart, the Center for American Progess Action Fund, or the NRA (National Rifle Association) Institute for Legislative Action, and its polar opposite, Everytown for Gun Safety, among many others, even to the point of relying upon them for “templates” used to draft legislation.
This is also true of members of Congress, although they have their own staffers who help with research, communication, and input from outside experts. At all levels of government, however, the most effective voters and citizen activists are those who express their positions clearly.
Smart voters need to know enough about the issues to convey a position factually, clearly and concisely, in addition to being aware of differing views. It is also important to keep in mind whether or how those views might be affected by contributions, hence the now-familiar phrase “Follow the money.” Again in 2018, candidates are expected to set historic records for campaign spending. Most voters by far would prefer that money would not have so much influence on our political process. It is not necessarily true that the candidate who spends the most money is most likely to win, it is important to note not only how much money each candidate has available, but where that money came from and where it goes.
Here are the best sources for data and detail on money in politics:
Open Secrets (The Center for Responsive Politics)
Follow the Money (A joint project of the National Institute on Money in Politics and the Campaign Finance Institute)
Sunlight Foundation (Tracks money in politics and government accountability)
The Film Foundation
Jimmy Stewart, as the idealistic young Sen. Jefferson Smith in Frank Capra’s 1939 classic “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” deals with mounds of constituent letters during his legendary filibuster.
Making It Count
Times and technology have changed since Mr. Smith went to Washington and got his constituents’ opinions from letters. In part because of security considerations, letters sent by post these days are automatically subjected to security screening, including tests for possible dangerous substances. This can delay delivery of even routine letters by up to six weeks. Some members of Congress are better-equipped to deal with hand-delivered letters, but that also takes time, which makes other forms of communication both faster and more effective.
Whether you communicate by letter or email, however, the guidelines are the same:
• Be brief — Keep letters to one page. Try to discuss only one bill or issue in a letter.
• Identify yourself — Begin by introducing yourself with a simple descriptive statement: "I am a working single mother of two,” or “I am a retired elementary school teacher.” If you have expertise in the subject you’re writing about, this is a good place to note it.
• Get to the point — Follow your introduction by stating your concern, such as "I’m writing in support of H.R. _____, which will ________." If you are referring to a specific bill, include the bill number. Follow your opening paragraph with a concise explanation of why you support or oppose the particular bill or issue. A few strong, well-considered arguments have more impact than a laundry list of reasons to be for or against a bill. Whenever possible, use bullet points to outline your arguments.
• Make it personal — Help the legislator understand why your position is important to you and his or her other constituents. Use facts to support your position, and tell your story about how the legislation would affect you personally. Make your message personal, and avoid “boiler plate” or generic postcards or form messages.
• Allow for follow-up — If you want a response, provide specific contact information and offer to be a resource if the legislator or staff have questions or need more information.
The advice regarding letters applies to emails as well: Keep them brief and to the point, with facts and anecdotes relevant to the legislator's district.
Avoid informal language — Email to a legislator should be treated as seriously as a written letter. Resist the temptation to use the informal language and symbols often associated with email communications. Be polite, and avoid making “demands.”
Provide your full postal address and zip code — Make sure the text of your email includes your full name and street address, including zip code. Many legislative offices screen emails for address information that identifies the sender as a constituent. Emails from outside the legislator’s district (whether state or national) are less likely to be read, and may even be blocked by filtering software.
If your message is urgent, the fastest, most effective method is a phone call. But the same general rules apply:
• Get to the point – Give your name and who you are and say why you are calling.
• Be Prepared -- Have your facts straight and your talking points ready. You only have a few minutes, at most, to get your point across.
• Be ready to answer questions -- Do not expect a one-sided conversation. Anticipate questions your legislator or the staff member might ask, and have answers ready. If you are asked a question about something you can’t answer, offer to check and follow up.
• Followup -- Back up your conversation with an email that refers to your phone conversation, with date and time, and any specific points or additional information.
As is true of much of America’s political heritage, we got our two-chamber Congress as a result of compromise, the result of which gives each state two senators, and a number of representatives based upon statewide population. Idaho’s congressional delegation represents two districts of roughly equal population, based upon the Federal Census, taken every decade, with one senator and one representative from each. The First District is a vertical strip of the western part of the state, and the Second District, is a somewhat larger, more open balance. Each Idaho district has a population of about 650,000. Members of the House of Representatives serve two-year terms, with elections every even-numbered year (such as 2018). Senators serve six-year terms, with terms staggered so that only about one-third of the Senate is contested during any election.
Here are contact details for the Idaho congressional representatives, including forms for email contact within each lawmaker’s site. First Congressional District
Representative Raul Labrador
Second Congressional District
Representative Mike Simpson
In the Nov. 6 election, First District Rep. Labrador, who was a GOP gubernatorial candidate, opted not to seek another term in Congress. His seat is being contested by Republican Russ Fulcher, and Democrat Cristina McNeil.>br/> In the Second District, the GOP incumbent, Rep. Mike Simpson, who ran unopposed in the May primary, is being challenged by Democrat Aaron Swisher.
Here are contact details for Idaho’s senators
Senator James E. Risch
Senator Mike Crapo
Contact information and other details for other members of the U.S. Senate are listed in alphabetical order on the official Senate Website.
Contact information and other details for other members of the House of Representatives are presented in alphabetical order on the official House Website.
The official Idaho Legislature Website has been reorganized to make it easier to find your state legislator and make contact. The main page provides links to find your representative by chamber (Senate or House), by name, by district, or by committee membership.
Note that postal mail for state lawmakers uses separate zip codes for senators (837-020-0081) and for members of the House of Representatives (83720-0038).
The correct form of address for members of the Senate is:
The Honorable Senator (Full name)
Legislative district number
Idaho State Legislature
State Capitol Building
P.O. Box 83720
Boise, Idaho 83720-0081
And for the House of Representatives is:
The Honorable Representative (Full name)
Legislative district number
Idaho State Legislature
State Capitol Building
P.O. Box 83720
Boise, Idaho 83720-0038
Social Media Advice
Many state legislators and all members of Congress have Facebook and Twitter accounts. Follow your senators and representatives to see what issues are most important to them, but don’t expect either Facebook or Twitter comments to substitute for more formal communication. An initial wave of interest in social media as the primary communication tool for politicians a decade ago has suffered dramatically due to trolling from all sides since Donald Trump was elected president and resorted to Twitter as his preferred form of communication. It is still helpful to follow your elected officials on social media, and to participate in the dialogue to make sure your voice is heard. But don’t expect your Facebook or Twitter comments to substitute for more formal communication.
Idaho congressmen were reluctant to face voters at town halls or other public venues to discuss healthcare and other issues.
Of course there’s nothing like direct, face-to-face communication. Candidates recognize that, no matter what marketing strategies they use, the old-fashioned combination of knocking on doors and shaking hands makes the most lasting impression. In a state as spread-out as Idaho, however, that can be a challenge, even for politicians with the best of intentions. And after election, not all the winners follow through on being available to their constituents. This has been notoriously true of Idaho’s congressional delegation, who have a poor record of direct interaction with voters who are not also wealthy donors, and who have stayed below the radar except for a select few events. One way to find them is with the Town Hall Tracker, here. Our best advice is to stay in contact with local (regional) offices of your elected representatives and ask to be on their mailing lists for updates on public appearances and events.